McHenry County Board District 6 candidates debate economic development

 
 
Updated 2/16/2016 5:03 PM
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  • Mary T. McCann, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

    Mary T. McCann, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

  • James Kearns, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

    James Kearns, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

  • Kelly Liebmann, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

    Kelly Liebmann, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

  • Ersel Schuster, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

    Ersel Schuster, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

  • Preston Rea, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

    Preston Rea, candidate for the McHenry County County Board District 6 Republican primary

Five candidates vying for the Republican nomination for McHenry County Board District 6 have a difference in priorities regarding economic development and growth within the county.

In the March 15 primary, incumbent Mary McCann, 70, faces challengers Ersel Schuster, 76, Preston Rea, 64, Kelly Liebmann, 38, and James Kearns, 54. Two county board seats are up for two-year terms; early voting begins Feb. 29.

Potential development and improvements along Randall Road, particularly at the Algonquin Road intersection, has been a hot topic among county residents and officials, and McCann said she's all for it.

About $3 million of the county's roughly $10 million in annual retail sales tax revenue comes from the Randall Road corridor, McCann said.

"It's a significant generator of sales tax for the county," she said. "We really need to look at and invest in that intersection."

The county is largely made up of bedroom communities and lacks large businesses that bring in high taxes, she added, which results in a higher cost of living for residents.

Kearns, the Grafton Township supervisor, agreed that the county needs to broaden its tax base, saying he'd also like to see more development along routes 23, 20 and 47.

"We have to be friendly with the businesses to try and attract and keep our businesses," he said.

First, Rea said, the county's infrastructure and roadways need to be improved. Industrial and manufacturing companies would likely be more willing to consider the county a viable area if an interchange were built at Route 23 and I-90, he said.

Instead of pushing for economic growth, however, Liebmann said the county should focus on lowering its tax rate and streamlining programs that offer duplicate services.

"I don't believe economic development works. I believe it's a mechanism for more cronyism and bribes," she said. "Our cost of living is high, our taxes are high. That's why industry ... and people aren't coming to McHenry County."

But Rea said he believes companies are choosing bordering states because of the financial incentives they receive to move there. Offering similar monetary resources could encourage new businesses to set up shop in the county, he said, and could also help existing companies expand.

"We don't want to chase people out of McHenry County," said Rea, the supervisor for Alden Township. "Some people might call that corporate welfare, but we're at war with (other) states. And to keep companies here, we're going to have to make it an enticing place to come."

The county has a revolving loan fund that allows companies to receive an incentive for expansion, McCann said. Fabrik Molded Plastics in McHenry, for example, was given a graduated tax abatement from the municipality and the county, she said, and in turn, the company is creating 50 to 80 jobs in a matter of a few years.

"If (those incentives) are judiciously used, I've become more of a fan of trying to keep those jobs here," she said.

But Schuster, who has served on the board for 14 nonconsecutive years, said all the incentives in the world aren't going to make up for the county, federal and state regulations that make it difficult for businesses to get started. Zoning codes, health department standards and Environmental Protection Agency regulations are among those that can delay projects anywhere from a few months to several years, Schuster said.

"It discourages the private sector and costs the public sector money that we can't afford anymore," she said, noting that those rules and programs need to be streamlined.

"Nothing is going to happen -- people are not going to come here -- until we get our financial house in order," she added.

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