ST. CHARLES – Both candidates seeking to become Kane County's next chief executive believe the county government is dysfunctional.
However, the nominees for the position of Kane County Board chairman, Republican State Sen. Chris Lauzen and Democratic former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer, disagree over the underlying cause.
Thursday, Lauzen, of Aurora, and Klinkhamer, of St. Charles, squared off before a crowd of several dozen local government officials and business leaders from the Tri-Cities during a candidates' forum sponsored by local chambers of commerce.
The candidates seized the opportunity to not only return to their familiar campaign themes, but to highlight differences in how they would approach the job as the executive overseeing several county governmental departments and driving the agenda for the County Board.
Lauzen reiterated his main campaign goals, which begin with freezing the county's property tax levy. He noted the county's property tax levy has risen in recent years, even as property values have fallen.
"We are being taxed out of our homes," Lauzen said.
The county's portion of a typical property tax bill accounts for about 5 percent of what county taxpayers pay annually. A county tax levy freeze would save the typical taxpayer about $12 next year, according to a recent analysis.
Klinkhamer questioned the need to freeze the levy because it would leave the county with less revenue and a need to cut services and personnel.
"One of the problems with freezing the levy and cutting any kind of taxes is that you have to give up something," Klinkhamer said. "There's always that trade off."
The two candidates also disagreed over how to improve the County Board's operations, efficiency and relationship with the public and other elected officials.
Klinkhamer pinned the blame for the county's problems on an overarching lack of professionalism at the highest levels. She continued her campaign push to hire a county administrator and redefine the structure of the County Board.
She said an appointed, "nonpolitical" administrator would allow the County Board to reduce the salaries and benefits of board members and the board chairman and reduce "micro-managing" by County Board members.
"The board's job is to set policy," Klinkhamer said. "When everyone is in charge, then no one's in charge."
Lauzen, however, discounted the need for an administrator, saying most of the county government's problems stem from corruption, much of which he blamed on current Chairman Karen McConnaughay.
"A lot of the responsibility rests in the chairman's office," Lauzen said.
He pledged to "self-impose" limits on campaign contributions from county vendors and contractors to "eliminate even the perception of pay-to-play."
And he said he would bring a "strength to say, 'I screwed up; I'm sorry' " to smooth over disagreements, should they arise.
"I don't have to have my way or the highway," Lauzen said.