McHenry County Board approves plan to cut levy by 10 percent

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board has approved a pledge to taxpayers to cut its tax levy starting next year by at least 10 percent.

In a 23-1 vote Tuesday, board members set a goal of cutting at least $7.9 million in taxation, based on its $79.3 million tax levy for this year. It also creates an ad hoc Committee on Tax Reduction, comprised of just less than half of the entire board, to develop ways to meet the goal by the end of June.

The language was developed by board member Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, and Democratic board Chairman Jack Franks, who ran last year on a platform of slashing the levy by at least 10 percent. However, the resolution was softened by the Finance and Audit Committee to make the cut a goal rather than an absolute.

“We must lead on this, and we must reduce our property taxes,” said Franks, D-Marengo. “This is the biggest issue facing the taxpayers of McHenry County. We cannot fail, and we will not fail. Working together, we are going to get this done.”

The only opposing vote came from board member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, who said that setting the goal without first researching the effects would be detrimental to the county’s most vulnerable residents. She said she did just that in her unsuccessful run earlier this month for the Community High School District 155 Board, in which she and a slate ran on a platform on cutting taxes.

“Is ‘Cut 10’ the right way to go? Well, it may be, but until we have done our homework, we really are not in the position, I believe, to make that decision,” Kurtz said.

But other board members solidly backed the plan to make some kind of attempt to alleviate a property tax burden that one often-cited study puts at the 29th highest by county nationwide.

“If we don’t set goals, if we don’t set objectives, there’s no way we’re going to cut our taxes. Our people are hurting, our residents are hurting, and people are losing their homes [to property taxes],” said board member Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry.

Member Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, said she is confident that the board can cut the levy by 10 percent and not eliminate services. She called talk of service cuts a “scare tactic” and “alarmist” at this point, given that the debate is not about the budget but the tax levy.

“As I tell my children, we have to turn our heat down a few degrees, but we’re not turning off the heat. We turn off the lights when we’re not using them. We’re not losing the service, but we are saving money,” Barnes said.

The board over the past five years has not taken the inflationary levy increase it is entitled to under the tax cap in recognition of the plight of county property owners.

The County Board only can cut its own levy, not those of other local units of government to which residents pay taxes. County government accounts for just less than 10 percent of residential property tax bills in McHenry County – about two-thirds of the average bill goes to public schools.

Gasser said the county, by leading by example, can convince other local governments to follow suit. Although some have either frozen their levies or lowered them, others make sure each year that they capture the inflationary levy increase they are allowed each year under the tax cap.

“We have the biggest bully pulpit, and it’s about time we start using it,” Gasser said.