Mohammad 'Mo' Iqbal: 2022 candidate for Kane County Board District 19
Office sought: Kane County Board District 19
Occupation: Lawyer and civil/structural engineer
Previous offices held: Kane County Board District 19 since 2018
Q: Do you support an increase in the countywide retail sales tax to help pay for expenses related to the SAFE-T legislation? If yes, which SAFE-T-related expenses, specifically, should be covered with the additional tax? If no, how do you suggest paying for the increased expenses related to the SAFE-T legislation?
A: SAFE-T Act/Pretrial Fairness Act brings in a significant change to the criminal justice system in Illinois courts. Kane County Circuit Court has been selected to be one of the three pilot sites starting Nov, 1, 2022. The pilot program is an unfunded mandate. It is estimated that 31 additional personnel will be hired costing the county $3 million in the first year. It is a significant amount for the county to pay.
It has been proposed that the county should increase the countywide retail sales tax to help pay for expenses related to the legislation.
I do not support an increase in the countywide retail sales tax or any other tax.
Instead, I support using the county's reserve funds available to balance the budget to help pay for expenses related to the SAFE-T legislation.
Q: What should be done to retain county staff? If you propose increases in salaries or benefits, how should those added costs be covered?
A: The county employees can be divided in two categories: union members, and nonunion. The employees who are members of a union collectively negotiate or bargain with the county for their wages and benefits. If the negotiations reach an impasse, the matter is resolved through an outside arbitrator. The nonunion employees receive the same wages and benefits increases as their unionized counterpart receive in aggregate. It means that all county employees have been receiving fair and equitable wages.
The county offers substantial benefits to its employees.
For example, in 2021, the county contributed over $28 million for employees' benefits, including health insurance and pensions. In addition, the county gathers salary information from neighboring counties to keep Kane County staff salaries equitable. Therefore, the wages, benefits, pensions, job stability and working environment the county offers amount to a fair and equitable package.
Q: Do you believe the county auditor should be an elected or appointed position? Why? Are there any other countywide offices that are currently elected positions that you believe should be appointed instead? If so, please explain.
A: According to the state law, the county clerk, county treasurer, county circuit clerk, county recorder of deeds, county state's attorney and county board chairman are countywide elected positions.
Whether a county auditor should be an elected or appointed position depends on the county population.
The auditor can be appointed or employed for the counties with population less than 75,000. For the counties where population is above 75,000 and below 3 million, the county auditor should be elected.
According to the 2020 Census, Kane County population is 531,756. Therefore, the Kane County Board has no power to decide whether the county auditor should be appointed or not. According to the laws of Illinois, Kane County Auditor should be an elected official. For the coroner, the law allows that the coroner can be either elected in a countywide election or appointed by the county board. Our coroner should be an elected official because I believe the voters are a better judge.
Q: The county has seen an increase in truck traffic. How do you propose to address the infrastructure needs that come with this increase in traffic? Do you support a moratorium on warehouse developments in unincorporated areas of the county? Please explain.
A: Kane County has been growing in population. So, the traffic volume on its infrastructure is also increasing.
Reportedly, the trucks are bypassing Randall Road and taking side roads such as Tyrrell Road in Gilberts. One reason is because Randall gets congested at times.
The traffic studies are in progress for the four intersections from I-90 bridge to Route 20 bridge on Randall. Two sources of funding are available through Biden administration: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and Bridge Investment Program (BIP). We are striving to get a fair share for Kane County.
The large warehouse developments are located in incorporated areas and municipalities approve their permits. The warehouses located in the county's jurisdiction are fewer and smaller.
Therefore, having a moratorium on warehouse developments in unincorporated areas would not help. However, truck parking is a local, regional and national issue. As a member of the development committee, I have been working on it.
Q: What direction do you think the county should move as it relates to its aging buildings? Build new or rehab existing buildings? Why and how would you propose the county pay for any new buildings or improvements?
A: Kane County operates 29 buildings with nearly 1 million sq. feet of total space. The facilities are located throughout the county. Each facility is unique regarding its maintenance and improvement needs. Among the buildings owned and operated by Kane County include a historic courthouse built in the 1892, a former seminary built in 1941, a once-department store converted into offices, storage, and judicial hearing rooms. Newer facilities include coroner, animal control and correctional facilities.
The county should continue adhering to the green building standards which provide a mechanism for verification that investments in sustainable building techniques will result in actual cost, energy, material, and water savings. As the county grows, more facilities would be needed. The county needs to perform a benefit-cost analysis to determine whether an existing facility should be retrofitted or torn down. The capital costs should be amortized over the life cycle of the improvements.
Q: How do you think the county should spend the remaining COVID-19 relief funds?
A: Kane County received two COVID-19 relief funds: The CARES Act fund, and the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) which is a part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The CARES Act grant received in 2019 has been fully obligated and expended. The ARPA grant received in 2021 was for $103,413,041. The fund has expended nearly 20% of the grant. All ARPA funds need to be obligated by the end of 2024 and expended by the end of 2026.
ARPA is a much more complex program than the CARES Act. It requires careful deliberation on how to most effectively use the funds. The goal should be not just to fund near-term emergency type uses, but to find projects or ways of impacting the community that would endure long after the money is spent.
Finding uses that would bring transformative change is the goal. The ARPA timeline is in years, not months, so our approach should be to address some near-term response needs while patiently deliberating on more long-term uses of funds.
Q: The COVID pandemic also put a spotlight on the need for mental health services. What role should the county play in this?
A: The impact of COVID on the county residents has intensified behavioral health issues, including mental illness and substance abuse. While there are several behavioral health service providers in the county, the demand for the services is overwhelming. Three issues are identified in this regard.
First, the behavioral health service providers are unable to recruit and retain highly qualified staff. This is an issue across most sectors in the county, but it is having a devastating impact on local organizations' ability to meet the needs of our residents.
Second, families in Kane County do not know where to access the resources they need to achieve sustainable mental health.
Third, 9-8-8 crisis line has become available for residents experiencing behavioral health crisis, but stigma and lack of awareness keeps residents from getting assistance in a timely manner. The county needs to be a coordinator, using multiple platforms, to connect the residents with the resources using ARPA funds.