Full Name: Kelli Wegener
What office are you seeking? County Board Member, District 5
What offices, if any, have you previously held? County Board Member - 2018 Election - Present
City: Crystal Lake
Occupation: Substitute Teacher, McHenry County Board Member
Education: Bachelors of Science, Illinois State University Major - Finance, Minor - Accounting MBA with Concentration in Finance, DePaul Kellstadt School of Business, Graduated with Distinction
Campaign Website: www.Kelli4McHenryCounty.com
What would be your top three priorities?
Lowering Taxes for the McHenry residents by ensuring the fiscal responsibility of the county government
Increasing economic growth in McHenry County
Public Health and Mental Health services for our county’s residents, especially the older populations
Taxes are a top concern raised by voters locally. What do you do within your position to address residents’ tax burden?
I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee, and part of that job is to scrutinize the proposed budgets and financial statements to ensure the county is staying within their budget. In November, I voted “NO” on the 2022 proposed budget because it was brought for a vote to the County Board with a tax increase.
It is important to ask the hard questions and challenge the status quo, but I try to find solutions that work for both the county government and the taxpayers. One way to reduce the tax burden on McHenry County residents would be to eliminate the medical and dental insurance benefits for the County Board Members. This is a part-time position that should not have the same benefits full-time employees are allotted.
It is understandable that McHenry County residents are upset about their high property taxes, and I will do whatever I can to reduce their burden.
Voters also cited crime as a concern. What do you think needs to be done to address this concern?
We rely on our Sheriff’s Office and local police departments to deter crime and respond when a crime has been committed. Budgeting for the equipment needed in the Sheriff’s Office is necessary in order to prevent or investigate crimes. Body cameras will be rolled out this year by the County Sheriff. This has been one of my priorities because it protects all parties from he said/she said arguments while showing an objective view from the camera lens. I voted for the county’s new training facility to serve local police departments and the County Sheriff’s department which will allow for increased law enforcement and safety training. Another effort I fully supported is the collaboration between the county and local municipalities who are working together to create a countywide social work program. This new program will help bridge the gap between law enforcement and mental health needs. I also fully support the county’s DUI, Drug and Mental Health Courts which help reduce recidivism and can result in lower crime.
How would you encourage economic and employment growth within McHenry County?
McHenry has so many wonderful resources to help increase economic growth. In the wake of the pandemic, it is important for us to use these resources in order to continue to recover economically, but also encourage companies to invest in our community. McHenry County should continue to invest in infrastructure, like the widening of Route 47 and Route 31 in order to allow for goods to be transported to and from our county. With the new Interstate 90 & Route 23 interchange, tax incentives should be used to bring manufacturers to that area. Especially since it’s so close to the Rockford Airport.
McHenry County needs more affordable housing in order to attract workers to fill the manufacturing jobs and attract young professionals who are ready to settle down. The Manufacturer Pathways Consortium can be used to raise awareness of the careers and educational opportunities in our county along with working with the manufacturers to find ways to fill their job vacancies. By leveraging the training at the Workforce Network and the other various resources in the county, we can have a robust job market that hires employees of all skill levels.
Do you think McHenry County should continue to challenge the new state law that prohibits its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Why or why not?
I do not think McHenry County should challenge the Illinois Way Forward Act, the law that prohibits contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The McHenry County State’s Attorney challenged the law a few months after it was signed by the governor, and a three-judge panel ruled against our county saying the ICE detention center had to close. If the county challenges it again, they will be wasting taxpayer dollars to fight for a program whose revenues have fallen significantly since the start of contract.
What is the County Board’s role in addressing audit issues at the McHenry County Regional Office of Education?
In the past few years, the Regional Office of Education had significant shortfalls in their internal audits when the county auditor periodically reported their findings to the Finance and Audit committee. When asked at the Finance and Audit to respond to the findings, the former ROE did not go into detail how the problems would be rectified. Because the County Board and the ROE are both elected officials, there is no direct action we can take to correct the audit findings. The County Auditor should have reported the findings to the State Legislative Audit Commission after multiple years of findings because many of the funds that run through the ROE’s office are state monies. Taking action like the County Board did to remove the former ROE was the last option we had to change things for the better.
What road and bridge infrastructure needs to be addressed in McHenry County?
McHenry County should continue to address the widening of major thoroughfares like Route 47, Route 31, and the final leg of Randall Road. There are also a few bridges in the rural areas that need to be repaired for the safety of the farmers who drive over them with the heavy farm equipment. Some intersections should be reviewed for safety, especially the entrance to Prairie Ridge High School. Because of the speed limit, the number of inexperienced drivers, the heavy traffic on Walkup Road, and the pedestrians trying to cross Walkup, a stoplight should be installed to ensure student safety.
What are the top issues facing Valley Hi Nursing Home and how should the County Board help address them?
Valley Hi continues to have a shortage of employees, like most nursing homes in the US. The pandemic increased this problem which resulted in the facility unable to accept more residents because there wasn’t enough staff. One other issue is the “bed mix”, the percentage of beds that are private pay, Medicare, or Medicaid. In order for Valley Hi to cover their expenses, they need to ensure they have enough money. This may mean changing the bed mix periodically, especially when the number of residents has decreased.
The County Board is passing a resolution to expand Valley HI and create a memory care unit - something that is desperate needed in our county. This is a great step to help the seniors who can no longer stay in their homes.
Assess the McHenry County Department of Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What changes, if any, need to be made related to the pandemic or any future response?
The pandemic was very tough on most of us, and the divide in our county about how it should be handled made it much more difficult. As we learned more about COVID-19, protocols and safety measures were changed periodically, and this added to more confusion and anxiety. Because I have not studied epidemiology, I cannot state the best way to combat a pandemic. On the other hand, communication is key. If there is a future response necessary, the McHenry County Department of Health should report directly to the County Board every meeting so we understand exactly what the Health Department is doing and what we should be doing to protect ourselves. I would hope that our community could come together to help fight a virus and do what’s best for the the community as a whole.
If you could reverse one decision made by the County Board last year, what would it be?
I would reverse the resolution that authorized the change to all the voting precincts in McHenry County because of the confusion this will cause on election day. I voted “NO” on this resolution because it changed the number of most of our county resident’s precincts, and this drastic of a change was not necessary.
Do you think there is a local crime problem? If so, what needs to be done about it?
When you examine the statistics, McHenry County is safer than the majority of towns and cities across America. I am currently on the Law & Government Committee, and during a conversation with the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year, it was stated that our county remains safe and has not seen an increase in crime over the past few years. While we are concerned about the crime moving out here from Chicago and other suburbs, I am confident we are in good hands because of the dedicated officers, deputies, detectives and other staff who work hard to protect our community.
What local road and bridge projects should be a priority to get done in the county?
The major thoroughfares that are used by trucks should be a priority, Route 47, Route 31, and finishing Randall Road. The few bridges that need repair and strengthening for the farm equipment should also be a priority.
Do you support decreasing local property taxes? If so, how would the county make up the difference?
I would support decreasing the local property taxes as long as the county government still has the resources to attend to the residents’ needs. The county’s tax levy has remained flat for a number of years even though salaries and costs have increased. Increasing automation and efficiencies has allowed for the county to do more with less money. Ideally, the Illinois State government would create a new taxing structure so our property taxes could be reduced Approximately 75% of our property tax bill is comprised of the school district taxing bodies, and the County Board doesn’t have purview over these taxes.
Do you support stronger county government ethics laws? What measures do you support?
Yes, I support stronger county government ethics laws. This is an unfortunate problem in Illinois, and our government officials need to lead by example instead of trying to skirt the law. Clear standards should be set and all government officials should sign an ethics agreement. I support full financial disclosure, including any business dealings, investments, partnership, etc.. If a person is found to have violated the ethics law, the consequences written into the law must be applied, no matter what elected office they hold.
What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?
The government is run “for and by the people”. Unless information is confidential for legal, medical, safety, or national security reasons, the information at the government level should be available by FOIA. Citizens have the right to know what decisions are made and why they made. They also have the right to know where tax money is being spent.
Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.
Transparency is the main way we can hold government accountable. I plan to ensure that meeting agendas and detailed agenda packets are posted for the public to view prior to the meetings. I have spoken up many times at committee meetings to request more detailed minutes so the public can have an understanding of what occurred at the meetings.
It is important that all business and decisions having to do with the County Board be made in the boardroom during a meeting. It is also important that we continue to allow the public into the boardroom and inform them about their ability to speak during Public Comment.
In the past year, a budget tool has been added to the website so the public can review the income and expenditures of the county. Financial transparency is key for an ethical government.
What would you push for as a member of county government to boost local businesses?
Local business is the heart of any community. It is important for our county to work with our tourism bureau, Naturally McHenry County, to encourage patronage of local shops and businesses from our residents and also any tourists that venture to McHenry County. I would push for our county government to purchase goods and services from local businesses and also work with the the local Chambers of Commerce to help those businesses market themselves across our large county and into Wisconsin.
Should government employees and officials be allowed to sign non-disclosure agreements with private businesses?
No. Government officials and employees have the duty to be transparent and ethical.
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 signing NDA’s with private businesses. Elected Officials should be leading by example with transparency.