Reducing the size of government, challenges with drawing businesses to the county and alleviating traffic congestion are top priorities for the three Republican candidates vying for a seat on the McHenry County Board.
Candidates Andrew Gasser, 41, of Fox River Grove, incumbent Robert Nowak, 61, of Lake in the Hills, and David Stieper, 50, of Barrington Hills, will face off in the March 18 primary for a chance to represent District 1, which includes Algonquin, Barrington Hills, Cary, Fox River Grove, and Lake in the Hills.
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"McHenry County is the 29th most expensive county in the nation," said Gasser, a retired Air Force officer, during a Daily Herald endorsement interview.
Gasser said foreclosures have increased in his hometown, and more people are moving out of McHenry County and the state due to higher taxes. "I think we have to look at the things we can control in McHenry County ... reducing the size of government," he said.
Gasser said the county board should look into automation, consolidating services, and using technology to reduce the $255 million cost of running the county.
Stieper, who has spent 10 years on the Barrington Hills village plan commission and zoning board, said a good place to start cutting costs would be with the county board's salary and benefits.
Stieper said he was astonished to learn that county board members receive a $22,000 yearly salary, full medical benefits and a pension. If elected, he said he would decline all benefits and challenge other board members to do the same.
"This to me is a service. I am providing a volunteer service. It should not be a lifetime employment gig."
Stieper said county board meetings should be held in the evenings so working people have a shot at running for the board. He suggested voluntary term limits of eight years.
Stieper also is concerned the county board doesn't have an action plan to attract jobs and businesses to the county.
"We have lost 10,000 jobs over the last 10 years, almost double the average in Illinois," he said. "McHenry County has spent so many years trying to develop residential that we have neglected the business."
He suggested more tax incentives to encourage businesses to move to the county.
Nowak, a homebuilder who was elected to the county board in 2009, said the county has made strides toward cutting down its operating costs, including eliminating raises for nonunion employees for the last three years.
Nowak, who worked 23 years with the village of Cary as its building, planning and zoning director, said attracting businesses is one of the hardest challenges for county government because of high property taxes.
"Taxes are not just McHenry County ... 85 percent goes to the schools, and that is huge," he said. "If we can bring down the property tax base, I think you'll attract more people here. There has to be some kind of established appraisals for your homes. There isn't fairness across the county."
Nowak said to achieve fairness in property tax appraisals the state must reduce its multiplier, or equalization factor, a tool used to bring all property to a uniform level of assessment.
The candidates agree fixing the county's transportation woes also is key to making the county more attractive to businesses.
"If you can make the traffic move the people, you're going to generate more businesses (moving) into the community," Nowak said.
Stieper said the county needs a transportation plan to move people from west to east, and advocates working with Cook County.
Gasser said McHenry County needs a dedicated four-lane highway to get to I-90.
All three candidates are against McHenry County Division of Transportation's proposal for a continuous flow intersection, or CFI, at Randall and Algonquin roads because it is too expensive. The CFI is part of MCDOT's plan to improve a 3½-mile stretch of Randall Road from Ackman Road south to County Line Road at Algonquin Commons.