WOODSTOCK – When property tax bills went out earlier this month, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that the McHenry County Board did its part for taxpayers by reducing its levy by 11.2 percent.
Many taxpayers saw their bills dip, but many did not. While we lowered our levy like I promised we would when I ran for County Board Chairman two years ago, far too many homeowners didn’t see any savings because either their assessed value increased, or because other taxing bodies asked for more and negated our reduction.
However, our levy reduction was hardly the end of our tax reduction efforts. We’re just getting started in working to bring true and meaningful relief to our citizens by not only reducing taxes, but also by making government leaner and more efficient.
McHenry County taxpayers are hungry for both, and they’ve spoken loud and clear at the polls. In 2016, voters approved an advisory referendum to decrease the size of the County Board.
This last March, voters approved eliminating the independent elected office of County Recorder, which will be merged with the County Clerk by 2020. They also approved an advisory referendum asking our school districts to follow the County Board’s lead and reduce their tax levies by at least 10 percent.
County government accounts for only about one-tenth of property tax bills. The largest chunk by far, about two-thirds or more, goes to our public schools.
We value good schools, and understand that overreliance on property taxes is based in large part on Springfield’s negligence in properly funding education; however, the constant tax increases that homeowners are forced to shoulder, despite steady decreases in student enrollment, are unsustainable.
In early June, county staff and several County Board members will start meeting with representatives from our school districts to discuss how they can reduce their levies without sacrificing the quality education that McHenry County’s schools deliver.
I’m looking forward to productive and positive meetings in which we show school officials what we did and how we did it, and offer whatever help we can to find efficiencies and reduce expenses that are not related to the classroom.
The best way to lead, by far, is to lead by example. Good leaders never ask anyone to do anything that they themselves are unwilling or unable to do. We can ask the other governments in McHenry County to reduce their levies because we did it. The City of Woodstock and the Village of Lakewood did it, too. It can be done.
When it comes to downsizing, the County Board again is taking the lead, after the voters told us that we can do our job with fewer members.
A County Board committee met earlier this month to discuss reducing its size from 24 members after the 2020 U.S. Census.
Our County Board is the only one in the collar counties that has not reduced its size since the 1970 Illinois Constitution made county boards directly elected by the voters. It’s past time for us to do so.
This will translate into savings on members’ salaries and benefits, but much more importantly, we will have added moral authority when we ask other governments to deliver their services for less money. We did it, it can be done, and now it’s time to follow our example.
While we are doing all of this, our county staff has started work on developing the county budget for 2019, and we are looking for even more efficiencies to pass on to taxpayers.
I left the Illinois House of Representatives after nine terms because the General Assembly has stopped working for the people. The partisan gridlock that gripped Springfield under Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office and sentenced to prison, and Pat Quinn, who was in way over his head, has tightened under Governor Rauner.
We cannot look to Springfield for meaningful solutions to the crushing tax burden that is forcing the people of McHenry County and Illinois to flee in record numbers. Lawmakers raised our income taxes without any property tax relief, and while they gave the school funding formula a long overdue overhaul that resulted in millions more in revenue for our schools, it, too, did not come with any accompanying reforms.
Residents who have been asked for years and years to keep forking over more and more have had it and are voting with their feet.
It is up to county and local governments to step in where the state has failed. It is up to us to tighten our belts and lower property taxes before so many people leave that we reach an economic and demographic point of no return. The McHenry County Board is leading the way in Illinois, and it is time for other taxing bodies to follow us. Our taxpayers deserve nothing less.
• Jack D. Franks, D-Marengo, is Chairman of the McHenry County Board