WOODSTOCK – Lawmakers and leaders in Washington and Springfield could learn a lot from McHenry County.
That’s according to McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, who Thursday morning delivered his first State of the County address since he was elected earlier this year.
“We’re becoming a shining example to a populace that’s become cynical of government, with very good reason,” Franks said in front of fellow County Board members. “Every day, the news is filled with stories about how nothing is happening in Washington, D.C., and nothing is happening in Springfield, because both sides suffer under the delusion that it’s OK for real people to suffer as long as the other side gets blamed.”
In the November 2016 election, Franks defeated Michael Walkup to win the first race for McHenry County Board chairman and score a historic coup for a Democratic Party that has made few inroads in a very Republican county.
The Marengo lawyer, who stepped down from a state House seat he held for 18 years to take the chairman position, pledged during his campaign to aggressively pursue property tax relief and accountability, and he said he wanted the county to be “a model for good government.”
Franks’ address offered a “greatest hits” rundown of some of the things McHenry County has accomplished this year under his leadership.
The chairman’s first mention highlighted the board’s recent approval of a fiscal 2018 budget that includes an 11.2 percent reduction in the county’s property tax levy. All board members voted in favor of the budget and a $71.4 million property tax levy that will collect $8 million less next year than the county collected this year.
“We did this without affecting a single program, or terminating a single employee,” Franks said. “The conversation as we go into 2018 and prepare for the 2019 budget will shift to ensuring that this reduction is sustainable – tax relief cannot be a one-year flash in the pan. I look forward to rolling up our sleeves and searching with all of you for more cost savings.”
On the heels of the reduction approval, the board now seeks to ask voters in the March 20 primary election whether they would like to see school districts do the same by 2020.
“The largest share of homeowners’ property tax bills, roughly two-thirds, goes to fund our public schools,” Franks said. “The status quo of school districts asking every year for more tax dollars, even when in many instances they are losing student population, is unsustainable for our taxpayers and must come to an end.”
Franks applauded the efforts of a pair of board members who came up with a “creative alternative” to countywide elected officeholders participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund – a matter the board fiercely debated in October. Developed by members John Reinert and James Kearns, the plan would offer elected officials in nine county offices the opportunity to enroll in a deferred compensation plan with a one-to-one contribution match – but only if they do not participate in the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
“This initiative would remove any potential legal impediment,” Franks said. “We will be voting on this next Tuesday, and I thank Mr. Reinert and Mr. Kearns for your creativity, initiative and commitment to saving taxpayers money.”
Franks also talked large transportation projects forthcoming in the county – particularly the long-awaited widening of Randall Road.
After more than a decade of planning, construction soon will begin to widen one of the county’s most-traveled and congested transportation corridors: Randall Road. On Nov. 14, the McHenry County Board adopted a five-year McHenry County Transportation Program – a $212.6 million endeavor that allocates $41.6 million for Randall Road, a project that will add one lane in each direction and open additional turn lanes at intersections, transportation officials have said.
“Randall Road has become a vital economic engine to the villages of Algonquin and Lake in the Hills, and the county as a whole,” Franks said. “Improving traffic flow and easing congestion means greater access for shoppers and easier travels for the trucks that bring in supplies to our retailers and manufacturers.”
In closing, Franks said McHenry County is a place that has become an example to governments all over the country.
“The state of McHenry County is strong,” Franks said. “I’m grateful for everything we’ve done together this year, and I’m optimistic and excited as to what we will accomplish together in 2018.”