Kelli Wegener: 2022 candidate for McHenry County Board District 5
Office sought: McHenry County Board District 5
City: Crystal Lake
Occupation: County board member, substitute teacher, former accountant
Previous offices held: Current McHenry County Board member
Q: Describe your position regarding the balance between county spending and revenues as it exists today, then describe the chief threats you see looming in the future and how the county should deal with them.
A: McHenry County uses zero-based budgeting, where the net budgeted revenue and expenses are zero. If there is a variance on either side, the extra expenses are covered by the reserves in the general fund. If there are excess revenues, the funds are put into the general reserve fund and used to offset expenses in future years. As with every government, business, and individual, the major threat to the county expenses is inflation. The county has done very well in keeping reserves for tough times, so they may could use these funds to cover the increased expenses this year. There are a number of grant opportunities through the state and federal governments which the county should pursue to help offset some of the newer or increased costs to the county. In addition, McHenry County has received approximately $60 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Our plan is to use half of these funds for county government projects. If needed, the county can use these funds to offset expenses.
Q: Is there a specific service or amenity that is lacking in the county? If so, how do you propose to provide and fund it?
A: McHenry County has a large variety of services provided by the county government and the extensive list of nonprofit organizations. That said, our county does not provide breast exams, mammograms, pelvic exams, Pap tests, or contraception to low-income women; they must refer women to an outside clinic for these services. McHenry County is one of six counties out of the 102 total counties in Illinois that doesn't accept the Title X grant. These funds have a very stringent purpose to provide for only the services listed above. The benefits of contraception are widely recognized and include improved health and well-being, reduced maternal mortality, health benefits of pregnancy spacing for maternal and child female engagement in the workforce, and economic self-sufficiency for women. These benefits also extend to the county population as a whole as children have better access to education, are healthier, household incomes may increase and health care costs as a whole will decline.
Q: Does there need to be more bipartisanship and cooperation on the county board? If yes, what would you do to help make that happen?
A: Overall, the County Board functions well and collaborates. However, at times the Republican majority limits the ability of the Democratic members to put forth their priorities, let alone, have them put into motion. These ideas seem to be shut down before they are able to be discussed by the whole County Board. For example, I strongly advocated for a stoplight at the Walkup entrance to Prairie Ridge High School. The dangerous combination of young, inexperienced drivers, the high speed of drivers on Walkup, a left turn that is difficult to navigate even for experienced drivers, and pedestrians at that intersection have caused many close calls and accidents. Even though the school district, township, city, and majority of the parents and teachers advocated for this stoplight, the discussion was shut down using behind the scenes conversations and actions. Unfortunately, this move seems to be political and not in the interest of children's safety.
Q: The COVID pandemic put a spotlight on the need for mental health services. What role should the county play in this?
A: McHenry County currently allocates funding for the Mental Health Board, which provides leadership and coordination to prevent and treat mental illness, development disabilities and substance abuse. This organization is a model in our state that others have replicated and seen great results. The county has also created a social work program that combines services between multiple municipality's police forces. We need to continue to coordinate these services and provide help to those who need it. One area in which McHenry County could expand is helping our students by additional partnership with the schools. The anxiety level of students resulting from the pandemic, the pressure of academics, and school violence has risen at such a rate that many students aren't getting the help they need. McHenry County can use the resources they currently have and apply them to help the students so the needs in the county don't increase in the future.
Q: What is the single most important issue facing your district and how should the county address it?
A: When I speak with people in my district, the main issue they worry about is the high cost of property taxes in McHenry County. The majority of our property taxes are levied by our school districts, which places the burden of our children's education on the homeowner. Ideally, the Illinois State government would create a new taxing structure so our property taxes could be reduced without compromising our educational system. McHenry County should continue to provide incentives for business and manufacturer investment into our county which will expand the tax base, thereby lowering your property taxes. For example, by investing in infrastructure, such as high-speed fiber internet, McHenry County will entice additional economic investment by business owners. Additionally, affordable housing for young singles and families would not only provide an expanded tax base, but would also bring additional employees (and their spending) to McHenry County.