Some form of a tax increase for Kane County residents will be at least part of the discussion as Kane County Board members piece together a plan for the 2024 budget over the next two months.
Through policy changes, the board signaled it will seek new revenue to pay for the county’s largest ongoing day-to-day expense – government employee salaries.
Almost all of the county’s employee salaries are paid out of the general fund. In 2012, the county levied just under $54 million in taxes for the general fund. In 2022, that levy amount reached $57.7 million. In the decade that time frame spans, the levy never jumped by more than 1.24% year to year.
That relatively flat budget was fueled by a push for a frozen property tax levy driven by a Republican-led and controlled county board. But Democrats now have an unbeatable majority on the county board and there’s been a push for employee raises stymied only by the pandemic. With fears of the virus dampened, the talk of raises, hiring more employees and paying salaries competitive with neighboring counties has grown.
The county board contemplated several forms of tax increases last year. But with the entire county board up for reelection, there weren’t enough board members willing to fight the tax raise battle with their constituents. That ballot fear is gone.
County board members approved budget policies earlier this year that force the board to balance the coming budget without using any savings. In other words, the county’s income must at least match what it spends to pay all the bills. The budget for the current year uses $16.7 million worth of savings to reach a balance.
Adding to that is a slew of employee union contracts under negotiation. In the past 15 years, the county has never seen a new union contract that didn’t include a pay raise – either because of an agreement or an arbitration ruling.
Even without accounting for any raises or new employees, Kathy Hopkinson, the county’s CFO, told the board it has a $5 million deficit heading into 2024, leaving only two options.
“If you are taking home a paycheck every week of $1,000, but you’re spending $1,200, where are you going to get that extra $200?” Hopkinson said. “The county needs to consider some options. There’s only two ways to do it – increase revenues or cut expenses.”
The increases could come in the form of a property tax increase, a county gas tax increase, a creation of a county sales tax or some combination of the three.