How Kane County chairman candidates would tackle $14 million-plus deficit
A monster Kane County budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritizing the spending of taxpayer dollars popped up in several questions answered Thursday night by the two candidates vying to become the county's first new board chairman in eight years.
Democrat Corinne Pierog and Republican David Rickert had distinctly different priorities for how to address what they both agreed is a deficit of at least $14 million. That's a shortfall more than three times larger than any pending budget since the county board put a property tax freeze in place more than eight years ago. The current county board is in the process of allocating $93 million in federal CARES Act money -- a total that will cover just part of the county's COVID-19 expenses and none of its revenue losses.
Pierog said the county has dragged its feet in putting that CARES Act money to work in addressing the county's needs as well as those of the local business community and not-for-profit organizations. She said the new chairman must forge better relationships with state and federal lawmakers to bring back more money to assist those struggling through the pandemic.
"It's going to take a long time to make the community robust again," Pierog said. "There are going to be shuttered businesses that may not reopen. There are going to be job losses that may not return. The county has to make sure it's not just local taxpayer dollars (assisting), but that it also reaches out to our state and federal representatives for assistance."
Rickert said the top priority for the county's budget and any outside funding assistance it receives must be supplying the health department with all the resources needed to keep citizens healthy and protected. He pointed to a push he made earlier this year to give the health department $5 million to buy personal protective equipment that could be distributed to the public. That plan did not move forward even though it had the backing of the health department.
"I think we need to trust our health professionals first," Rickert said.
He also said, as the county treasurer, he has changed the county's investment strategy to make as much cash as readily available as possible to allow for necessary COVID-19-related purchases.
Both candidates warned budget cuts will be necessary. Neither candidate listed specific areas to cut. However, Pierog said she will not support cutting county employees or their salaries. She suggested the county reverse track and take full advantage of medical and recreational marijuana businesses and taxes as a new income source.