Kane County defers sales tax referendum decision until after June primary
With every Kane County Board seat on the ballot this year, board members decided this week they will not ask voters how they feel about a potential new sales tax until at least after the June primary.
The COVID-19 pandemic, escalating employee salaries and the financial challenges of implementing justice reforms are driving multimillion-dollar budget deficits for the county. Federal pandemic relief funds are plugging the budget hole, but that money won't last forever.
Board members began discussing the details of a potential new sales tax this week. The tax would be imposed on some of the most common purchases made in the county, such as clothes and dining out. It would not apply to the purchase of groceries or medicine. Voters would have to approve the new tax before it is applied.
Board members pointed to a lack of time to inform voters about the sales tax in voting against putting even a nonbinding advisory referendum on primary ballots.
Primary elections also see low voter turnout. The last primary election that featured gubernatorial candidates saw a 22% turnout in Kane County. A low turnout might not provide an accurate measure of how voters feel overall about a new county sales tax if the board put an advisory question on the primary ballot.
Those factors fueled a 21-2 vote against a June ballot question at Tuesday's special county board meeting.
That leaves the November general election as the next available time the county could ask voters about a tax increase. By then, the seven incumbent board members facing primary challenges will know the fate of those races. The turnout of the last general election with gubernatorial candidates saw a 55% voter turnout in Kane County. And it would also allow about four months to get voters informed about the impact of a new county sales tax.
Zeroing in on how much money the county needs and what that money will pay for is key to selling a new tax to voters.
This week, board members began building a consensus among Democrats and Republicans for a new sales tax to support public safety. That's proven to be a successful tactic with other counties that placed similar requests before their voters.
The pitch to voters in that scenario would be that the county needs new money to increase the salaries of assistant state's attorneys and public defenders, and comply with Illinois' SAFE-T Act. The reform legislation ends the cash bail system that helped fund local courts. It also adds new expenses to review police body camera footage and institute more detailed pretrial hearings to determine who should or shouldn't be put in jail while awaiting a trial.
There is also a plan to create more DUI and domestic violence courts. All of that means more personnel and a need for more space to give all those people somewhere to work.
The combined price for all those changes is $26 million a year.
If the county board goes the route of creating a new sales tax and locks in public safety as the reason, the $26 million need would mean a tax of at least 50 cents per $100 of goods purchased, or 0.5%. That rate would rake in $25 million a year in new money.
It would also mean a meal at a restaurant in Kane County that costs $100 now would cost $100.50 with the new tax in place.
The county board has until late August to put a sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
Board member Monica Silva was one of two board members who favored polling voters during the primary. But she said the county can use the time to provide voters with objective information about the need.
"People want to know what's done with their money," Silva said. "We are providing them with human reasons. I need to be able to go back and say, 'This is how we've best crafted how to pay for these needs.'"