ST. CHARLES – The four people who would be Kane County's next chief executive squared off in the same room for the first time Friday, each offering their views on taxes, regulation and government administration.
The four candidates vying to be the next Kane County Board chairman – Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and state Sen. Chris Lauzen on the Republican side, and former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer and former Carpentersville Village President Bill Sarto on the Democratic side – offered their thoughts during a lunchtime candidates forum.
The event, sponsored by the chambers of commerce from St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, was attended by about 100 local businesspeople and local government officials.
Voters will choose one Republican and one Democrat on March 20 to advance to the November general election.
All of the candidates agreed that county officials should work in a bipartisan fashion. And they also agreed that Kane County needs to do more to encourage business development and job creation.
But on exactly how to accomplish those goals and what the top priorities of the county's government should be, the candidates differed sharply.
Lauzen, of Aurora, said repeatedly that he would freeze the property tax levy and would cut spending to make sure the county would "live within its means." He also rejected any suggestion that the county ever could need to raise taxes, saying he could think of "no exceptions" to freezing the property tax levy.
Sarto also rejected any possibility of a tax increase in the next few years, saying he would actually move to lower the tax levy. However, he said he would not support service cuts or transferring some services to private companies, calling privatization of government services "folly."
"Government is very efficient, contrary to what some people believe," Sarto said. "They do things very efficiently, actually more efficiently than the private sector."
Burns and Klinkhamer, however, said they believed hard line stances on taxation and spending on services were not in the best interests of the county.
Burns noted that in recent years, Kane County voters have approved several tax increases, and particularly to support the Kane County Forest Preserve District. He said, under the right circumstances, he could not rule out supporting tax increases to pay for public safety.
He also supported tax incentives to draw businesses to the county.
"Perhaps the chair should first listen to the citizens before ruling out any and all opportunities," Burns said.
Klinkhamer said tax increases likely will be necessary in the future, particularly to pay to maintain and improve the county's infrastructure.
"We're all going to have to take our share of the burden," Klinkhamer said.
The candidates also differed on how they might run county government.
While Burns said he would support hiring a full-time economic development director to help draw business to the county, and Sarto said he would support funding an entire "economic development program," Klinkhamer went further, pushing for the hiring of a full-time county administrator, overseeing all county departments.
She said it was "still troubling" that Kane County is the only county that does not employ an administrator to run the county's day-to-day operations. She said such a manager could help ease political bickering among county officials, while making the county government more efficient.
Lauzen, however, assailed the notion that Kane should hire an administrator, saying such a hire would place "another layer" between county elected officials and the people.
"I disagree with the idea of elected officials abdicating responsibility of running government," Lauzen said.
He said he believed streamlining many county regulations, such as the permit process, and reducing taxes would help spur the economy.
Burns also supported reducing regulations, particularly the county's collection of some impact fees.
"It would send a signal that Kane County is open for business," he said.
The forum also offered some fireworks, as Burns and Lauzen traded barbs. Twice, Lauzen referenced his relationships with Democratic leaders in Springfield, noting at one point that he has the personal cell phone number for Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton.
Lauzen said such relationships make him the candidate best able to get the "resources" Kane County needs.
Burns, however, said voters should find out "who has developed sustained working relationships with people, to actually get things done," saying it is about more than "who has whose cell phone numbers."
Burns also attacked Lauzen as someone who "wants to rule Kane County."
Lauzen, however, painted himself as a reformer, saying this election is about "grassroots reform vs. establishment insiders protecting the status quo." He also encouraged voters to "pull out actual resumes" for the candidates, and compare them to determine who is the best candidate.
"It's not just about what we say about ourselves," Lauzen said.