The candidates running for the McHenry County Board in District 2 said the public wants to talk about money.
Voters, they said, have voiced concerns to them about property taxes, inflation and overall uncertainty about the economy.
The County Board has its own financial concerns. After years of no levy increases, the county is trying to close a $2.6 million budget gap that includes $1.2 million in unfunded state mandates.
Five people are running for the two open District 2 seats: Democrats Gloria Van Hof and incumbent John Collins, Republicans John Reinert and incumbent Jeff Thorsen, and Libertarian Jake Justen. All of the candidates live in Crystal Lake.
“We always get people asking about taxes and always, ‘Why are they so high? What can we do about that?’ ” Van Hof said of her interactions with voters on the campaign trail.
Collins, also running on a Democratic ticket, said his constituents want to know if he is ”using taxpayer money in the best and most efficient way possible.”
For Collins, he thinks fiscal responsibility for the board should include looking at long-term needs and paying for them using bonds.
“The county is debt free, and to many people that is a fantastic thing – a government that doesn’t have debt. But that comes at a cost,” Collins said.
When bonds are issued over 20 to 30 years to pay for a project such as a bridge, “you have opened up that $3 million for more immediate things,” Collins said.
Van Hof said her take on fiscal responsibility goes beyond just saving money for taxpayers “but investing it wisely and being very careful, so when you look at your plan and your goals, what you want to accomplish with that savings.”
Thorsen, the Republican incumbent, said he has not been in favor of increasing the tax levy.
State law allows county boards to increase their levies to capture new construction growth plus 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Lawmakers are told they must levy to capture the new construction “or lose it forever,” Thorsen said. “That is a motivation that is artificially motivated … that even if you don’t need the money, you are going to take it,” he said.
Any cuts in the budget or levy need to be sustainable, Thorsen said, so that the board doesn’t have to raise it in the next budget cycle.
Reinert, a past board member who was unseated in 2020, said McHenry County’s AAA bond rating is attributable to its history of fiscal responsibility.
“Fiscal responsibility is going to be key in keeping McHenry County desirable to live in. High taxes … doesn’t help us foster growth,” he said.
It’s that same bond rating, Collins argued, that the county should take advantage of.
While rising interest rates are a concern, “with the financial shape of the county, we can borrow money very very cheaply,” Collins said. “… We could borrow in the 4% to 5% range.”
Justen, the Libertarian, argued against using bonds to finance county needs.
“Borrowing money … that is only going to push [costs] into the future and on business owners and families looking for places to live. Fiscal responsibility is spending money within your means,” Justen said.
Higher taxes, if approved by the County Board, will put further burden on people “experiencing the negative effects of inflation for food, gas, heating and energy costs,” Justen said.