Vern Tepe: 2022 candidate for Kane County Board District 22
Office sought: Kane County Board District 22
Occupation: Real estate investor
Previous offices held: Kane County Board member since 2020; and Elgin Township Trustee 2017-2020
Q: Do you support an increase in the countywide retail sales tax to help pay for expenses related to the SAFE-T legislation? If yes, which SAFE-T-related expenses, specifically, should be covered with the additional tax? If no, how do you suggest paying for the increased expenses related to the SAFE-T legislation?
A: YES, I support putting a sales tax referendum on the April 2023 ballot. The SAFE-T Act creates an unusual strain on the county's budget. The state has mandated that we abide by the Act's provisions, BUT has not provided any funding to make this happen. Estimates are that the affected departments will need over 100 people in the next three years to conform to the Act's requirements.
Financially, the estimates are $13 million in 2023, $23 million in 2024, and $30 million in 2025. I support putting a referendum on the April 2023 Ballot so that the voters can decide. If it does not pass, the county will have to make some substantial cuts to services in departments that have already been constrained due to the austerity programs that have been in effect for the past 11 years.
Q: What should be done to retain county staff? If you propose increases in salaries or benefits, how should those added costs be covered?
A: Pay inequity is a real issue. We lose talented people each month.
Kane's budget is about $300 million. $50 million (1/6th) comes from real estate taxes. The balance comes from sales tax, gas tax, fees, and grants from the state or federal government.
For the past 11 years, the county board has played "politics" and created the idea that they have "saved" the taxpayer tremendous amounts of money by not increasing the RE taxes.
They then cut people from most departments.
a. Our Health Dept went from 150 people to 75.
b. They still can't hire new nurses because the pay structure is far below market.
c. Many were paid minimum wage. Some were actually receiving public aid.
d. Attorneys are hired, work for 1-2 years, and then go to another county for $10-15,000/year more. So -- did we save money? YES. But at what cost to the county?
I RELUCTANTLY support the increase in RE taxes (5% in 2023) that will provide the funds to fix this. This will cost the typical homeowner $10 per year.
Q: Do you believe the county auditor should be an elected or appointed position? Why? Are there any other countywide offices that are currently elected positions that you believe should be appointed instead? If so, please explain.
A: I believe that this should continue to be an elected position. We need INDEPENDENT internal oversight of county spending. The County Auditor has uncovered several items that, although embarrassing, were appropriately uncovered. And, now, additional controls have been instituted due to their findings. Even if they found nothing, the oversight and review that they provide is worth the investment.
Q: The county has seen an increase in truck traffic. How do you propose to address the infrastructure needs that come with this increase in traffic? Do you support a moratorium on warehouse developments in unincorporated areas of the county? Please explain.
A: I support more business -- not less -- so I do not support a moratorium on warehouse development. The areas where the primary warehouse developments are -- Randall Rd & Kirk Rd corridors -- have planned road projects to increase capacity as well as provide maintenance where and when required. Limiting development would impact jobs! I would reinstitute the full Impact Fees on new construction as a way to help pay for this.
Q: What direction do you think the county should move as it relates to its aging buildings? Build new or rehab existing buildings? Why and how would you propose the county pay for any new buildings or improvements?
A: The current county board facility in Geneva was built in 1941 as a Catholic boys school and chapel. The county health dept. facility in Aurora is inefficient and costly to maintain. And if the estimates on the SAFE-T Act are correct, we need over 100 additional people. So not only do we have facilities that need to be replaced, we need additional space now!
It will take 3-5 years to plan and construct any new facilities and that planning needs to be accelerated!
I would support new construction, primarily at the Judicial Center, and would endorse the issuance of bonds to pay for these expenditures.
Q: How do you think the county should spend the remaining COVID-19 relief funds?
A: Currently $35.5 million remains from the ARPA COVID funds received by Kane County. County projects (about 30) that have been identified and are under review by the ARPA Committee, that would benefit our residents total about $30 million. I am in favor of most of those projects. The leaves about $5 million for other projects. I would support distributing those funds for mental health, food insecurity, homeless centers, and other social agencies in the county. In particular, I would support having the health dept. in charge of that fund distribution.
Q: The COVID pandemic also put a spotlight on the need for mental health services. What role should the county play in this?
A: The Kane County Health Dept. already plays a primary role in this area. They work closely with the supporting agencies in Kane that provide mental health and supporting services. They coordinate a referral system (IRIS) that is used by the agencies to refer their clients to other agency services when needed. I would like to have the Kane Health Dept. also coordinate fund distribution to these agencies in the county.
This way they would be able to see that any "gaps" that exist get covered and that services are available and consistent throughout the county.