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County approves smaller 2013 budget

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved a smaller 2013 budget and froze its property tax levy.

County Board members voted, 22-1, to approve a $250 million budget for the fiscal year starting Dec. 1. The county’s spending plan holds next year’s property-tax levy flat, rejecting a 3 percent increase for inflation that governments are entitled to under the tax cap.

The county will collect $2.3 million less than last year in tax revenue by holding its levy flat. The levy freeze applies only to the portion of property-tax bills that funds county government, not schools, municipalities, townships or other taxing bodies. County government, on average, accounts for 10 percent of a McHenry County homeowner’s property-tax bill, according to county staff.

The county government budget is $6 million smaller than the current $256.7 million budget. McHenry County government, one of three Illinois counties with a Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service, has been trimming its budget in recent years to adjust for the weak economy. It has trimmed 64 staff positions over the past three years.

Board member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, cast the sole vote last week against the new budget. He said the levy still contains growth, in the form of new development that is not capped. Hammerand also questioned the $5.25 million levied to help subsidize Valley Hi Nursing Home.

“I keep my campaign promises. It’s a tax increase, and I voted against it,” Hammerand said.

The County Board is one of several area governments to reject or consider rejecting the 3 percent increase under the tax cap.

The tax cap was meant to protect collar-county taxpayers by limiting how much more taxing bodies can collect each year to either the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is smaller. But when home values decline – a scenario never considered by lawmakers – the cap helps government and hurts taxpayers by guaranteeing that taxing bodies can collect the increase to offset inflation if they choose to do so.

County government’s levy for next year’s taxes totals more than $78.5 million.

This year’s budget development process went more smoothly than last year, when board members on the night of the budget vote had a change of heart and attempted to freeze the levy and not collect a 1.5 percent increase allowed under the tax cap. That episode prompted a top-to-bottom review of the county budget process and an earlier start to it.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday evening, 22-1, to approve a $250 million 2013 budget that holds next year’s property tax levy flat. Board member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, cast the sole opposing vote.

Board member Robert Bless, R-Fox River Grove, was absent.

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