Carissa Casbon: 2022 candidate for Lake County Board District 7
Office sought: Lake County Board District 7
City: Unincorporated Warren Township
Occupation: Lake County Board member
Previous offices held: Member and president, Millburn Board of Education
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you?
A: I'm running for reelection to the Lake County Board because I love working for our community and being our community's voice in our county government. From flooding prevention to COVID vaccines and relief, to gun violence prevention, making it easier to vote, and more, our county government has the power to do so much good in the daily lives of our community members. When that power is in the hands of people who embrace that potential and genuinely want to serve, there is much we can accomplish together. I am one of those people.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: As vice chair of the board's legislative committee, I proposed adding health benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits to our legislative agenda. It passed unanimously. We informed our federal legislators, and the president signed the Pact Act into law this summer, which extends presumptive health benefits to veterans exposed to these toxins. This is a massive win for the veterans of Lake County.
As a Stormwater Management commissioner, I have worked with district unincorporated neighborhoods to identify projects for state stormwater grants. These projects will bring life-changing relief to those neighborhoods.
I have also supported the 911 Regional Operations Center funding to help our first responders, critical investments in affordable housing and rental assistance, our Gun Violence Prevention Initiative, necessary public safety investments, our health department's vaccination efforts, critical environmental initiatives, and more.
Q: Given the recent history of flat tax levies, do you think the county/forest preserve have done good jobs of budgeting or do you see specific area that can be improved?
A: Lake County has done a great job budgeting; we have held the property tax levy flat for homeowners for three years while maintaining our AAA bond rating. The Lake County Board set fiscally careful budget policies that our staff executed with excellence. The county has won awards for budgeting, including one from the Government Finance Officers Association, one of the preeminent organizations recognizing excellence in government financial reporting. We have also leveraged nontax funding opportunities, like grants and relief dollars.
Our Lake County Forest Preserves district also holds a AAA bond rating and won the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the GFOA while doing more with less for over a decade. Again, Lake County Forest Preserves president and commissioners set a fiscally careful budgeting policy. Our staff did an excellent job leveraging grant funding and building the Preservation Foundation to give us more financial flexibility.
Q: Would you support putting a referendum on the ballot for voters to decide if they wish to issue new bonds to preserve open spaces, restore habitats, create more trails and upgrade forest preserves?
A: It is critical to preserve open land, but I would favor other means of increasing funding for the forest preserves, like continuing to develop the Lake County Forest Preserves Foundation, leveraging naming rights for buildings, and seeking grants.
From a property tax rate standpoint, Lake County is a have/have not county. Wealthier areas have the lowest tax rates and, often, less land owned by the preserves. They also have the least amount of land for the preserves to purchase. I'm concerned that an across-the-board property tax raise would exacerbate that inequity.
Even with no land acquisition dollars available, we have acquired land by transferring funds or finding donations and grant money. We should prioritize finding the most ecologically vital land to preserve and focus on that.
The rising property values in Lake County should, in the coming years, ameliorate the LCFP budget issues (since the LCFP levy is limited to a percent of countywide home values).
Q: What is the single most important issue facing your district and how should the county address it?
A: Issues differ depending on where you are in the district. The most significant concern is property taxes. The county board is limited in what we can control (the county government's portion), but we've been doing our part, holding the county's portion of homeowners' property tax bills flat for three years. The forest preserves levy is self-limited by statute to a percentage of the county's home values.
In some areas, flooding is the most profound concern. Partnering with neighborhoods, I've identified two projects that qualify for state grants, which will help.
In other areas of the district, housing is a challenge. Our board allocated a significant amount of federal relief money to create housing to help residents overcome our county's affordability challenges.
There has been a rising concern districtwide about gun violence. The Lake County Board allocated funds to start a Gun Violence Prevention Initiative, which will use research-proven methods to help prevent gun violence.
Q: Lake County officials want public feedback on how to spend portions of some $135 million in leftover federal pandemic funding. What are your thoughts on how the money ought to be spent?
A: The public has given feedback, and that will be our guiding cornerstone.
Federal relief dollars have already been used to fund several projects, like the new 911 Regional Operations Center, affordable housing, investments in drinking water quality, technologies to improve voting, food and rental assistance, and much more.
For the rest of the funding, I am interested in expanding access to health care in our community and other public health items, funding the public safety building to help our police and other first responders, supplementing flooding projects, allocating more funding to our evidence-based gun violence prevention programs and making high-speed internet available to everyone in the county.