McHenry County talks 2018 budget, 11.2 percent cut in property tax levy

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks on Monday applauded fellow board members and county employees for developing a 2018 budget that includes an 11.2 percent reduction in the county’s property tax levy.

“It was a wonderful, collaborative effort,” Franks said at a Committee of the Whole meeting. “This happened because we planned and we set goals, and we have to keep doing that, and we’re going to be on the right track, and I feel very confident and I’m very proud of this board and what they were able to accomplish on this.”

The proposed total budget is about $216.7 million, a significant decrease from the 2017 budget total of about $255.3 million.

On Nov. 14, the County Board is expected to vote on both the budget and a proposed $71.4 million property tax levy that is expected to collect $8 million less next year than the county collected this year.

“This is monumental stuff,” Franks said.

Cuts are proposed to come from trimming levies for funds that have robust reserves and ending bond issuances. The county plans to cut $800,000 from the Division of Transportation’s levy, which will have more revenue next year because it has made the final payment on a $50 million road projects bond.

The largest cut – $5,030,995 – targets the county’s general fund. The abatement includes $320,839 in personnel cuts and $882,585 in freed money after the county made the final payment on a capital project that bought a Motorola radio system.

The biggest change in the general fund is abating $2.8 million that came from a levy for Valley Hi Nursing Home. County Board members had considered using the levy next year as a fund to pay for one-time capital projects, given that the county-owned nursing home west of Woodstock has amassed a significant surplus fund, County Administrator Peter Austin said.

The proposed budget cuts $743,653 from the highway fund levy collected by the county, plus an additional $107,507 in matching funds. The budget would cut the mental health fund levy by $500,000.

Other proposed levy cuts include $317,478 from the $4 million levy for Social Security and cutting the liability insurance fund levy $999,929, or 80 percent – the fund to cover the county’s liability in lawsuits has a $14 million reserve.

The budget proposal aims to cut the county government’s six-month fund reserve to five months over several years, and use that $7.2 million to pay for needed building improvements. Those include work on a government parking lot, a courtroom remodel and replacing portable radios for authorities such as the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

The 11.2 percent reduction in the property tax levy is a victory for Franks, who took office in December as the first board chairman directly elected by voters. He ran on a campaign of cutting the county levy by 10 percent. County government accounts for about 10 percent of residential property tax bills.

County Board member Jeffrey Thorsen wondered what cuts would look like come next year’s budget talks.

“Maintaining that 10 percent,” said District 5 representative Michael Skala, who addressed some of the budget concerns among the board, “There’s no way … we’ll be able to cut 10 every single year. We wouldn’t be an operation.”

A copy of the proposed budget can be found on the county website, Fiscal 2018 begins Dec. 1.