Full Name: Donald Kountz
What office are you seeking? Crystal Lake City Council Member
What is your political party? n/a
What is your current age? 62
Occupation and Employer: Retired - Northrop Grumman, Senior Director Advance Projects
City: Crystal Lake
Education: BS Electrical Engineering Purdue University
Community involvement: Bethany Lutheran Church (and volunteer support at the Food Pantry)
Crystal Lake Kiwanis (and volunteer support for Salvation Army, Little Libraries, Santa Run, Mardi Gras Run)
Marital status/Immediate family: Married to Linnea, two sons Erik and Brian
Why are you running for office?
The current City Council members have forgotten their role is to enact policies that are beneficial to Crystal Lake’s residents.
In July 2021, during the pandemic, when some residents were in a worse financial position by having their hours cut or by losing their jobs, I asked the Illinois Attorney General if Crystal Lake’s late charge of 20% a month having an annual percentage rate (APR) of almost 800% was legal. U.S. and Illinois law has APR limits of approximately 36% a year. When the Attorney General asked the City to explain, Crystal Lake’s outside law firm stated the City was acting within the law under its home rule authority.
Yes, Crystal Lake is following the law, but none of the members of the City Council asked themselves should we be charging late fees totaling almost 800% a year while our residents may be suffering financially? It’s been a year and a half and the City Council’s inaction speaks volumes on their concern for the residents.
This is one of many examples where I see the City Council not acting in the best interests of its residents and I want to work to change it.
What makes you qualified for the office you’re seeking?
Linnea and I have lived in Crystal Lake since 1986 and have raised our two sons here. I’m an electrical engineer by education and through my career I have progressed from being a technical team member to engineering project lead, promoted to a business project lead. I retired as the senior director of an advanced development group responsible for solving some of the most difficult challenges. This has taught me, success or failure is in the details. Reports must be read, verified and challenged.
The City Council approved a contract for over $39,000 for a firm to prepare a report for a new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. I found critical data errors, math errors and omissions that required the report to be rewritten. Why did none of the City Council Members find the errors I found?
In 2019 the Crystal Lake City Council enacted a municipal tax on electricity and natural gas. The ordnance excludes school districts and other local governments. No one from the City Council bothered to check to see if their actions were implemented correctly. School Districts 47, 155 and McHenry County offices located in Crystal Lake were being improperly taxed. My son and I helped recover almost $100,000 for the school districts and county thereby helping to keep your property taxes down.
What is your position on the Illinois weapons ban that took effect in January 2023?
My position is irrelevant. As an elected City Council Member I will swear an oath to uphold the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions. If the legal challenge finds the Illinois weapons ban constitutional, I will follow my oath and ensure the City follows the law, or, if the Illinois weapons ban is found to be unconstitutional, I will follow my oath and ensure citizens receive their constitutional protections.
Is crime a problem in your community and, if so, what would you do to curb it?
Statistically, crime is not a problem in Crystal Lake. Unless it happens to you or loved one. Crime impacts us individually not statistically; I plan to work with the Chief of Police and our Police Officers to ensure they receive the training and tools necessary to remain ahead of the problem including illegal drug distribution. Additionally, the City Council needs to work with School District 47 and 155 to provide positive alternatives preventing our children from becoming tools used by gangs.
What is your assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled locally?
When COVID-19 appeared the medical experts didn’t know what they were facing. I’ll leave the preparation of a technical analysis and lessons learned to experts.
Locally, the City Council was late to respond. They knew the U.S. government was working on a vaccine, yet made no advanced plans to coordinate a large vaccination site within the city. As the largest city in McHenry County, the City Council should have had a Crystal Lake facility available on day one of the vaccine rollout not leaving our seniors and our most vulnerable residents trying to figure out how to get to the McHenry site.
When the City finally got around to establishing a vaccination site it was only open a few hours a day, a few days a week. It closed a few weeks later. This is a clear sign the City is reactive and not proactive.
The city did expand outdoor dining. As a member of the City Council I will continue to support small business and their unique challenges to make sure they remain a strong and vibrant member of Crystal Lake.
What did you learn from the pandemic?
I learned we need ways to allow a family to comfort and attend to their dying Mothers, Fathers, children and relatives during a pandemic. I learned having conflicting mandates doesn’t work. I learned work from home is having significant changes and impact on all communities. I learned that the world can change quickly and that we need a proactive City Council that doesn’t turn away from a challenge.
How would you spur economic development in your community?
In the last twenty years Crystal Lake’s economic development has been pigeon holed into retail growth along the Route 14 and Route 176 corridors and residential growth. Where is the other growth that supports a stable tax base and community longevity? I would expand the Manufacturing Job Creation and Investment Grant to increase jobs with light manufacturing. Has the City Council studied or reached out to industries that would benefit from the strength of our existing railroad access?
Would/can/should local governments do anything to help reduce the tax burden on residents?
The incumbents say Crystal Lake has one of lowest tax rates, yet actions they take negatively impact your tax bill.
Look at your last year’s property tax bill. You will see the combined tax rate for Fire Protection and the Firemen’s Pension is 0.715418. Therefore, if your home is assessed at $250,000 you paid $596.
Crystal Lake provides contract fire protection to two areas outside the city limits. One is an unincorporated area known as the Crystal Lake Rural Fire Protection District and the second is to the Village of Lakewood.
Residents who live in the Crystal Lake Rural Fire Protection District pay 0.450157. Therefore, if their home is assessed at $250,000 they paid $375.
Residents of the Village of Lakewood, fire protection costs are 0.430779. Therefore, a home in Lakewood assessed at $250,000 paid $358.
Why would the City negotiate and the Council approve a contract where the tax residents pay is HIGHER than either Lakewood or Crystal Lake Rural for the exact same service? I’m not saying I would charge a premium but I would expect Lakewood and Crystal Lake Rural to pay the same rate as you and I pay.
If everyone paid the same rate 0.633982 a Crystal Lake resident would see their property tax lowered $70.
Recently, the City Council voted 6-0 to create the Water’s Edge Tax Increment Financing District. This redevelopment is for the former Crystal Court Mall. The council claims the area is blighted and needs the 23 years of tax breaks to encourage the redevelopment.
When you investigate the root cause of the vacancies, you discover Lynnwood Development Corporation began purchasing the nine properties of Crystal Court beginning in 2015 and continued through 2020 for a total amount of $13,012,500. On February 14, 2016 the Northwest Herald reported Lynnwood Development saw Crystal Court as a “residential concept”. When you want to demolish everything and build housing you don’t lease your facilities, hence blight in the eyes of the City Council.
Waters Edge will still be a good development without the TIF designation. Using the future assessed value stated in Tax Increment Financing Plan prepared for the City of Crystal Lake means over the next 23 years, with frozen property tax payments to School District 47 and School District 155 they will lose a combined $30,144,960 which will be made up in your property tax bill.
What did it cost and what is the purpose of the four stone monuments along Virginia Avenue? How does it make life better for Crystal Lake residents?
The current members of the City Council either don’t realize or don’t care that the tax dollars come from the residents’ pockets. As such they spend your money on useless projects.
As a member of the City Council I will hold the line on expenditures that do not provide real benefits to our residents.
Do you support recreational marijuana being sold in your community to help lower residents’ tax burden?
This simple question is complex. At the federal level marijuana is illegal. Under states rights, Illinois has made it legal and taxable. The medicines which help and treat individuals daily are built on the foundation of plants. Yet, some plants like tobacco do great harm. We don’t scientifically know enough about the good and bad effects caused by the non-medical use of marijuana. To make the city dependent on it for taxes seems foolish to me.
What projects or infrastructure would you look to address in your community and how would you do it?
Crystal Lake has and continues to make replacement of long stretches of its water mains. Why hasn’t there been any studies to add alternative broadband within Crystal Lake’s water easements? Municipalities that provide broadband do it at a lower cost and higher performance than commercial suppliers.
The pandemic has shown with increasing work from home the role of public transportation is changed and needs to be redefined. How should the Union Pacific Northwest Metra route be redefined? Possibly a balanced reduction of trains to Chicago but multiple trains an hour along a truncated route between Harvard/McHenry and Arlington Heights? The current City Council doesn’t ask “What if” questions. If they won’t ask, I will.
Will you accept the voters’ decision in your race on Election Day?
What is your position on open, transparent government?
An open, transparent government is necessary for a city with an annual budget greater than $100,000,000 to be efficiently and honestly run.
The most important aspect of open government is listening to our residents, understanding their concern and helping them get it solved.
However, Crystal Lake needs to improve its transparency. It is easy to find the minutes for the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission. However, if you want to read the minutes or any reports from Economic Development Commission, Historic Preservation Commission or Sustainability Committee you will not find them on the city website. Additionally, you will not find any budget workshops or other workshops on line. You have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request.
Do you support the Freedom of Information Act and citizens’ ability to freely access government records?
YES, not only do I support the Freedom of Information Act, the City of Crystal Lake forced me to use it to get information I needed to research and challenge the other conditions of blight cited in the Water’s Edge TIF plan.
Sadly, last December I was startled when Crystal Lake’s Mayor publicly chided my son and me for FOIA requests over the last three years. What are the incumbents afraid will be uncovered?
Would you sign a nondisclosure agreement with a prospective company that would limit your ability to communicate with your community?
NO! As an executive I’ve signed many nondisclosure agreements. All were business related, typically to increase market share. I do support a small group of city employees under the direction of the City Manager working with a prospective company under a nondisclosure agreement if necessary, to answer questions, explain things, etc. to bring forward a successful project. There is no reason an elected member of the Crystal Lake City Council needs to be under this type of nondisclosure. It leads back room deals with the costs put on the backs of the tax payers.