Several key issues await the new Kane County Board and Chairman Chris Lauzen once they are sworn in Monday. Debates and candidate questionnaires leading up to last month's election reveal what direction the new board is likely to go on several of them.
Ethics was a big debate point in the county board chairman race. Several new and old board members have expressed concern about two state's attorneys ruling several parts of the current ethics ordinance unenforceable. No one wants a lawsuit, but the vast majority of new and old board members said during the campaign they support ratcheting the county's ethical standards up at least one more notch by creating a form that forces more detail in economic interest statements.
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The statements filled out by county board members have resulted in almost every question answered with a "none" or "N/A" by every board member. However, federal lawmakers, Illinois Supreme Court justices and even Chicago aldermen have created forms for their elected officials that reveal much more information. The new Kane County Board could use any of those forms as at least a partial model for better disclosure going forward.
Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez has two years remaining in his tenure, and he's long discussed a desire to build out the shell space at the county jail. That would open up room to house more federal inmates on a temporary basis, a move that has already proven to be a cash cow for the county.
The majority of new and old county board members said in candidate statements to the Daily Herald they would either support or at least favorably listen to any plan to build out the jail if it resulted in more income to the county. Candidates said they'd like information that shows if and how the federal dollars would result in the expansion paying for itself over time. They also want an accounting of where those federal dollars are spent now.
Every board member also has said they support a technology upgrade for the county's court system. The worst case scenario sees the cost of that upgrade at $12.6 million. Many candidates said they are willing to pay that much if it means efficiency and cost savings.
Several board members, however, said during the race they believe the system can be had much cheaper by modeling after what the DuPage County courts recently put in place. Whatever the dollar figure turns out to be, the majority of board members said using RTA sales tax money to pay for at least part of the upgrade is the best plan.
A much more controversial issue regards the possible sale of the old county jail site to a private developer for use as a hotel, resort and/or convention center.
The previous county board told taxpayers they would sell the old jail to help pay down the debt for the construction of the new facility. But incoming board appears closely split on the issue. Several board members, such as Mike Donahue, Ron Ford, Drew Frasz, Susan Starrett and Becky Gillam, said they favor postponing the sale of the old jail until the economy would allow for a good price.
But others, such as Deb Allan, Phil Lewis and Cristina Castro, have doubts about selling the old jail. Allan believes leasing the land is a better idea. Lewis envisions an arboretumlike gateway to the entire Fabyan campus at the old jail. And Castro is concerned about all of the redevelopment plans possibly being a huge legal liability. This will be one of the major debates as the redevelopment proposal chugs forward in 2013.
Other big decisions on the horizon include:
• The selection and hiring of a new finance director, health department executive director and animal control director.
• Verifying the previous board's plan for a flat levy with a hard look at the county's budget, reserve funds and financial outlook.
• Finding money to fund raises for corrections officers as called for in a recent arbitration ruling, and a growing pension obligation.
• A possible vote on creating a new property tax levy (tax increase) to help local disabled residents.
• Finding money to fund a judicial center campus expansion.