This is the second 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.
Her opponents in District 3, meanwhile, called taxes and the county’s fiscal health their top priorities and vowed to not vote for any tax increase, particularly as inflation looms and gives residents a tougher time with finances.
Although incumbent Carolyn Campbell, D-Crystal Lake, did not make that vow – something Republican challenger Eric Hendricks has been pushing all County Board candidates to make – her goal is to keep the levy flat.
“I’m going to work hard and do everything I can to keep the property tax levy flat because people in McHenry County are overburdened,” Campbell said. “We are paying some of the highest property taxes in the state, and no one wants to raise property taxes.”
Campbell and Hendricks are joined by incumbent board member Bob Nowak, R-Algonquin, in the race this November for two spots representing District 3 on the County Board.
District 3 includes parts of Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake and Lakewood, a narrow region that stretches from Ballard Road in the north to the Kane County border in the south. The County Board’s districts were redrawn this year as part of the decennial redistricting process, part of which included reducing the board’s size from 24 members to 18.
With rising costs due to inflation and a property tax burden Hendricks said is too much, he called on his opponents and other candidates running for a spot on the County Board to vow not to raise property taxes. His aim is to keep it at least flat, with the hope that it could be reduced.
“Taxes seem to be a bipartisan issue in the county,” said Hendricks, an attorney who grew up in the area.
Nowak, who before joining the board worked for the village of Cary for two decades, said his biggest priority always has been balancing the budget without increasing the county’s property tax levy.
“I have been adamant about that since I first got on,” he said. “We can’t tax the people out of McHenry County.”
The county makes up about 8% of a resident’s tax bill, on average, according to McHenry County’s 2020 financial report. A bigger share – almost 70% – goes to school districts.
All three candidates acknowledged most of a residents’ property tax bill comes from the school districts but said it’s important to keep the county’s portion reeled in.
Hendricks suggested using the position of County Board member to collaborate with those districts to see if something can be done to effect change.
The group was in agreement that the state of the county’s fiscal health was strong, with all three citing various parameters, including the county’s debt, its bond rating and level of reserves.
However, each also expressed some concerns and challenges going forward.
Campbell, for example, said since the budget has stayed relatively flat, she worries about salaries for county staff and what that means for retaining workers.
“I think there are challenges,” she said. “But I do think we’ve done well.”
Hendricks said the county has been responsible, but again pointed to the local tax burden.
“Two things can be possible,” he said. “You can be fiscally responsible but still have too high of taxes.”
Developing the county’s economy is something Campbell said she has been involved in during her professional and public career, and she wants to continue these efforts if elected.
With property taxes a top concern of residents, she wants to find ways to reduce that burden. A more vibrant business community is a way to accomplish that, she said. That includes working with community partners such as Naturally McHenry County, the county’s tourism agency, and the McHenry County Eeconomic Development Corp.
“You’re not just talking about a business climate,” she said. “You’re talking about a climate that’s conducive for workers. Are you training them? Are you supporting families?”
Hendricks said he would support initiatives that reduce red tape and create a more business-friendly environment in the county.
“You always want to increase the local economy,” he said.
But he worries about unfunded mandates handed down by the state Legislature. He pointed to a new state law that requires all police departments to purchase body cameras as an example.
“How can you not be worried about unfunded mandates?” Hendricks said. “It’s tough when you have people at the state level forcing down expenditures that you at the county level have to make without providing any source of revenue to fund it.”
Nowak said he did not like unfunded state mandates either, noting he doesn’t “care for those at all.” Some, however, are better than others. He also pointed to body cameras as an example, as the state provided grants to help fund them.
“Trying to fund that is a little difficult,” he said, “but I think it’s very important.”
He called those handed down with no relief a burden on the budget. To cope, Nowak said cuts are his primary idea. Borrowing money is something he said is possibly an option, but he wasn’t sure how viable it is.
“I don’t want people to think we’re running to the bank,” he said.
Campbell shared Nowak’s opinion that each mandate has to be looked at on its own. To help pay for them, she said, it takes a series of methods, including shifting resources and applying for grants.
“I prefer to look at individual mandates,” she said. “Some will create an undue burden and financial stressor that shouldn’t be there. But some are important.”
The state of the economy – namely inflation – is something Nowak said worries him. He said he foresees the budget this year being a difficult one and expects a possible push to increase the levy, which he said he would oppose.
Cuts may have to be made, Nowak said, although he stopped short of listing any he has in mind.