McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks delivered the State of the County address Thursday and described 2018 as “a year of efficiencies.”
Delivering his second address since taking office, the Marengo Democrat highlighted tax reduction, slashed term limits and a shrinking County Board size as the pillars of a successful year.
“McHenry County is strong,” Franks said. “Its finances are strong. Every decision that this County Board makes is centered on the premise of how we can make people’s lives better.”
Franks talked about campaign promises and reducing tax bills in a sector of Illinois where residents are fleeing the state to find more affordable housing markets.
In November, the County Board passed a fiscal 2019 budget that includes more than $9.8 million in tax cuts. Of that amount, $7.5 million comes from abatements and $2.3 million comes from permanent reductions in the county’s property tax levy.
“I am proud to say that the McHenry County tax machine is on the ropes,” Franks said. “Every dollar that a home or business owner pays to the county is one they could have used to pay for groceries, or for a child’s education, or toward an investment in a job-creating business. So every line item in the budget must be ruthlessly scrutinized every year, and wherever we can reduce spending, we must.”
Expanding infrastructure will be a standout story in 2019, Franks said, pointing to two major projects starting this year that could help businesses in McHenry County get products out to market while attracting manufacturers, large retailers and other job creators to the area.
“After decades and decades of waiting, McHenry County will finally have its own direct connection to an interstate highway,” Franks said. “Work will begin this year to build a full interchange at I-90 and Route 23, south of Marengo and Union.”
Officials in Marengo hope to turn the interchange into a manufacturing hub equidistant to Rockford and O’Hare International Airport, Franks said.
The McHenry County Economic Development Corp., he added, has predicted that the interchange project could come with an economic impact of up to $1.7 billion.
Closer to home, residents should expect a rebate from the $40-million Valley Hi Nursing Home surplus.
In September, a County Board committee moved forward a resolution that would give back $100 to qualified households. The resolution would siphon $8.9 million from the surplus to all homeowners who qualified for the homestead exemption on their 2018 tax bills – and have paid their taxes on time. An estimated 88,000 households potentially qualify.
“It’s indefensible that our county accumulated a $40-million surplus in the Valley Hi fund when so many homeowners are struggling to stay afloat,” Franks said.
Franks pointed to Springfield, where the 101st General Assembly has been seated and Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker will be sworn in Monday.
“It is my belief,” Franks said, “after years of inaction at best and outright dysfunction and gridlock at worst, Springfield will start working again.”
But what happens in Springfield can’t alter the course of officials in McHenry County, Franks said.
“We can’t let whatever is going on or not going on in Springfield, or Washington, lull us into a false sense of hopelessness – that change and reform are futile as long as the state and federal governments can’t get their acts together,” he said. “Once again, we worked collaboratively, and repeatedly crossed party lines, to lower taxes, increase efficiency and make McHenry County attractive to employers. We did this by asking all of the talented, passionate people working to make this county a better place for their ideas and listening to what they had to say. The power of listening is truly humbling.”
Other governments across Illinois should follow McHenry County as a model of tax-reforming government, Franks said.
“I look at us as a shining beacon of good government in a time and place in which it is needed badly, and sorely lacking, and I’m not just talking about Washington and Springfield,” Franks said. “There are other governments closer to home that have stopped working because they squander all their energies – not to mention taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars – fighting each other, when they should be fighting for the taxpayers. Political infighting erodes public trust like acid. In a state that is among the leaders each year in outmigration, it’s fiddling while Rome burns.”
Closing his address, Franks predicted a good year for local government in 2019.
“We accomplished so much together in 2018, and this year, with so many new leaders bringing great ideas from every community in the county, I know that we will continue reducing the burden McHenry County taxpayers bear, streamlining our government and making every effort to improve the lives of the people we represent.”