Guest Essay: County Budget Process — Ultimate Responsibility with only Limited Authority
Before I was elected to serve as Kane County Board chairman, I was warned that, with 24 strong-willed board members each representing more than 25,000 constituents, it would be like “herding cats.” This has not been my experience. For the most part, our Kane County Board members are conscientious, hard-working, intelligent people, devoted to their work on your behalf.
What I have found challenging is the way that Illinois state law assigns responsibility collectively, but reserves authority individually among countywide-elected members of the county executive team, including the sheriff, county clerk, Circuit Court clerk, state’s attorney, treasurer, auditor, recorder and coroner.
The fundamental dilemma is that the chairman has responsibility for the annual budget and levy of county property taxes, but once the countywide elected officials have their budgets approved, my authority ends and I cannot limit how these agency budgets are spent.
In almost every case, the countywide elected officials have worked together to produce the outstanding result of reliably delivering county services (including justice through the court system, public safety through the sheriff’s office, free and fair elections through the county clerk’s staff, construction and maintenance of county roads through the Transportation Department, etc.) within a frozen property-tax levy for four years in a row. This means Kane County government, like so many area families that we serve, is living within the same amount of property taxes as it did in 2010.
I am deeply impressed and sincerely grateful for the intelligent and dutiful cooperation among all of these countywide elected officers, our chief judge empowered by Illinois state government, and county department directors who share the authority and are held responsible by 523,000 county citizens for the quality of services that we deliver.
It wasn’t always like it is now. In the seven years prior to the recent four years of frozen levies, county property taxes rose by 49 percent, an average of 7 percent annually. And at one point, the former Circuit Court clerk felt that it was necessary to sue the former County Board and chairman to get more budget money, and that lawsuit cost county taxpayers more than $350,000. This will not happen during the time that I serve you.
Eventually, when there is a temporary disagreement between me and even one countywide elected official, that dispute will be resolved by you, the voters, at the next election. Until then, even with a temporary disagreement on the level and type of spending, all of us will do our best to treat everyone involved as respectfully as possible.
Kane County Board chairman
- Editor’s Note: What’s the difference between a guest essay and a letter to the editor? The short answer is: not a whole lot. For submissions to Kane County Connects’ opinion page, we’ll use the “letter to the editor” heading for letters submitted by John or Jane Q. Public, good citizens like you and me. We’ll use the “guest essay” moniker when the text is submitted to Kane County Connects from an elected official or someone who has a particular level of expertise on a given topic. Letters to the editor and guest essays can be illustrated by one of our opinions logos, a head-and-shoulder shot of the author or an image or graphic depicting the subject matter of the letter or essay.
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