December 09, 2022
Election


Election

Election 2022: McHenry County Board candidates in District 7 vary widely on taxes

Three candidates are running for two seats in the McHenry County Board’s District 7

Three candidates are vying for two seats in District 7 of the McHenry County Board. They are, from left to right, Jeff Schwartz, Lou Ness and Brian Sager.

While one candidate running for the McHenry County Board’s most centrally located district pledged to not raise property taxes if reelected, another said it’s not off the table and the third said she didn’t consider taxes a high priority issue.

The three-way race for two seats representing District 7 on the McHenry County Board, which includes all or parts of Woodstock, Wonder Lake, McHenry, Bull Valley and Greenwood, includes incumbent Republican Jeffrey Schwartz, former Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager and Democrat Lou Ness.

November’s race will see all 18 seats on the County Board up for grabs following the county’s decennial redistricting process and the decision to reduce the board’s size to 18 from 24.

Schwartz was the lone candidate of the three to say he will vote against any increase to the property tax levy.

“I’m trying to save the public of McHenry County as much money as possible and eliminate wasteful government spending,” Schwartz said. “That’s my priority.”

Sager, a Republican who lost a bid for the state House of Representatives in 2020 to Rep. Steve Reick, said it’s important to be “good stewards with the people’s money.” He said he views the government as being about providing services in a fiscally responsible manner.

“Our primary job is to provide good services, that’s what we have to do and that’s what the county board does,” he said.

Ness, who has been a part of various causes throughout her years and is re-entering politics nearly 20 years after her high profile firing at the domestic abuse-advocacy organization Turning Point, said she doesn’t view taxes as a high priority issue.

She said she thinks that voters are “sick” of talking about taxes and that high taxes are an easy campaign issue candidates jump on without being able to really do anything to solve it.

“Where do people think stuff comes from? The magical land of Oz? What do you want to give up? Police and fire? Libraries? You want to give up your schools?” Ness said. “To me, it’s not a conversation I want to spend my time talking about. And if you don’t want to vote for me because I tell you the truth about that, then I don’t think you should vote for me.”

Although the group each feel differently about taxes, both Ness and Schwartz found common ground in pointing at school districts as the main culprit behind high property taxes and both lamented the County Board’s inability to make change in that area.

“I tell people [who ask me about taxes] you’re at the wrong meeting,” Ness said. “Go to your school boards. Stop focusing on masks and ask them the tough questions.”

“We’re doing everything we can at the County Board level [to keep taxes low],” Schwartz said.

Sager said raising taxes “is not off the table for me, and I don’t think anything should be off the table for me or for any other elected official.” Citing his economics background, he said there are three options when trying to figure out how to pay for things: Cut costs, raise revenue, or a combination of both.

“There are times you have to look at all the alternatives and figure out what is the best bang for the buck and what is the most responsible thing,” Sager said.

New unfunded state requirements, such as those set handed down through the SAFE-T Act, were something each candidate said was a concern for them.

The SAFE-T Act – short for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today – has been the center of attention for several weeks ahead of the implementation of the portion of law that eliminates cash bail in January.

Other portions of the law include new body camera requirements for law enforcement, which McHenry County has already approved for its sheriff’s office, and extended court hours, which may require extra staff.

Adding to that list, Sager brought up pension costs put on the local municipalities and counties. He called it an increasing burden that local governments can’t get in front of.

“We have to plan for this. I’m not one of those that thinks we can go change the constitution,” Sager said, referencing the portion of the state constitution that says pension benefits cannot be diminished or impaired. “… We have to keep on top of it.”

Ness said such mandates “bug me” and called on the state to help fund those programs. She said she has not yet finished reading the SAFE-T Act, but is “trying to catch up quickly.”

“Put your money where your mouth is,” she said of the state. “Have some skin in the game. Help counties.”

Schwartz said “there’s a number of ways to deal with [mandates], and none of them are fun.” Cutting expenses or increasing taxes are basically the only options, he said.

Schwartz called things like body cameras a big lift due to the cost of data storage, along with staffing time needed to organize it. He described the state government as a “tyrant” telling the county what to do.

“I think the [McHenry County Sheriff’s Office] would have had body cameras anyway, even if the state didn’t mandate it,” he said. “But to ram it down our throats and force a tight timeline on it created an excessive burden.”

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office piloted a body camera program in 2014 but ultimately decided to not use the devices because of the expense, the Northwest Herald reported. In October 2020, the McHenry County Board passed a resolution requesting the sheriff’s office to perform a cost-benefit study on the issue.

Spreading the burden of tax is something Sager thinks is important as well to help plan for such expenses. He said the entire tax base can’t come from one area, whether it’s sales, property or businesses and corporate taxes, saying “you need to find the right combination.”

Ness was skeptical that the county could pay for all the unfunded mandates through grants, though said federal money might be an option. She said up to this point she isn’t completely familiar with the state of the county’s finances, so she couldn’t give a firm answer.

“I’m sorry I can’t answer that better,” she said. “But if I win, I will be able to answer that better.”

James Norman

James T. Norman

James also goes by Jake and became a journalist to pursue a love of writing. He originally joined the ranks to be involved with football, but over time fell in love with community reporting and explaining policies. You can catch him at his computer or your local meeting.