Candidates for McHenry County Board District 8 differ on concerns over unfunded state requirements, taxes

Three candidates are running for two seats in the McHenry County Board’s District 8

Election 2024
Three candidates are running for two seats in District 8 of the McHenry County Board. They are, from left to right, Larry Smith, Tracie Von Bergen and Jack Kaskel.

With McHenry County expected to incur more than $1.2 million due to new requirements in recent legislation, the sole Democrat running in District 8 of the McHenry County Board said he considers such mandates on a case-by-case basis and isn’t automatically opposed to them.

Democrat Jack Kaskel hopes to unseat one of the two incumbent Republicans running in the district, Larry Smith and Tracie Von Bergen. Both Smith and Von Bergen said they don’t think the state should be able to push such requirements with Smith calling them “unreasonable.”

District 8, which is characterized by rural land, includes all or parts of Richmond, Hebron, Harvard, and Marengo. It is the largest of the nine districts in terms of area, making up much of the north and western portion of the county.

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.

Unlike his two opponents, Kaskel, who has not ran for office before but has been involved in canvassing and worked as an election judge, did not take issue with unfunded mandates from the state, calling concern over them a distraction.

Requirements like body cameras, which law enforcement agencies across Illinois will be required to have in the coming years, are things he supports, he said.

A map of the new District 8 for the McHenry County Board after the decennial redistricting process.

Overall, it’s more about what is being required rather than being flatly against them because they came from the state, he said.

“We as a society need to determine what is best to spend our resources on,” Kaskel said. “If they are a mandate that we believe was done irrationally, then we definitely should push back against them.”

Smith said if the state brought them to the county and helped create a way to work them into the budget, he would be fine. But “to slam it down with this kind of timeframe to change our budget” is unreasonable, he said, speaking of mandates in general.

Outside of directly affecting the county’s budget, Smith suggested the county work with state representatives and push for funding.

Von Bergen said she was opposed to mandates coming from the state as well, but said she does support some, including body cameras for law enforcement, which McHenry County approved earlier this year.

With the county expected to take on more than $1.2 million in state requirements, finding room in a tight budget will be tough, both Von Bergen and Smith said.

Much of the new costs stem from the SAFE-T Act, which in addition to eliminating cash bail, will bring a host of new requirements to the county, county documents show. Those include more than $400,000 in body cameras and more than $600,000 in new staff, including two lead investigators and a public relations specialist for the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and in the Sheriff’s Office, two social workers and a staff member to manage the body cameras.

“Until the states help us in that area, we’ll need to keep [those costs] in the back of our minds when considering our money,” Von Bergen said.

To help pay for them, Von Bergen said raising taxes was a last resort, and pledged to vote against any property tax increase. She called monitoring tax bills her No. 1 priority, adding that people are having a hard time covering those and other bills.

“I’m completely opposed to that with the state of the economy and the other things people are struggling to pay,” she said. “I think it’s unconscionable to ask people for more tax dollars.”

Though Von Bergen noted that it will be difficult to balance things out in the budget if a property tax increase doesn’t happen, she said cuts would be something to look at first, though didn’t have any ideas specifically.

Smith, meanwhile, as a member of the county’s finance committee, said offsetting new costs with cuts may not be feasible. Cutting or delaying capital improvement projects is on the shortlist of answers, he said.

“There isn’t a whole lot to cut,” he said. “We can’t just manufacture money.”

Kaskel said while he would do his best to avoid raising taxes, he said it could be an option depending on the circumstances. If elected, he would first look for “unnecessary spending.”

Some ideas he gave included to stop re-branding programs, which include the regular updating of logos, signs and websites, calling it “a wasteful use of our resources.”

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Watch the thousands of dollars and the millions will take care of themselves,’” Kaskel said.

Smith noted the various struggles the county will have to figure out as it works to balance its budget, calling attention to “runaway inflation” and unfunded state requirements.

“What we’ve maintained has been impressive,” Smith said.

Promoting business in the area to both boost the economy and help offset property taxes were things all three candidates had an interest in.

Kaskel said he’d like to increase the various worker training programs the county has been supporting, while Smith said there have been efforts to try and make people more aware of the McHenry County Enterprise Zone and its benefits, which encompasses parts of Woodstock, Harvard and Marengo and assists businesses with tax deductions.

Von Bergen said expanding broadband is something the county should continue to focus on if they want to support bringing in more business. It would also help schools. She pointed to state funding as a source of help.

“Dependable internet is always a struggle in the rural communities,” she said. “I think that will be a huge boost to business all over the county.”