Thursday marked the final Kane County Board meeting Karen McConnaughay would preside over as chairman before she moves on to the State Senate. It was also the final chance for her detractors to get their shots in. And they took that opportunity.
Board members approved an overall flat tax levy for the county. That means the county portion of local property tax bills will not increase for most people. To achieve the flat tax levy, some of the 22 individual levies increased to offset decreases in other levies.
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Board member Melisa Taylor noted the levy that funds the county's Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund plan obligations will top $7 million in the new budget. That's more than double the IMRF levy of $3.1 million in 2003.
"That is a huge levy increase for IMRF that has come over the years," Taylor said.
She said the pension obligation has increased despite a reduction in the number of county employees because of raises and pension sweeteners given to department heads.
"Part of the responsibility falls on the state, but part of it falls on the actions of this county under the current administration," Taylor said. "Regardless of staffing going down, other staff dollars are being increased."
McConnaughay mostly held her tongue during the barrage. She said many government bodies in the IMRF system are increasing their IMRF tax levies to compensate for major IMRF investment loses at the state level. But after the meeting, McConnaughay gave a more thorough defense of her record on pension obligations and county staffing.
"With all due respect to those who raised that question, it really is an indication of their lack of understanding as to how that works," McConnaughay said. "The pension system is dictated to us. The impact that we at the local level can have on that is our reduction in head count and our overall employment costs which, in both cases, is what we've done."
McConnaughay said people who think consolidating departments and giving pay increases to department heads to take on more responsibility wiped out all the savings of slashing 100 jobs out of the payroll are just taking "a cheap, political shot."
"We've cut our budgets," McConnaughay said. "We've cut our head count. We've maintained strong cash balances. We've used less than 20 percent of our debt capacity. And we had our bond rating increase in the middle of a recession. That is not an indication of mismanagement."
McConnaughay has one of the pensions that will be funded through the IMRF tax levy. As she moves to the senate, McConnaughay again pledged to not take any pension enhancement.
"I'm not going to be double-dipping," McConnaughay said. "I'm just not going to do that. I am, to be very sincere, not sure what I'm supposed to do with that. I'm trying to get that answered right now. Does it just sit there? What do I do with it? I don't know."
Taylor also took a jab at McConnaughay for the high-profile lawsuits the county was involved in with Circuit Court Clerk Deb Seyller and McConnaughay's political rival, Jim MacRunnels. Taylor pointed out that the levy that is paying for those lawsuits is only going down this year after increasing by 20 percent in previous years.
The MacRunnels lawsuit is still pending, but after the meeting McConnaughay called the Seyller lawsuit well worth the approximately $500,000 in legal costs.
"That lawsuit was about an elected official who believed they could spend more than they were given in a budget," McConnaughay said. "Our county board, not Karen McConnaughay, said, 'We gave you a budget; we expect you to live within that budget, and if you don't we're going to cut your funds off.'
"We did not sue her. She sued us. The result was a huge victory for the taxpayers. Now there's case law that says, 'Elected officials at the county level, you live within your budget.' And our board, it wasn't me, our board voted to hold the line on elected officials who refuse to stay within their budgets. I'll stand by that any day of the week. It's probably one of the strongest accomplishments of this administration."
With Kane County Board chairman candidate Chris Lauzen in the audience, McConnaughay said she wasn't surprised at being attacked at her final board meeting. Indeed, before she took her seat, McConnaughay walked past Lauzen and shunned his attempted handshake. Taylor has been a vocal Lauzen supporter during his election bid against Democrat Sue Klinkhamer.
"A new administration is coming in, and they are going to take shots at the previous administration," McConnaughay said. "Their supporters do that. Unfortunately, that's the nature of politics. It doesn't change the record of this administration."