This is the first in a series of articles outlining competitive races in McHenry County ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Check out nwherald.com/election in the weeks to come for more election coverage.
Figuring out how to pay for body cameras for deputies, a higher salary for the sheriff and other new state requirements while keeping property taxes flat is a priority for all three candidates running for the McHenry County Board’s eastern district. Hwoever, they differ in their approach.
Three candidates, two Republicans and one Democrat, are competing for two seats representing District 5 on the McHenry County Board in the November election.
Two of those candidates currently sit on the County Board: Stephen Doherty, R-McHenry, and Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, hope to hold onto their seats against Crystal Lake Republican Terri Greeno, a business owner who earned the second-highest vote total in June’s Republican primary.
The County Board’s districts were redrawn this past year as part of the decennial redistricting process, which also included transforming the county’s six four-member districts into nine two-member districts as part of an effort to reduce the County Board’s size.
To address these new costs, the county will need to keep its budget tight, Doherty said. Educating residents on the county’s finances and their tax bills is something he supports, as well.
Doherty pointed to mandates such as the new requirement for law enforcement to have body cameras, which is expected to add new expenses every year. The initial purchase price of cameras, combined with storage costs and other services, is expected to cost the county about $418,000 a year.
A recent salary raise for the sheriff also was passed earlier this year to comply with a state law, although the bulk of that raise will be paid for by the state.
“The tax implications [of the unfunded mandates] are still out there,” he said.
Fiscal responsibility is Greeno’s top priority, as well, she said. While she doesn’t think the county’s budget needs an overhaul, she said some issues that could cause budgetary issues – the cancellation of the county’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees, in addition to the mandates – have come up.
Many candidates, on and off the board, have said they’re worried about the financial impact of the canceled contract. While the amount received from the contract dwindled in its last years, it brought in about $10 million annually at its height.
At some point, Greeno said, the county may be forced to cut services in an effort to avoid raising property taxes. She said mandates in the past couple of years have come at an “obscene pace.”
“It’s our responsibility as a county to stand against [mandates] and work to get a team at the state level that works on behalf of its citizens and not special interest groups,” she said.
While Wegener said she was not worried about the mandates and said most of them are “necessary,” she said addressing property tax concerns and a strong budget are her top priorities. They’re the first thing residents bring up, she said. In addition to monitoring the budgets, she wants to find ways to share governmental services to reduce overall cost and increase collaboration.
Wegener also wants to increase economic investment to encourage businesses to come to the county, which would lessen the property tax burden on residential property. Part of this starts with helping train students and workers, she said.
She pointed to the nearly $60 million in federal money the county received courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act. Much of that money has gone to training programs at both the high school and college level in an effort to boost the worker base in the area. Wegener wants to continue those efforts.
“If there are … workers out here, I think that will drive the businesses out here,” she said.
Doherty, who said he “unfortunately” didn’t have any specific ideas on how to combat the impact of existing unfunded mandates, said, if reelected, he would advocate for dialogue between the county, state and federal representatives to find solutions.
“At some point, the revenue has to increase to keep up the pace,” he said. “That’s going to be such a huge challenge going forward.”