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KANE COUNTY – Both candidates seeking to become the first new Kane County Board chairman in eight years pledged to oppose any property tax increases as a means of balancing an unprecedented budget hole looming in 2021.
But there is a stark contrast on where they'd cut government and look for new money.
The county faces a deficit of more than $14 million for 2021, including about $10 million that stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. The county has received federal funds to help address some of that, but it faced a more than $4 million hole before the virus outbreak.
Republican David Rickert said during a recent Daily Herald Editorial Board interview that the county can save money by taking advantage of its relatively low debt and solid pension funding to dedicate a bit less money to those costs during the pandemic. He also said county employees and elected officials need better training to avoid the multimillion-dollar lawsuit payments it has experienced in recent years, which has also raised liability insurance costs.
"Taxpayers demand and want efficient and responsible government when it comes to property taxes," Rickert said.
He expressed skepticism that his Democratic opponent, Corinne Pierog, wouldn't raise property taxes. He pointed to Pierog's criticism of the county's austere budget practices.
But Pierog said her record of helping lower St. Charles Unit District 303's tax rate during her eight years on that board, and during a major recession, shows her commitment to frugality. District 303 had one of the lowest taxing rates among area districts.
Pierog said she'd lead by example, starting with cutting the salary of the chairman by 20%, and push for hiring a county manager to take the politics out of where additional budget cuts should occur.
Many of the county's largest expenses are in the sheriff's office and offices controlled by other independent elected officials.
"This would be a structural modification of Kane County's government to improve efficiency and promote independence by consolidating administrative functions into a single office responsible to the county board," Pierog said.
Rickert said if voters elect him, they wouldn't need to spend up to $175,000 to hire a manager. He believes his experience as the longtime county treasurer gives him the administrative experience and budget know-how to function as the leader of the county board and an overseer of the board's budget decisions.
Pierog said the county should lift its ban on recreational marijuana businesses and grow operations in unincorporated areas. She believes the county should max out the allowable county sales tax on all cannabis sales in the county. She would also welcome sports betting.
Rickert said the county doesn't need those activities to balance its budget. He pointed to concerns by Sheriff Ron Hain about being able to adequately police such establishments with the limited patrolling the county does.
Pierog said the limited patrols are an example of how the county has cut back too much, at the expense of public safety.
She also said the county health department needs better funding, an idea for which Rickert has also expressed his support.