Kane County tax increases back on the table in time for local elections
Just in time for the 2022 elections, Kane County Board members will start discussions about possible tax increases and budget cuts needed to balance the 2023 budget.
Everything from a gas tax increase and a new county sales tax to a 10% budget cut is on the table.
The board balanced the current year's budget through a mixture of savings and federal COVID-19 relief money that closed a $16 million deficit. There won't be enough money in either of those pools to solve expected future budget deficits, said Dale Berman, the board's finance committee chairman.
"We need an increase in revenue," Berman said.
The board considered a county gas tax increase last year. It also considered maxing out a cost-of-living hike to the county property tax. The majority of the board didn't feel it could sell those increases to constituents while it had $103 million in unspent federal COVID-19 relief money.
About $66 million of that federal money is still unspent. Several county board members believe the best use of the money is putting it toward county expenses and services for as long as can be justified to the federal government.
But even those officials recognize that's a temporary fix.
Board member Vern Tepe is one of the most vocal advocates of the county ratcheting up its property tax levy by the maximum cost-of-living amount every year. Such an increase hasn't happened for a decade.
That property tax freeze has been a popular selling point for the reelection efforts of many board members over the years. But the flat levy also spurred frozen employee salaries.
The pay rates, such as for nurses in the county health department, are so low now that the starting salary is half of what a first-year nurse would get anywhere else in the area. Employees throughout the county's legal system have also left for better-paying jobs in other counties.
The animal control department raised its hourly pay a month ago because it was losing employees to fast-food restaurants and retail stores.
The 2023 fiscal year begins on Dec. 1, 2022.
Step one of the 2023 budget will be asking county departments to write up a plan showing what a 10% budget cut would look like for each of them. Officials are also waiting on an outside analysis of county services and expenses to find new efficiencies.
County board Chair Corinne Pierog isn't optimistic that the report will show a lot of government fat to cut. A similar study in 2017 showed just about every county department was as lean as it could get without reducing services, many of which state law mandates.
"Money is tight right now," Pierog said. "We want to make sure we have a rational approach and an approach based on data."
Last year, discussions indicated doubling the county gas tax would net $1.8 million in new revenue. Increasing the county property tax levy would bring in $3 million and cost the average homeowner $20 more, according to Tepe.
And the creation of a 0.25% county sales tax on retail goods could generate up to $5 million in new money. A new sales tax would require voter approval via a countywide referendum.
All 24 county board members are up for reelection this year.