News - Kane County

Why Kane County will probably move new sales tax ballot question to April

This week, Kane County Board members began building a consensus for a new sales tax to support public safety. The request won't appear on the June primary ballot, but voters might see it in November.

Kane County residents will have to wait until April to decide whether they want to pay a new sales tax to support state-mandated justice reforms.

The decision, recommended by the county board’s executive committee last week, punts a treacherous political decision until after the November election, when all 24 county board seats are on the ballot.

State lawmakers put new financial pressure on local governments with the passage of the SAFE-T Act. The phased-in justice reforms require expensive changes, including body cameras for law enforcement and the end of cash bail. It also will force Kane County to hire dozens of new employees, fueling more than $20 million in new expenses over the next three fiscal years.

Kane County doesn’t have that kind of wiggle room in the budget. So the current plan contemplates raising the county’s property tax levy each of the next three years by as much as 5%. Officials would pair that by asking voters to approve a new 0.5% sales tax in which the proceeds would go toward the sheriff’s office and court system.

In real terms, the proposed sales tax would increase the cost of a $100 purchase by 50 cents. If voters approve the new tax, the county will collect an estimated $10.8 million in new revenue in 2023.

The county board was headed toward asking voters for that approval in November.

But last week, officials learned they could defer asking for voter approval for the sales tax until the April 4, 2023, election and still begin collecting the new tax on July 1, 2023. That’s the same time the collection would begin if voters approved the tax in November.

The executive committee said the additional time will allow more voters to become informed about the sales tax and why the county wants to create it. The April election will, historically, have a lower voter turnout than a November ballot that features a gubernatorial race.

The April ballot also will not feature any Kane County Board incumbents seeking reelection, allowing for more political comfort for county board members who fear being ousted because they support the tax increase.

The delay also may allow more time for inflation to ease.

However, such a delay also will cast more uncertainty on the 2023 budget, county board Chair Corinne Pierog said.

“The state’s attorney is looking at hiring, as we speak, an additional 49 employees,” Pierog said. “How do we move forward with managing a budget if we don’t know if Kane County voters are going to approve this or not?”

The full county board will have the final say over the timing and fate of the sales tax referendum.

The delay until April is a virtual certainty with 14 of the board’s 24 members already voting in the executive committee in favor of the delay until April. That said, there will be debate by the full board about not moving ahead with a sales tax referendum at all or possibly deferring that decision until after the November election.