Kane County goes against policy, will use savings to balance budget instead of tax hike

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a county finance official's statement about interest income.

There will be no property tax increase to fund the Kane County government in 2024.

Despite months of justifying the need for a property tax increase, largely to make county employee salaries competitive with neighboring local governments, Kane County officials backed away from a tax hike in a final vote to establish the 2024 budget.

County board member Bill Lenert led a change in course that will instead use some combination of $1.87 million in savings and/or interest income to balance the spending needs of the county.

"If we have interest earned to help balance the budget, I don't know why we're not doing that," Lenert said.

The budget already planned for the use of about $10 million of savings before deciding to forego the tax hike.

Both decisions go against the advice of Kane County CFO Kathy Hopkinson and a policy the board adopted earlier in the year to either cut spending or find new revenue sources to balance the budget. Hopkinson reasoned that interest income fluctuates year to year and should not be relied on for known, recurring expenses. She also said the county's piggy bank is dwindling, and there will be no money left in savings to balance the budget within the next few years.

However, there is still $53 million in savings beyond what the county needs to maintain solid credit ratings. And board members, including Lenert, felt 2024 is still too soon to say a tax increase is necessary to keep the government running.

In earlier debates, the county board also shot down plans to raise the county gas tax and raid the RTA sales tax money used to fund county transportation projects.

The decision sets up a 2024 agenda for the county board that will continue to feature debate about how to fund government once the pool of savings vanishes. With there seeming to be no appetite for either a property tax increase or a gas tax hike, the attention on finding new money will turn to the formation of a countywide sales tax.

Such a tax could raise more recurring new money for the county than a property or gas tax increase. Democrats and Republicans on the county board have expressed interest in at least investigating the appetite for voters to embrace a county sales tax.

Local voters would have to permit the county board to create the sales tax via a referendum. The first opportunity to ask voters such a question won't come until next March.

The county government represents about 4% of local residents' property tax bills. Local schools account for more than two thirds of the total bill.

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