McHenry County raises property taxes for first time in more than a decade

Property owner paying $7,000 tax bill will see county’s portion go up by $14, officials said

McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, pictured, nominated former Elgin School District U-46 administrator Diana Hartmann to be the next superintendent of the McHenry County Regional Office of Education. Her appointment was approved by the County Board Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

McHenry County residents could see the county portion of their property tax bill go up next year.

The McHenry County Board approved the increase in the property tax levy, along with the upcoming year’s budget, in a 13-11 vote at its meeting Tuesday in order to fill gaps in the new budget. The increase will add about $14 onto a $7,000 tax bill, officials said.

This marks the first time in more than a decade the county opted to raise the tax levy based on inflation, but those opposed said they think the burden would be too much for constituents.

“I’ve been talking with my constituents, and they’re taxed to death,” County Board member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said at the meeting. “I can’t justify this. This is wrong.”

The crux of the decision came down to whether the county should take about $1 million in new revenue tied to inflation in order to make up revenue-expenditure gaps in the proposed budget, which in turn would raise residents’ property taxes.

McHenry County makes up less than 10% of a property owner’s tax bill, according to a news release Wednesday from the county.

Those in favor, such as County Board member Kay Bates, R-McHenry, said it was necessary to help make the budget solvent this year and in future years.

“Our constituents will remember us for cutting services long after the tax increase is forgotten,” Bates said.

Much of the discussion Tuesday centered around an amendment pitched by County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, who proposed taking about $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds currently designated to other departments to fill the gaps instead of raising taxes.

The county received almost $60 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, federal legislation that sought to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its closures. The county has been using the money for a variety of programming and projects. Of that, half is set to go to help the county while the other half will go to the community.

“There’s not really any services being taken from the public,” County Board member Jeffrey Schwartz, R-McHenry, said. “It’s just some wish list items that are being taken away.”

County Board member Carlos Acosta, D-Woodstock, said the idea would take from other areas and not solve the problem the county is in.

“Not taking [the increase] is a short-sighted decision,” Acosta said.

The amendment failed in a 10-14 vote, with Kearns, Yensen and Schwartz in favor. Joining them was Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove; Bob Nowak, R-Algonquin; Lori Parrish, R-Crystal Lake; Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake; Tracie Von Bergen, R-Hebron; and Tom Wilbeck, R-Barrington Hills.

As a result, all of them, except Schofield, voted against the tax increase. Members Michael Vijuk, D-Cary, and Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, voted against both the increase and Kearns’ amendment.

Throughout the budgeting process, officials stressed the difficult decisions being made, as the county was faced with high inflation and new expenses from the state.

Those new expenses came mostly through the state’s new Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T Act, which eliminates cash bail and mandates body cameras for law enforcement, along with other changes that create new staffing needs. Those staffing needs are most prevalent in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office and the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

To make up the gap, which totaled about $3 million, the county proposed in previous meetings to capture about $500,000 in property taxes with new growth, raise taxes to gain another $1 million tied to inflation, forgo filling vacant staff positions at the county, use about $1.4 million from American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for two government building projects and have Valley Hi Nursing Home reimburse the county about $500,000 for information technology services.

The new budget totaled $263.8 million.

In the release after the decision, McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said he was disappointed the County Board took the increase, calling the amendment “a viable option.”

“All residents of the county would have benefited had we avoided an increase in property taxes,” he said in the release.