October 24, 2021

McHenry County Conservation District plans to review budget, make cuts

Conservation District to review budget, make cuts equal to levy increase

The McHenry County Conservation District has decided to consider making cuts to its budget, which was rejected last week by a county committee.

A motion to reconsider the district’s fiscal 2020 budget with the intention of making cuts equal to a roughly $206,000 levy increase was unanimously approved by the district’s board during a special meeting Monday.

This matter now will be discussed and voted on during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Brookdale Administrative Offices, 18410 Route 14.

Board President Dave Kranz said it will be notifying all 25 McHenry County Board members of this process with the hope that an amended budget can be included on the County Board’s Tuesday meeting.

The $28 million spending plan can be introduced under the “new and unfinished business” section of Tuesday’s County Board meeting agenda, pending the approval of the board chairman. However, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has been vocal about his refusal to bring an agenda item calling for a tax increase forward.

Franks and other board members were critical of the levy increase – especially after the Conservation District ended last fiscal year with a $750,000 surplus and had a $400,000 increase in general fund revenue over last year.

The bill for a home with a median home value of $215,000 would increase by $6.70 because of the Conservation District’s property tax increases, the district’s executive director, Elizabeth Kessler, has said.

Although the budget was unanimously approved by the MCCD board in April, the county's Finance and Audit Committee rejected the budget ordinance, 2-4.

Franks said assuming the budget reductions are made and the district agrees to reduce its levy to the amount it was before the $206,000 increase – which he said he requested of the district before the budget was approved – he will include the MCCD budget on the May agenda.

“There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny and accountability for that organization,” Franks said.

However, Kranz said he would prefer to hear from the 18 other County Board members not on the finance committee before the budget is changed.

“I believe they have a lot to say, and they deserve an opportunity to give us some guidance,” Kranz said.

Trustee Carolyn Campbell said to go through the process of passing a budget with a property tax levy and then go right into negotiations of what should be amended does not seem transparent. She also encouraged anyone concerned that something nefarious may be going on regarding finances to come to future board meetings.

“We laid out why we took the levy,” Campbell said. “Now suddenly it’s a political hot potato.”

The possibility of gathering the support of eight County Board members to call a special meeting to vote on the budget as is was considered. But several trustees felt the votes would not be there.

Trustee John Henning said he thought the Finance and Audit Committee broke the budget down more than the MCCD board did and if he were on the County Board, he would have a hard time voting for the proposed budget.

“For us to think differently would be burying our heads in the sand and delaying the inevitable,” Henning said.

Henning also said the budget process was extremely flawed and he didn’t like voting on a property tax levy before there was a clear idea of where the money would be going.

“With all the things that have transpired, I think we need to look at what to change and how to change it and the sooner the better,” Henning said.

Franks said anyone who would agree to calling a special meeting would be calling to raise property taxes.

Bob Nowak, County Board liaison for the Conservation District, said even if the board were to find eight County Board members to approve a special meeting, there would still need to be 13 members in attendance to establish a quorum, which would be a tough task.

Nowak said that if cutting $200,000 out of the budget would not reduce staff or close any sites, it should be considered to move the proposal forward.

MCCD’s fiscal year began April 1 but state law gives conservation districts a three-month window to approve a budget in the event their respective county boards reject them.