Jeff Werfel: Candidate Profile:
Name: Jeff Werfel
Office sought: Lake County Board, District 6
Occupation: Lake County Board Member & Forest Preserve Commissioner, District 6
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Government 1984, Georgetown University, Masters in Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing & Strategic Management 1997, Loyola University
Civic involvement: Grayslake Chamber of Commerce member; Grayslake Exchange Club member; Grayslake Historical Society member; Grayslake Kiwanis member; Round Lake Area Chamber of Commerce member; Lake County Farm Bureau member; Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency (CLCJAWA) board of directors, current director & former alternate director (2003 -- Present); Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) board of directors; director (2017 -- Present); Conserve Lake County (now Lake County Openlands,) board Member (2003 -- 2013). Member since 1998
Elected offices held: Lake County Board, District 6 (2014 -- Present) Lake County Forest Preserve Commissioner, District 6 (2014 -- Present) Grayslake Village Trustee (2003 -- 2014)
Questions & Answers
Question 1: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led.
Responsibly managing Lake County's (and the Forest Preserve's) budget and finances, while continuing to deliver high quality county services.
• Balanced budgets, stable tax levy with multiple freezes
• County accounts for under 5 percent average of our total property tax burden in District 6 and is steadily shrinking
• Forest Preserve District tax levy has declined by 20 percent
• Minimal debt, AAA Bond Rating
• County staff reduction of 11 in one year, 46 in five years, 10 percent over 10 years
Pursuing and expanding innovative shared services and joint purchasing relationships with local municipalities and other governmental entities.
Actively driving and supporting local government consolidation investigation and enactment (more detail below).
Road and transportation improvements in District 6 and Central Lake County, such as:
• The Rollins Road/Route 83 underpass
• Peterson Road widening and improvement
• Washington Street underpass and widening
• Route 120 traffic light synchronization and right turn lane at Hainesville Road
• Center Street Repaving and Improvement
Initiatives I'm Leading: Getting the "Belvidere Road Corridor Road Capacity Plan," created by 6 municipalities in Central Lake County, funded and enacted as soon as possible through an intergovernmental working effort comprised of the State, County and the municipalities served by IL Route 120 in Central Lake County. Completed improvements mentioned above part of that effort.
Question 2: What is the single biggest need in your district?
Getting relief from property taxes that are too high and burdensome.
For over 15 years, first as a Grayslake village trustee and now as a Lake County Board member, I have worked nonstop to bring taxpayer relief to this district. As already mentioned above, Lake County's portion of our property tax bill here in District 6 has steadily shrunk to less than 5 percent of the total bill we pay. And the Forest Preserve District tax levy has decreased by 20 percent. I am proud of the part I have played in making this happen.
But our property tax burden is still crushingly high. We need help! That is why I have redoubled my efforts to work toward and encourage our Illinois State legislators to fundamentally reform our broken Illinois property tax system. For instance, I support the idea of capping the maximum total property tax bill to 3 percent (or less) of the market value of a home in any given year.
Illinois is one of only a handful of states that relies so heavily on property taxes to fund local government, particularly schools. All of the good efforts of locally elected government officials (me included!) to cut and share costs without degrading services, to leverage technology and drive efficiencies, to innovate and modernize the way government operates has an impact. But, ultimately, the biggest property tax relief for all of us will come if and when Illinois State Legislators reform this broken property tax system.
Question 3: Should the county government eliminate procurement cards, or p-cards, for county board members? Should county board members even have expense accounts? County board members in some other counties don't, their salaries cover work expenses. Should employees' p-cards be eliminated, too?
Upon the recent discovery of questionable "p-card" use for personal expenses by Chairman Lawlor, Interim Chairman Calabresa, with all of the county board's support, and the state's attorney's Office took steps to have an independent, qualified agency conduct an investigation. That investigation is being conducted by the Illinois State Police. Additionally, the county board is having an independent 3rd party financial & government audit firm do a thorough review and audit of the board's p-card and expense account policies, procedures and approval processes. The results of that study will be presented to the County Board in late September. I will thoughtfully act upon the findings and recommendations of this study. The current p-card expense policy and process clearly needs to be more clearly defined and tightly controlled, especially with regards to the chairman's use. Or it needs to be eliminated altogether. I have thoughts on how either option could work practically. I lean toward elimination. However, I want to have the results of the independent study to help make the best final determination. There are 21 Lake County Board members. Out of this number, there are only three (including Chairman Lawlor) who have p-card charges that exceed $550 for the past year. Most members' p-card usage, including my own, has been minimal and for well-defined allowed expenses. I pay much more county business-related expenses out of my own pocket than from using my p-card to pay for them. I support reviewing and reducing the number of County employee p-cards.
Question 4: Is the county doing enough to control expenses? What additional, specific steps do you recommend?
All levels of government need to be as innovative and cost-effective as possible in the delivery of the services they are responsible for. This has been a fundamental driver of my 15 years as a local elected official. The county has been extraordinarily active and innovative in controlling its own operating expenses and providing leadership and assistance to other Lake County local government units (through shared and outsourced services, combined contract bidding, and leveraging technology, for example).
Government consolidation can be a significant contributor to this mission. And I fully support it. During my time on the county board, I have supported and helped drive our efforts to study and act upon potential consolidation opportunities. This includes opportunities vis-à-vis township government, specialized local districts, county offices and functions, 911 Dispatch and others.
The county board adopted a consolidation action plan for 2018 focused on county board appointed units of government that takes advantage of recently enacted enabling legislation from the State. We are also working with municipalities in the County to move forward on 911 service consolidation, which could save $10 million annually.
However, local government consolidation requires enabling legislation from the Illinois State government to be possible in most cases. A crucial specific step we need to focus and work on (even more than we currently do) is lobbying and working with Illinois State Legislators to pass more extensive government consolidation legislation. This will give the county the ability to do more and have a bigger impact on our overall property tax burden.
Question 5: Historically, county board meetings have been free of partisanship and political antics -- but party-line fighting has become more noticeable in recent years. How do you feel about that?
It is true that the Lake County Board has maintained an extremely high level of "member collegiality" and kept "political/party-based partisanship" activity to a minimum over the years. It is one the biggest strengths of the board. I respect and work well with all my county board colleagues, regardless of party affiliation. And, while I cannot speak for every one of colleagues, I think that most of them feel the same way as I do. Along with personal characteristics of individual board members being an important part of bringing about this situation, the board majority has also consistently given minority party members some positions of leadership, like committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships. I believe this contributes significantly in creating a less politically partisan governing body. It is a practice that is unheard of, much less actually done, in other counties in Illinois. The Republican County Board majority has followed this practice and if that majority changed, I hope the Democrats would follow it too. That all said, this is an elected office and "politics" is going to occur, especially during election season. I have observed over the years, even before I was elected to the county board, that the partisanship level during election season increases beyond what is typical when there are big political changes occurring at all governmental levels. This is one of those years. Previously, the board ultimately has returned to its usual low-partisanship operating norm. I believe that is likely to occur after this year's election also.