McHenry County Board begins to brainstorm ways to cut property tax levy by 10 percent

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By KEVIN P. CRAVER – kcraver@shawmedia.com

WOODSTOCK – A working group of just less than half the McHenry County Board has started looking at ways to fulfill its promise to cut its property tax levy by at least 10 percent.

Its Ad Hoc Committee on Tax Reduction met for the first time Thursday, and after 90 minutes of discussion, the committee continued its debate to a second meeting next Wednesday.

Some ideas that were thrown around Thursday included abating all or part of the levy for Valley Hi Nursing Home, which has a surplus fund large enough to fund years of operations; lowering the mileage reimbursement to reflect lower gas prices; and slowly lowering the county’s six-month budget surplus by one month as a way to pay for capital projects.

Board Chairman Jack Franks, who ran for office on a platform of a 10 percent cut, told members that the board can make the cuts without sacrificing needed services. He said residents are shortchanged when resources “are wasted in mazes of outdated processes and bureaucracy.”

“The responsibility incumbent upon us, to be good stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, is really only equaled by our duty to ensure that they have access to the highest-quality services available to anyone – any American,” said Franks, D-Marengo.

County Board members voted last month, 23-1, to set a goal of cutting at least $7.9 million in taxation, based on its $79.3 million tax levy for this year. The April 18 resolution also created the committee, which is charged with developing ways to meet the goal by the end of June.

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

Board member Tom Wilbeck, R-Barrington Hills, encouraged members to “think outside of the box,” and said that one long-term change should include looking into privatizing Valley Hi all together. The home for the county’s senior citizens was created and funded by voter referendum.

Board member Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, said that significant savings can be found by reforming personnel costs. Among the ideas she also had was curtailing or eliminating spending money on consultants for special projects.

“My opinion has often been that if it wasn’t important enough to put it in [the budget] the first time around, then how important is it?” Barnes said.

Franks said the board also should ask rank-and-file employees, who work in the system every day and see inefficiencies, to submit ideas.

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.