Timothy Owen Schneider: Candidate Profile
Name: Timothy Owen Schneider
Office sought: Cook County Commissioner, 15th District
Family: Wife, Shelly, 3 Children, Kelly, Casey, and Jack
Occupation: Golf Club Owner, Commissioner
Education: BS, University of Illinois
Civic involvement: Rotary, Past President/ Chairman, ILGOP
Elected offices held: Hanover Township Trustee, Hanover Township Highway Commissioner, Cook County Commissioner
1. After the repeal of the sweetened beverage tax last year, the county made extensive cuts to bring expenditures more in line with revenues. Does more need to be done to either trim costs or grow revenues? If so, please give specific examples.
As a sponsor of the repeal, I'm delighted that the County Board found the wisdom to repeal this ill-conceived money grab. The soda tax would never have raised the expected revenue, due to people shopping and purchasing all groceries elsewhere, and put many retailers in jeopardy of going out of business.
The board was able to balance the '18 budget with no added revenue. Most of the reductions were made by eliminating vacant positions, and I have seen no drop in service levels due to the repeal of the soda tax. The county budget has skyrocketed over the past few years, as we have expanded our health care services. We have seen no budget cuts at the jail or the JTDC, even as the population of each has been reduced by over 30 percent.
1) We need to examine all positions that are open as people retire, move, etc., the county attrition rate is nearly 7 percent. This means over 1,600 people leave the county each year. Let's evaluate all these open positions and see if we "really" need them filled. 85 percent of the county budget is employee salary, benefits, and pension related. Let's tighten the government's belt as families have had to over recent years.
2) We must get budget reductions at the jail and JTDC. With inmate/juvenile numbers decreasing dramatically, we must see budget numbers reflect that.
3) Improvement in care in county health facilities will drive patients in county care to our facilities, not our partner service providers. Currently, far too many people use our partner hospitals/clinics, costing us hundreds of millions per year.
2. Tax Increment Financing districts have been used extensively in the suburbs to provide economic incentives for redevelopment and new business, but school districts and other local governments often see TIFs as depriving them of needed revenue. Do you believe TIF districts are being used appropriately and what, if anything, would you change in how or when they're utilized.
TIF districts are funding tools to attract development in an area that might otherwise not occur. TIF's should be considered carefully, and not used if the likelihood of development will occur anyway. When TIF monies are used to benefit an individual TIF, it defers money that local taxing districts would receive, further burdening residential taxpayers. TIFs must be considered on an individual basis, openly and transparently, looking at the overall benefit/adverse effect to the municipality.
I have been a big proponent of Class 6B/Class 7 incentives for small business in the county. Were it not for this program, many of our business parks would have huge vacancy rates. The Class 6B incentive provides a property tax rate closer to neighboring counties, encouraging development in Cook County. Without them, residential taxpayers would be paying higher property taxes.
3. The county has at times encouraged suburban communities to annex unincorporated areas, lessening the need for services in often small and remote areas of the county. Should the county continue this policy, and if so, incentivize municipalities to annex?
As a member of the Unincorporated Task Force, we spent months looking into possible annexation tools to encourage local municipalities to annex unincorporated lands. We met with a number of villages, and even provided cash incentives for municipalities to encourage their consideration. In the end, it was unproductive, because most municipalities did not want to accept the unincorporated property, or the residents had no interest in being annexed. Municipalities cited differences in building codes, street specifications, policing, etc., and residents saw no reason to pay a municipal tax that they felt had little benefit.
The greatest cost in provided service to the unincorporated area is police services, due to the large and diverse areas they serve. We should look into having local police forces provide police protection for the unincorporated areas.
4. Numerous reports last year detailed inequities in the manner in which properties are being assessed, often to the detriment of lower-income families. What can the county board to address the problems and create a more equitable system of assessment?
As I walk and talk with residents in my district, property taxes are their number one concern. We currently do not have an open and transparent system. Due to the fiefdoms within the separately elected offices, the County Board has little to say how they conduct their business. I am hopeful our new assessor will address the inequities. However, we must understand that by lowering taxes in one group of homeowners/businesses, you raise property taxes on others. The people of my district already pay exorbitantly high property taxes, and I would not want to see them burdened any greater. We must look to Springfield for a more effective way to fund our schools, and look to government, at all levels, to tighten their belts.
5. As commissioner serving one the few suburb-only county board districts, how will you work (or if an incumbent, how have you worked) to ensure your constituents' interests get fairly represented?
The main mission of Cook County is to provide for public health and public safety. We have the largest jail and court system in the country, and nearly the largest health system. Most of the people in my district do not benefit from these services, but believe it is their duty to provide services to those less fortunate. I look to receive an abundance, therefore, in road district dollars, and have been very successful over the years in getting millions of dollars for my district. I fought against the skimming of money from our motor fuel tax fund, and we now spend 3 times (over $60 million) on road projects per year.
I have been the suburban voice on the County Board, fighting the Stroger sales tax, it's reinstatement, gun/ammo tax, hotel tax, and more recently championed the repeal of the soda tax. I meet regularly with my mayors/managers, local business organizations, and residents to learn what is important in providing service to my district, and the county as a whole. I fight to maintain a level playing field, and prevent businesses and residents from fleeing the county.
I have worked to encourage small business development in the county, by meeting with local villages to ensure they are aware of all the tools and incentives we have to lure businesses into Cook County.
6. The Forest Preserve District made negative headlines in three instances in recent months, with a temporary employee being arrested in connection with a fatal crash, the deaths of three elk at Busse Woods, and an officer's inaction when a woman was harassed by another patron because of her Puerto Rico flag shirt. What do these incidents say about leadership in the district and what changes, if any, are needed?
I believe the Forest Preserve District (FPD) has made great strides over the last decade to "clean up its act," however recent developments have set our progress back significantly. The FPD is better, cleaner, and safer than it has ever been. The addition of campgrounds and ziplining have been extremely well-received by residents. I believe we are moving in the right direction in providing the right mix of restoration and recreation.
In regards to the recent activities:
1) I have called for a hearing to discuss the vehicle use and alcohol/drug policies within the FPD. Clearly, all employees driving vehicles, when seasonal or full-time, should be subjected to random drug testing. This crash, an unfortunate and tragic incident, has cost the life of an individual, hurt many more, and opened the county to a huge liability.
2) The death of the elk in Busse Woods was a tragedy that must never happen again. These animals relied on FPD staff to take care of them and they did not. I believe the punishment was far too lenient, and believe that more elk should be reintroduced, but not until redundant safeguards are in place to prevent this from ever happening again.
3) I think the officer's lack of attention to the situation regarding the woman wearing the Puerto Rican flag were inexcusable, and further training must be implemented to all FPD police officers in handling these matters. We should also look at possibilities of the sheriff's office taking over these FPD policing duties.
7. Do you support the Forest Preserve District's Next Century Plan and, if so, how does the county find the funding for it? If not, what measures can be taken to improve the conditions of forest preserve facilities within the county's means?
Conceived by Jens Jensen and Dwight Perkins, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is a gem, a nearly 70,000-acre emerald belt around and in suburban Cook County. I support the FPD's Next Century Conservation Plan, however in order to implement it, more resources will be required. I would like to see a question put on the ballot to gauge the interest of county taxpayers in providing more revenue to the FPD, and its partners, the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Barring public support, we must live within our means, garner philanthropic support through the FPD Foundation, and look to private-public partnerships to support services and programming. We have a very active volunteer force in the district that needs to be rewarded for their action and possible expansion. I am guessing the appetite in Springfield, which supported SB83 many years ago, is not there today.
Current budgets allow for services and restoration activities to continue, just not at the levels envisioned by the plan. Unfortunately, litigation costs on many matters and increased pension costs will hurt our ability to provide service.