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A press release and report praising Kane County Treasurer David Rickert’s property tax collection during the COVID-19 pandemic is either an honest assessment of a job well done or a straight-up political ad to promote Rickert, for county board chairman in the Nov. 3 election, over his Democratic opponent, Corinne Pieorg.
Rickert and Kane County Auditor Terry Hunt both say the report is an honest assessment while Pierog called it a "shallow stunt" and a "political puff job."
The Oct. 14 report was created by Hunt and two deputy auditors who work for him. Hunt also sent the news release.
The review of how Rickert handles his office states that it “is for information purposes only. However, the analysis and comparisons included in the report would lead the reader to the conclusion that for fiscal year 2020, despite the challenges of operating the office during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kane County Treasurer has continued to operate the office effectively and with greater efficiency than that of the similar neighboring counties.”
Pierog blasted the report and news release as “a political puff job using taxpayer money less than three weeks before an election.”
“I am much more concerned with Mr. Rickert’s role in holding up $93 million in COVID relief than I am with manufactured praise for him performing basic functions of his job,” Pierog stated in an email.
Pierog was referring to Rickert being part of a short-lived task force appointed by Board Chairman Chris Lauzen to handle the federal COVID money. County Board members dissolved the task force in June and took over the responsibility of disbursing the federal funds to speed up the process.
“At a time when pre-foreclosures are up by 71%, evictions are looming, and people are suffering, it’s sad to see Mr. Rickert participate in this shallow stunt,” Pierog’s email stated.
In a text, Rickert said, “I am pleased the treasurer’s office scored well.”
“I’m sure Ms. Pierog would criticize anything I do. I’m not sure doing a good job running my current office is a stunt. The fact is the treasurer’s office is well-run, despite her obvious political attacks,” Rickert’s text stated.
“If she thought about it, a better argument would be that he’s doing such a good job as treasurer, we should leave him there,” according to Rickert’s text.
Rickert, who has served as county treasurer for 20 years, was elected for a sixth term in 2018. If he loses to Pierog, he would remain treasurer, as that position is not up until 2022.
For his part, Hunt stated in an email that the release of the report so close to the Nov. 3 election was “coincidental and was really in response to the most recent Public Service committee reports and questions.”
The treasurer’s report to the Public Service Committee is a regular agenda item, Hunt's email stated.
“The efficiency review report was prompted by concerns over the impact of the pandemic, so in that regard, it is the first year of the expanded report. Tax collections and the election cycle are established independently although they both occur within a relatively short period of time on the calendar,” Hunt’s email stated.
“The question related to the property tax collected this year, as compared to more normal times, has been raised in several committee meetings, and was most recently reported at last month’s Public Service committee meeting,” Hunt’s email stated. “While the results (of the report) should be considered positive, it is important to explain that the results were generated in an objective manner supported by public documents.”
According to the news release, property taxes are the single biggest source of revenue for the county and collection of them is critical, “not only to Kane County itself but also to over 700 other taxing districts in Kane County – including municipalities, school districts, library districts.”
The release states that now that the second installment of the 2019 payable in 2020 property taxes has come due, the year-to-date collections “are actually slightly ahead of the previous year, both in terms of gross revenues and percentage of taxes collected.”
Both the release and the report notes that Rickert’s budget is the smallest per capita among the five collar counties – and the most efficient.
“Treasurer Rickert has accomplished this with the smallest budget of the five collar counties – DuPage, Lake, Will, Kane and McHenry,” the release stated.
“The Kane County Treasurer’s budget is also the smallest per capita among those counties, and office efficiencies implemented under Treasurer Rickert have allowed Kane County to be the most efficient in terms of parcels processed per employee,” the release stated.
The full report is available online at kanecountyauditor.com.