Franks challenges McHenry County to make tax cuts permanent next fiscal year

Franks challenges board to make tax cuts permanent next fiscal year

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After having voted to reduce McHenry County’s property tax levy by about $18 million over the past two fiscal years, the County Board was issued a challenge Tuesday by Chairman Jack Franks.

Instead of issuing tax abatements, Franks recommended establishing permanent tax cuts this budget year.

“Homeowners and business owners deserve a tax cut,” Franks said. “We’ve reduced taxes two straight years with no problem and if we can do it for a third, then we plain don’t need the money and we can turn the abatements we’ve been doing into a permanent tax cut.”

In 2017, the County Board approved a budget with an 11.2% cut of its property tax levy. However, after property assessments came through and new property was added to the tax rolls, the reduction came out to about 9.55%.

Last year, the county adopted a spending plan with $9.8 million in tax cuts. Of that amount, $7.53 million comes from abatements and
$2.3 million comes from permanent reductions in the county's property tax levy.

The bulk of the permanent cuts came from retired debt that rolled off the government’s books. A reduced workforce head count also contributed to the cuts. Abatements target line items throughout the budget, but those cuts will not affect services, according to the county.

By artificially taking money that the county doesn’t need, Franks said it could amount to huge potential surpluses – such as the $40 million balance of the Valley Hi Nursing Home – which is not fair.

“Right now, we have the ability to levy $10 million more than we actually need,” Franks said. “We shouldn’t have access to a slush fund.”

Franks said he wanted to put that challenge out there to allow for a robust debate ahead of upcoming budget talks.

“I just want to lead by example and show what good government is and can be,” Franks said.

Automation fund transfer

The board unanimously approved appropriations of $1.4 million from the McHenry County Recorder’s automation fund, plus an additional $926,842 in general fund revenue, to pay for a more than $2 million cybersecurity upgrade Tuesday.

Board member Mike Skala – who also chairs the county’s Finance and Audit Committee – made a motion amending the resolution to transfer $1 million from the automation fund.

Skala said based on the automation fund’s current burn rate, its balance will be depleted in three to three and a half years. Therefore, Skala said he would like to leave a little more time to determine whether it is necessary to increase fees or remove certain expenditures in the recorder’s office down the road.

McHenry County Recorder Joe Tirio had presented a $1 million transfer from the automation fund for the upgrade, but after speaking with his chief deputy recorder, he said an additional $400,000 was about as much that reasonably could be given at the fund’s current depletion rate.

Skala said he was open to a $1.4 million transfer but the appropriations never were discussed in committee so he wanted to provide a chance for the matter to be discussed before the full board.

Board member Jeffrey Thorsen said he thinks three years should provide adequate time if a problem does arise in the recorder’s office’s finances.

“If we can’t figure out a solution in three years then we got a serious problem,” Thorsen said.

After a brief discussion, Skala withdrew his motion and the original resolution was approved, 24-0.