Karen Cribben, DeKalb County Board 2022 Primary Election Questionnaire

Election 2024
DeKalb County Board candidate Karen Cribben

Full Name: Karen Cribben

What office are you seeking? DeKalb County Board, District 11

What offices, if any, have you previously held? DeKalb County Board is the only public office I have held. I was appointed in 2019.

City: Somonauk, IL

Occupation: Retired from DeKalb County Office of Assessments

Education: I took classes to obtain my CIAO designation for County Assessor’s Office. I also took classes at Purdue North Central, Waubonsee College, and Kishwaukee College.

Campaign Website: No

The DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a public facility owned by DeKalb County government, is under financial distress, according to county officials. Budget constraints brought to light in 2021 made it difficult for the center to maintain its financial independence. The county board last year dissolved the center’s operating board, and hired a consultant to help determine the future of the facility: Whether to sell it (current county leadership says that is not the preference), or how to maintain its financial autonomy. If elected, what would you want to see become of the county nursing home?

I would prefer to see the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center remain under the control of the County. I was appointed to the Rehabilitation and Nursing Center operating board in 2021, and that is when I became aware of their financial issues. The County has already put money into the nursing home of approximately of $7.5 million. There cannot be a continuous outflow of the County’s funds. These funds are coming out of accounts set up for different projects. We will be voting on a referendum to sell the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at our next board meeting.

How would you address financial constraints at the nursing home as a county board member?

It appears that the majority of the board, including myself, want to keep the Rehabilitation and Nursing center, but it must be self- sustaining. Although there have been some money saving changes made at the nursing home, they are not enough to get to sustainability. An ongoing concern of mine is the use of contract employees, which is costing the County substantially more than in- house employees. While the County has looked into setting up a separate taxing body (for the Nursing Home), the practical amount that we could collect would not make the Rehabilitation and Nursing Center whole. We have spent a year trying to find alternative solutions, only to find that a sale now appears prudent.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the DeKalb County Board?

1. Returning to profitability at DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center

2. How to recoup funds already invested in the Nursing Home

3. How to keep the County Budget balanced to maintain public services.

Please provide specific ideas for how you would address these issues if elected, or solutions you would offer?

1. The DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has currently cost the County almost $7.5 million and climbing. The administrator of the Rehab and Nursing Center has said that it will take up to 2 years for it to reach profitability. During that 2 years the county would have to substantially subsidize the nursing home. It also has a bond requiring a debt service payment of $661,000 each year for 30 years. Selling the nursing home seems to be the best path foreword.

2. At this point we are not sure we will be able to recoup the funds that the county has and will be spending on the nursing home.

3. Our County Administrator proposed a budget this year that would not increase the County’s levy. Increases in revenue would come from new construction and related increased assessments. He conferred with our local appointed and elected officials to bring this about and I commend him for his work. I am hoping this will continue into the future.

What makes you specifically qualified to run for DeKalb County Board? What would you bring to the table, and how would it benefit the board? Please provide specific examples.

My husband and I farm in the southern part of the county. DeKalb County farmland comprises 88% of the land base in the county. I would like to think that I represent those farmers. I also was employed for 11 years with the DeKalb County Office of Assessments, which gives me some insight into how the taxing portion of the county works.

In 2021, the DeKalb County Board took up votes for several solar energy farms of significant size. The projects, which were approved amid some lengthy debate, spawned a significant amount of community feedback, some negative, some positive, some related to county board regulations for future farms. Where do you stand on the topic of solar energy, and what role do you believe the county board should play in that?

Solar farms and solar energy have a place in our county. According to the State of Illinois, the county does have jurisdiction and must set up rules and regulations for them. I believe that farmers should have the right to put these solar farms on their property if all the rules and regulations are met.

The DeKalb County Board’s budget was passed for Fiscal Year 2022 at $96 million. Would you advocate to change it or make cuts? If so, where? Why or why not?

Our County Administrator did an excellent job in setting up the budget for 2022. He consulted with the appointed and elected office officials to trim it to a point where both parties were comfortable with the outcome. The county did not raise their levy. We are always looking for a more efficient and cost-saving way to run the county. That should always be a priority.

Inflation across the nation has greatly impacted the price of gasoline, food and supplies. Recent rent hikes also are affecting local communities, forcing relocation for those reliant on subsidized housing in DeKalb County, according to a recent Daily Chronicle report and the DeKalb County Housing Authority, which is a branch of county government. What can the DeKalb County Board do to address relief of everyday expenses, and reduce the tax burden on local residents?

The monies for the DeKalb County Housing Authority come from the state. The County Board only confirms the directors. We have no say in how the Housing Authority operates. The county does provide some funds for several of the local “Help” centers. This would include organizations that provide food, housing, counseling, transportation, etc. for seniors. Unlike several municipalities, the County has not imposed a sales tax. Real estate tax assessments are regulated by the State of Illinois, especially farmland assessments. The State has regulations on how property is assessed. The only control we have over tax bills is what the County tax rate is, and previously I noted that the county’s levy did not increase.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, DeKalb County’s population dropped by about 4,000 people over the past decade, mostly concentrated in the DeKalb area. Population sizes can directly impact revenue streams for municipal budgets such as local sales tax and motor fuel use, and economic development. How would you rank economic development as a priority within your campaign, and what, if elected, would you do to ensure DeKalb County progresses into the next decade?

If you look at Syngenta, Ferrara, Facebook, and Amazon, I believe that DeKalb County is already on its way into the next decade. There were concessions made by the City of DeKalb and other taxing bodies regarding property tax abatements to bring these businesses to DeKalb County. With these coming into our County, I believe that more will follow. All of these will increase our tax base. With increased job opportunities, we are hoping this also brings residents into the area.

Assess the DeKalb County Health Department’s actions to combat COVID-19? What changes, if any, need to be made related to the pandemic?

The DeKalb County Health Department did an excellent job on a local basis putting into effect the State’s requirements. I received my vaccine at the convocation center, like I believe most people did.T here was also a site in Sandwich. The nursing homes were given access to the vaccines. You could register online or with a phone call, it couldn’t have much easier. The only issue was the logistics of getting the vaccines to DeKalb County, and the Health Department has limited input.

How would you encourage economic and employment growth within DeKalb County?

The County contributes to DCEDC (DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation), as do other municipalities. The DCEDC is better equipped to advertise and solicit companies to come to DeKalb County. They report to us at least annually.

Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?

Crime has been on the increase since Covid, especially in our municipalities. Our Sheriff’s department often works with these municipalities. We have a very capable, knowledgeable and experienced staff at the Sheriff’s office. If they are in need, they wouldn’t hesitate to come to the Board. Now that Covid is moderating and employment is increasing, hopefully crime incidents will decrease.

What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?

Nathan Schwartz is the head of the Highway Department. He does an excellent job of prioritizing projects which the County needs to do each year. Nathan is also the director of DeKalb-Sycamore Area Transportation Study (DSATS).

Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?

As previously stated, DeKalb County’s levy remained unchanged from 2021. Increasing our levy was a concern to our County Administrator, so he worked with every branch of the DeKalb County government to achieve a balanced and stable budget. Everyone would agree that decreasing local property taxes should be a priority. New construction will aid in the effort to stabilize what the county levies. But if lowering taxes means fewer public services, this should be put to a referendum.

Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?

I believe the County’s ethic’s policy is sufficient.

What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act is important. Working for the Office of Assessments, it was part of my duties to respond to these. I don’t believe we ever had to refuse to respond to a Freedom of Information request, but it may have had to be altered with permission of the party requesting it, due to circumstances beyond our control. It is important that anyone be able obtain information that may be available to them.

Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.

The county does an excellent job in maintaining government transparency. The minutes of every county board meeting is recorded and transcribed in a timely manner. The notices of any county meetings are posted and listed online, and the public may attend. The DeKalb County Transparency Checklist is listed on DeKalb County’s website.

What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?

Given our County has a predominant rural character, most businesses are not located in the “county”. They are normally located in the municipalities. I believe that in DeKalb County’s municipal “fringe”, there is a push for commercial business. Our agricultural community is blessed with a very productive land resource. Besides highly productive farmland, we have orchards, berry farms, wineries with vineyards, and other ag related businesses. Occasionally someone would want a business in or near their home. All of these would go before our Community Development (formerly Planning, Zoning and Building Department).

Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign non- disclosure agreements with private businesses?

If the private business does business with the DeKalb County, I don’t believe a government employe

Would you push for or against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?

I am against government officials and employees being allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses who do business with the county. Private businesses having dealings with DeKalb County should conform to open, honest and transparent business practices.