McHenry County Board will consider 10% salary cut for elected officials

County officials project upward of $22 million in lost revenue for fiscal 2020

On Monday, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks proposed a resolution to cut the salaries of most elected officials by 10% as the county faces immense losses in revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a news release, Franks, D-Marengo, said it is only fair that elected officials take a pay cut, given the amount of county residents who have had their salaries reduced or who have lost their jobs entirely.

If approved, Franks' resolution would reduce the salaries of all County Board members as well as the County Board chairman, auditor, circuit clerk, coroner, county clerk, sheriff and treasurer, according to the news release.

"Our taxpayers are hurting and many of our businesses are closed and many of our constituents are unemployed and many that still have jobs have had their pay cut," Franks said. "And if our constituents have less then government must have less."

"We're going to have to fill some holes here and it needs to be a shared sacrifice," he said.

This announcement comes shortly after the county projected revenue losses of up to $22 million for fiscal 2020, according to a report from the county's Director of Finance Kevin Bueso.

The report gives projections based on four different COVID-19 recovery scenarios, which range from $6.9 million in revenue losses up to $22.1 million.

These projections are based on the impact that COVID-19 shutdowns have had – and will continue to have – on property taxes, motor fuel taxes, sales taxes, income taxes and other economically sensitive revenue items that the county depends on, according to the report.

District 5 County Board member Michael Skala, R-Huntley, said he had a number of concerns with the information used in Bueso's projections.

"I felt that the numbers were greatly distorted," Skala said.

The report projects a 12% reduction in property tax revenue for 2020 in three of the four recovery scenarios outlined, resulting in $8 million in projected losses.

As head of the county's Finance Committee, Skala said he believes the reduction in this year's property tax revenue will be much less drastic than that.

He also pointed out that the next two budget lines projected to be hit hard by the pandemic – the Motor Fuel Tax and the county's portion of Regional Transportation Authority sales tax – are used to fund county road projects and do not support operational costs.

"So we may need to delay road projects, but it's not like it's impacting the day-to-day operations of the county," he said. "When you take those things out of [the report], that number decreases greatly."

Skala said he has asked members of the Finance Committee to recreate the report with what he feels would be "more accurate data." He said the report should also account for the areas in which the county has saved money over past few months, such as building closures and having employees work from home.

Skala did not say whether he would support the resolution, but he did say that he thinks the board should wait until a new report with alternate revenue projections can be completed and taken into consideration.

At that point, Skala said the board should discuss comprehensive budgetary changes, rather than focusing solely on salary reductions for elected officials.

Regardless of actual revenue lost for fiscal year 2020, Franks said the economic effects of COVID-19 shutdowns will be felt throughout the county for years to come.

When he saw Bueso’s report, Franks said he thought reducing the salaries of elected officials would be “low hanging fruit” in trimming the county’s budget and that it was "the logical first step."

“Our elected officials are some of the highest paid in the state and, on a per capita basis, they are the highest paid in the state,” he said. “Nobody’s excited about a salary cut but, as leaders, we must lead by example.”

County board members must vote on these resolutions soon as a state statute mandates that salaries of elected officials must be modified at least six months before they take office, Franks said.

For this election cycle, newly-elected county officials will take office in December meaning the board cannot afford to delay the vote, he said.

If the resolution passes, salary reductions would take effect on Dec. 1 this year or Dec. 1, 2022, depending on when the current term of each office ends.

For board members, the cut would take effect in 2022, when all seats will be up for election, according to the release. Redistricting following the 2020 Census will decrease the size of the board from 24 to 18 members.

The proposed pay cut does not include the state's attorney or the regional superintendent of schools, as the salaries of those offices are set by the state, according to the release.

A referendum on the November ballot will decide whether the coroner's office will remain an elected position, and thus will determine whether that office is impacted by the proposed pay cut.

Franks proposed a second resolution on Monday that would require elected officials to submit time sheets, proving hours worked, in order to receive county health or dental insurance benefits.

This resolution was drafted to promote "transparency and accountability" by showing taxpayers that elected officials are putting in the hours to justify receiving insurance benefits commensurate with full-time employment, Franks said.

Currently, Franks and 16 board members receive one or both of the available health and dental insurance plans, which Franks said are highly subsidized by taxpayers.

"In some instances, this benefit costs taxpayers $23,000 per each individual [board member]," Franks said.

Board members are required to work 20 hours per week in order to be considered full time, a requirement that Franks said he thinks some members do not meet.

Providing proof that board members are putting in the work to earn these benefits is especially important now that many of their constituents have lost their own health insurance because of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, Franks said.

With these two resolutions, the county would likely save “millions of dollars” over the next few years, Franks said.

Franks said board members will discuss the proposed resolutions during their Committee of the Whole meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. The board will then vote on the resolutions in the regular meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. May 19.

Both meetings will be held virtually as teleconferences, but members of the public can listen in real time through a link provided on the McHenry County meeting portal.

Anyone interested in submitting public commentary can do so by emailing no later than two hours before meetings begin. The County Board asks that residents include their name and address in the email for the record.