Candidates for Kane County Board chairman used their first public forum Friday to debate when and if tax increases should be used in the near future. And, perhaps surprisingly to the chamber of commerce members in attendance, the only candidate to call for a tax cut was a Democrat.
"We've heard about increasing taxes; I'm here to tell you we need to lower taxes," former Carpentersville Village President Bill Sarto said at the forum at the St. Charles Hilton Garden Inn.
Sarto, a Democrat, said Kane County's tax rate is 300 percent of what the national average is for county governments.
"I can't perceive anything in the future that's going to cause us to increase our tax rate. One of the first things I'm going to recommend as chairman is that we lower the tax rate. That will also help encourage new business to come in, which will give us a better revenue stream coming into county government. I don't want to talk about raising taxes."
Sarto didn't specifically say what cuts he has in mind. However, he did say privatizing more county services, as was done with several health department programs in 2010, is not the way to go.
"When we see privatization, we see increases in fees, and the services are not as good," Sarto said. "Government is very efficient contrary to what some people believe."
Republican State Sen. Chris Lauzen didn't call for a tax cut, but a tax freeze of the property tax levy for at least as long as property values continue to fall.
"There is no area in county government that any of us should be so enamored with that we can't live within the current means that the taxpayers give us," Lauzen said. "No exceptions. It is in those exceptions that we have a constantly expanding budgeting problem in Springfield."
Lauzen pledged to concentrate on government transparency and ethics reform at the start of his term if elected chairman. He plans to highlight abuses of government power next Tuesday at a news conference.
Former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer, a Democrat, said any political promise to never increase taxes is shortsighted.
"A lot of times you can't deliver on that promise, and emergencies do come up," Klinkhamer said.
For example, Klinkhamer cited improving transportation in the county as her major focus coming into office. That includes pushing the Longmeadow Parkway forward. She also said future improvements to public transportation and roads will require money to come from somewhere. The state and federal government won't pay for everything.
"At some point in time, we're all going to have to take our share of the burden," Klinkhamer said.
For Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, a Republican, the point in time to raise taxes is only when the public says it's willing to eat an increase.
"Kane County citizens have a record of imposing tax increases on themselves for what they find important," Burns said, referencing the recent Forest Preserve District tax increase to buy open space.
Burns said he'll focus on economic development and public safety to start his term if elected chairman.
"Without public safety, the county is nothing," Burns said. "If there is a situation down the road where this county is faced with an emergency, and the county board is faced with a situation where we might have to raise taxes to preserve public safety, I would certainly be open to that conversation. To unilaterally say that I will never, never raise taxes is to close the door on opportunities that we simply can't foresee."