Election 2024: ‘Yes’ votes leading in McHenry County sales tax referendum

Election 2024
Campaign sighs on Tuesday, March 19, 2024,  outside the McHenry City Hall during the spring primary election.

Editor’s note: For the most up-to-date election results from Tuesday’s primary, visit www.shawlocal.com/news/election.

McHenry County voters have shown their support for a change to the McHenry County Mental Health Board funding structure from its current property tax to a 0.25% sales tax countywide, unofficial early election results indicate.

The “yes” votes garnered about 52% of the vote in unofficial totals with all precincts reporting.

With the initiative appearing to pass, most merchandise in the county will be subject to an additional 0.25% sales tax starting in July. In exchange for the higher sales tax, county leaders have vowed they will eliminate the almost $11 million portion of the property tax levy that currently is earmarked for the Mental Health Board.

Mental Health Board funding was a big part of last fall’s budget discussions at the County Board, with the Mental Health Board originally asking for a $2.5 million increase in the levy portion earmarked for them. The Mental Health Board ultimately received a $525,000 increase in its funding in the budget approved in November.

Most of the McHenry County Board voted to place the referendum on the ballot in December, but some members expressed concerns at the time that March would be too soon to ask the question. There were also concerns about whether the sales tax would cover developmental disability or substance abuse services that are also funded by the Mental Health Board, but those issues appeared to be ironed out, and the question was “wordsmithed” in the lead-up to the County Board vote.

The Mental Health Board expressed support for a sales tax last year, but officials have stressed they cannot take a side for or against the referendum.

With a sales tax, officials estimated the mental health board would have $13 million in revenue from the tax and it would take effect July 1. The property tax levy earmarked for the Mental Health Board would be phased out Nov. 30, at the end of McHenry County’s fiscal year.

Prior to election day, there was some skepticism about whether, if the sales tax increase passed, the County Board would make good on its promise to lower the property tax levy in exchange. Officials conceded there was nothing binding them to that, but they vowed to take that step when the property tax levy is determined toward the end of the year.

In most communities in McHenry County, shoppers currently have a 7% sales tax on general merchandise, so the new tax would bring that up to 7.25%. But some towns already have a local sales tax. In Crystal Lake and McHenry, for example, the sales tax is already 7.75%, so the increase would bring them up to 8%. Woodstock is currently at 8% and would go up to 8.25.%

In Marengo, voters were faced with two sales tax referendums, the county’s as well as a request for a 1% local sales tax. That effort also appeared to be victorious.