Voters will have their say on sales tax increase for McHenry County; question will appear on March ballot

If passed, referendum would eliminate Mental Health Board property tax levy

McHenry County Board members during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

McHenry County voters will now have a say on whether to approve a 0.25% sales tax increase on the March ballot.

If approved, the measure would not just increase the sales tax countywide but would also shift how the county’s Mental Health Board is funded. The board has thrown its support behind the proposal, but members brought up concerns about whether disability services would be covered.

If voters back the sales tax increase question on the March 19 primary election ballot, the portion of the county’s property tax levy that’s earmarked for the Mental Health Board, almost $11 million, would go away.

Officials have estimated that, if approved, the sales tax could generate $14 million of revenue for the mental health board.

The extra quarter-percent sales tax would be added to the existing sales. In Crystal Lake, for example, shoppers now pay 7.75% in sales tax. That would rise to 8% if the referendum passes.

The board discussed the referendum at length at its Tuesday evening meeting, and members had varying opinions about whether it should be presented to voters in March ballot or on the November general election ballot.

“I think too much time [before going to the voters] would be negative,” said board member John Reinert, R-Crystal Lake.

Board members Jim Kearns, R- Huntley, and Mike Shorten, R-Crystal Lake, also supported placing the question on the March ballot.

“We need to do it in March for the security of the Mental Health Board,” Kearns said.

Board member Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove, sought to move the referendum from March to November, but it was shut down.

Meshes, alongside board member Gloria Van Hof, D-Crystal Lake, voted against a March referendum. Member Lou Ness, D-Woodstock, abstained.

“It doesn’t give us time to educate the voters,” Van Hof said during the meeting.

Board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, voiced support for putting the sales tax question on the November ballot, but voted in favor of a March referendum. Wegener also is running to unseat County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake.

“Putting this referendum on the November 5, 2024, general election ballot would have allowed more time to educate the public about the referendum’s benefits. In addition, McHenry County general elections typically see turnout rates 2.5 to 3 times higher than primaries, so putting this referendum on the November ballot would have produced a result more representative of all McHenry County residents,” according to a news release from Wegener.