Election 2024: McHenry County vows to lower property tax levy if voters OK sales tax hike

Technically, the board isn’t bound to see through property tax levy reduction

Campaign signs that line the driveway to the McHenry County Administration Building, an early voting site, on Friday, March 8, 2024, in Woodstock.

The McHenry County Board fully intends to remove the property tax levy if the Mental Health Board sales tax referendum on the March 19 ballot passes, county officials said.

While nothing technically stops the county from keeping both the property and sales taxes, the County Board has voiced its intention to repeal the property tax levy that goes to the Mental Health Board if the 0.25% sales tax hike request is approved by voters countywide.

There would be a bit of overlap in funding for the McHenry County Mental Health Board if the sales tax increase passes, since that would be go into effect July 1, while the next property tax levy will be set for the beginning of the county’s fiscal year, Dec. 1.

The McHenry County Board debated whether to put the question in front of voters in March or in November. Ultimately, a majority of the board agreed to place it on the March ballot, despite some members feeling that wasn’t enough time to inform voters of what this would mean.

The McHenry County Mental Health Board voiced its support for a sales tax in November, but wanted to ensure the sales tax would still fund services such as developmental disability services and substance abuse services. Officials said the sales tax would still allow both to be funded and the question was “wordsmithed” in the lead up to the county board vote.

The Mental Health Board’s funding was a large part of this fall’s budget negotiations, with the board originally asking for $2.5 million more in funding. The board ultimately got a $525,000 increase.

Donna Rasmussen talks with other veterans on about voting on raising the sales tax to fund mental health on Friday, March 8, 2024, at the Other Side in Crystal Lake, during a meeting of area veterans.

The intention of the referendum – and the way the question is worded on the ballot – is that it would shift the mental health board funding from a portion of the county’s property tax levy to a sales tax. Officials project the sales tax could generate about $13 million annually, which would be $2 million more than than the current levy of nearly $11 million.

But some taxpayers have questioned whether, if the sales tax increase passes, the county board is legally bound to take the second step, of lowering the property tax levy.

Perhaps in response to such inquiries, the county has also added to its FAQ page, set up to provide voters information about the referendum, such as whether the sales tax can be spent on other things.

“Can the McHenry County Board keep both the Mental Health Board property tax levy and the mental health sales tax if the referendum passes?” one question near the bottom of the page asks. The answer: The McHenry County Board will eliminate the Mental Health Board’s property tax levy if the mental health sales tax referendum passes.

Another question the county has added to the page recently asks whether the “mental health sales tax funds (can) be diverted to pay for other county expenses.”

The FAQ responds, “No. Mental health sales tax funds must be administered by the McHenry County Mental Health Board.”

The levy will need to be voted on this fall as it does every year, but McHenry County Board Chair Mike Buehler said the line item for the Mental Health Board on the levy “will be set to zero” if the sales tax goes through.

McHenry County Board member Michael Skala, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said the board’s “intent” is to get rid of the property tax levy if the sales tax goes through.

Skala said if the County Board decided to return to the property tax funding structure after it would go away, it would have to ask the voters for permission. “I don’t know that there really is an out,” Skala said of whether the County Board can walk back the repeal of the property tax.

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