McHenry County Board District 6 candidates say state needs to pay for Safe-T Act mandates

Two Republicans running for the McHenry County Board in the county's northeast corner said they worry about how the county will pay for new law enforcement requirements handed down by the state, while their Democratic opponent said she thinks many of those requirements help make the area better.

The Safe-T Act, set to take effect in January, carries with it a number of new mandates and requirements, including ending cash bail, requiring body cameras and staffing courts so they can expand hours and services.

What these new mandates, among others, might do to the county's budget were concerns brought up by Republicans Pamela Althoff and Carl Kamienski, with each saying grants, cuts and pressuring state officials to come up with more state aid may be needed.

Democrat Chamille "Cece" Adams, however, said she doesn't worry about such mandates and often thinks they are something the county should already have been supporting, though she also said funding is an issue.

The three candidates are competing in the November general election for two spots on the county board in District 6, which includes Fox Lake, Spring Grove, McHenry, Ringwood, McCullom Lake, Lakemoor and Johnsburg.

Althoff, of McHenry, is an incumbent board member who has been an elected official for more than two decades, serving as a state senator for 15 years and two years as the city of McHenry's mayor. Her opponents, Kamienski and Adams, have both been involved in politics for a while, but neither has served on the county board before.

Kamienski has worked in the past with different campaigns running for local office, and Adams has been an election judge and volunteer since moving to the area in 2016.

November's race will see all 18 seats seat on the county board up for grabs after the county's decennial redistricting process and the decision to reduce the board's size to 18 from 24.

Collaboration between the county board and state officials were something both Althoff and Kamienski said was important, particularly as they pertained to unfunded state mandates like those in the state's new Safe-T Act.

Kamienski said he worries about the financial impact the law could have on McHenry County, which may need to hire additional prosecutors, public defenders, court reporters and bailiffs, he said.

"Somebody's got to pay for that," he said.

Kamienski said raising taxes needs to be the "last resort." Looking for grants and other financial aid, along with pressuring state officials and looking for money internally are things he said he would try to do first.

Althoff said it's imperative for the state to fund mandates as they are handed down. Residents and local officials also need to push for state funding when mandates do come, she said.

She returned to the importance of having strong county staff members who can help find grants and other opportunities.

"We have to do everything we can to keep the burden off the taxpayer," she said. "They're already being burdened enough."

Adams said she "of course" would like the state to pay for such mandates but thinks in general whether it does, those mandates have often been for the benefit of the area. She said many mandates, like body cameras, typically have a reason behind them.

She said she sees the correct path as the one that helps the greatest number of people.

"[Mandates] are not something I would be concerned about," Adams said. "It would be something I'd ask why we don't have money for this."

One thing Adams agreed with her opponents on was the importance of bringing businesses to the area to take the tax burden off residents.

She complimented the county's business programs, calling them "top-notch," though she said she would wait until joining the county board before suggesting any specific ideas on how to enhance those programs.

"I do think they're on a good path, but I need to know more," she said.

Kamienski said there have been efforts to get rid of the "hoops and loops" that businesses have to jump through to come into the county. The county should also emphasize supporting agriculture in the area, he said.

"We've got a big business right there," he said. "Let's take care of that and make it easier for them to make a buck instead of putting regulations on them."

He also proposed encouraging residents to push their state legislators to create a more business-friendly atmosphere in addition to his own outreach.

To help bolster business, in addition to many of the projects and organizations the county has invested its rescue plan funds in, Althoff listed the expansion of infrastructure, including the widening of Randall Road or the interchange of Interstate 90 and Route 23 south of Marengo.

The county's efforts to expand broadband also plays into helping grow businesses and keeping entrepreneurs in the area, Althoff said, calling it "absolutely crucial."

On the county's overall fiscal health, all three candidates said they thought the county was doing well with its finances and budget. Althoff credited federal funds tied to the American Rescue Plan Act for helping out. As a result of the rescue plan, the county received nearly $60 million after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar to other candidates, Adams hears from residents about property taxes. Educating and communicating with residents about where their tax dollars are going can go a long way, she said.

"I think that's a place the county board can do better in," she said.

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