Column

Styf: Here's hoping big money doesn't lead to whammy

Big money, big money, no whammy.

I used to love that show “Press Your Luck,” and it’s kind of fun observing the high-stakes version of it I often see being played these days.

There’s the $3.3 million Queen of Hearts pot in McHenry, which currently is capped at reaching $5 million with a
$3 million payout. On Monday, the McHenry City Council could decide to double that cap to a $10 million pot with a $6 million payout.

With that much money floating around, what possibly could go wrong?

At this point, even if someone wins the drawing and the big pot Tuesday night, the next drawing will start with 54 cards and a pot of about $1.1 million. And that number only will increase as time goes on.

There’s the $36 million to $58 million in long-term upgrades and improvements at Prairie Grove School District 46, set to be discussed at a special board meeting Monday night. Officials can’t just say yes, for sure, and it might even require a referendum, but it seems like a lot for a single-building school district to take on.

Speaking of consolidation, how about the millions being paid to McHenry County’s superintendents of school districts of highly varying size? There’s anywhere from nearly 21,000 kids in District 300 to about 6,300 in District 155 to 300 students in Riley School District 18.

It’s why County Board Chairman Jack Franks is talking about the need to consolidate the administrative duties of the county’s schools into one. The main cost of operating schools continues to be employees – for obvious reasons, as they are the ones directly educating the children.

D-155, for example, will spend 86 percent of its education fund budget on salaries/expenses this year while cutting four administrator roles and reducing overall spending by $700,000, according to a tentative budget on the district’s website.

All of this spending and taxes are something former Lakewood President Paul Serwatka, who never took a village salary and helped cut village expenditures, said factored into his leaving Illinois for Alabama, culminating in his resignation this week. He told a newspaper in Decatur, Alabama, while attending an event called the “Cotton Pickin’ BBQ,” that he moved there with his family in late May.

The property taxes on his Lakewood home were more than $15,000 again this year. That’s a lot, for sure. But the home also is listed as “contingent” to sell with a list price of $85,000 more than it was bought for in 2011. Also, the listing says it’s “priced well-below market value.”

The point is that the home purchase wasn’t actually a financial calamity. Which brings me back to property taxes.

A reader this week wanted me to point out the salaries that managers in the city of Crystal Lake are making, which start with City Manager Gary Mayerhofer’s 2017-18 base salary of $220,646. I counted more than 50 city employees with six-figure base salaries.

City managers do make a lot, to be fair. McHenry’s Derik Morefield will make $161,705.40 in salary and $185,121 in total compensation this year; Woodstock’s Roscoe Stelford will make $171,000 in total compensation; and McHenry County Administrator Peter Austin made $188,100 in salary and $215,950 total with benefits, according to documents on the websites of each municipality.

Yes, nice things cost money. We’re here to point out where it’s being spent and provide context so you aren’t surprised each year when homeowners are hit with a whammy.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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