All three Republican candidates for the Lake County Board's 17th District seat say they want to reduce residents' property taxes -- but they have different ideas for accomplishing that task.
Incumbent Michael Danforth of Fox River Grove said consolidating 911 dispatch services and fire protection districts could save money, while challenger Linda Starkey of Wauconda favors county staff cuts. Fellow challenger Eleanor Sweet McDonnell of North Barrington said the county might be able to save money by not hiring consultants as often.
Danforth, Starkey and Sweet McDonnell will face off in the March 20 primary. The candidates were asked about taxes and other issues facing Lake County in a group interview with the Daily Herald.
Lake County government receives about 7 percent of the average property tax payment, according to a breakdown on the county website. School districts are responsible for most of the charges on a property tax bill with about 69 percent.
Danforth, an attorney who was appointed to the board last year, advocated consolidating 911 centers as a money-saving move. Officials from across the county have studied the issue, and a plan to dramatically reduce the number of centers countywide is progressing.
Danforth also wants to combine fire protection districts and other taxing districts.
"We have a redundancy of services," he said. "We've got this person doing roads over here and this person doing roads over here."
Additionally, Danforth advocated slashing personnel in the health department, saying its roster of 785 full-time employees can be reduced.
"Our next largest department is roughly 450 employees, and that's the sheriff's department," Danforth said. "We can trim 10 percent off the county health department (staff) and they probably wouldn't miss a beat."
Starkey, a Wauconda trustee since 2011, said the county board must reduce the budget by trimming staff positions through job consolidation.
"The biggest (budgetary) cost is personnel," said Starkey, who previously served as mayor of North Barrington and as a trustee in that town. "That's the biggest portion of the budget, so that's what you have to attack."
Starkey also said county officials need to pressure school leaders and municipalities to make the same kinds of personnel cuts.
Sweet McDonnell, who owns an executive search firm, was irked by the amount of money the county board spends on consulting fees and studies.
A $500,000 consulting fee for a mental health project, a $300,000 fee for a 911 consolidation study and a $170,000 fee for a transportation congestion relief study were among the budgeted projects that caught her eye.
"Out of that, what's the (return on investment) for the resident?" Sweet McDonnell said. "Are they truly getting the benefit for every single dollar that's going into that consulting project?"
Some of that consulting work may be necessary, Sweet McDonnell said. But she wondered how many of the resulting studies simply make county officials "feel good" and aren't implemented.
The 17th District includes parts or all of Wauconda, Island Lake, Lake Barrington, Port Barrington, North Barrington, Barrington Hills, Tower Lakes, Fox River Grove and Hawthorn Woods.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Maria Peterson of North Barrington in the Nov. 6 general election.