McHenry County residents could be granted some tax relief next year if the county board approves an 11.2 percent reduction to the property tax levy.
The proposal would allow the county to collect about $71.8 million in property taxes for 2017, representing an $8 million decrease over the previous year. The move would fulfill the county board's goal and first-year Chairman Jack Franks' campaign pledge to cut property taxes by 10 percent.
"There is nothing more satisfying to a lawmaker than backing up promises of tax relief and good government with real action," Franks said.
Board members are expected to vote on the measure at a Nov. 14 meeting, where they will also consider adopting a balanced $216.7 million budget for fiscal year 2018. County Administrator Peter Austin said staff members used the targeted 10 percent levy reduction as a guide while preparing the budget, which is about $38.6 million lower than last year.
To meet that goal, he said, the county is proposing cutting personnel expenses, trimming levies for funds with strong reserve balances, and taking advantage of money freed up by paid-off debts or reduced obligations.
Of the $8 million levy reduction, more than $5 million would come from savings in the general fund, documents show. Eliminated positions, reclassified personnel and wage adjustments are expected to reduce costs by $320,839.
Proposed general fund cuts also include the abatement of $2.8 million originally levied for the Valley Hi Nursing Home, a county-owned facility with a multimillion-dollar surplus. The board had been considering using those funds for upcoming capital expenses, Austin said.
Instead, he said, officials will likely consider reducing the county's six-month reserve balance by one month, freeing up about $7.2 million to pay for capital projects.
Board member Michael Skala, chairman of the audit and finance committee, said the move helps accomplish the board's goal next year, but it's not a sustainable funding solution. The county anticipates capital needs to cost roughly $26 million over the next five years, he said.
"We have to set up a long-term revenue stream that's going to be funding these projects," Skala said.
County board members acting as a committee of the whole reviewed the proposed budget and levy last week, and will discuss it again Thursday before voting Tuesday. The fiscal year begins Dec. 1.
If the proposed property tax reduction is approved, Skala said, the goal would be to at least maintain the levy at that level.
Some officials questioned how such a dramatic decline in revenue would affect the county's financial stability in the future. But board member Yvonne Barnes said she has no doubt the county will find more sources of income and more costs to cut.
"Where there's a will, there's a way, and I have full confidence that next year this board will be able to maintain a reduction in the collection of money from our taxpayers," she said. "That's what we do. We look for ways to save money, and I'm confident that we can continue to do so."