Bachelor's Degree, Accounting, Northern Illinois University
Retired partner, Flowerwood Nursery and Garden Center
On the Record
Why are you running for McHenry County Board, and what qualifications do you bring to the office?
As a county board member since 2000 and chairman since 2004, I have had a role in shaping the County into the wonderful place it is today. I insist on balanced budgets, conservative spending, and I constantly look for ways to make our system of government more efficient and cost-effective. McHenry County is one of three counties in Illinois with a Aaa bond rating. This saves taxpayers thousands in interest costs when we borrow money for improvements. Over the years I have developed and nurtured strong working relationships with key decision-makers in Springfield and in Washington so McHenry County gets its fair share of state and federal dollars for projects. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, McHenry County is leading the state right now in job creation and reducing unemployment. I still believe there is much work to be done in this area and would enjoy more time to continue focusing on this important issue. A fiscal conservative, my experience provides me with a deep understanding of county issues and the experience to assess county policy and strategically reform budget demands to ensure that McHenry County continues to thrive. More information about my accomplishments is available at www.kenkoehler.com.
The County Board has resisted calls to make its chairmanship popularly elected. Now, a referendum has been placed on the November ballot that seeks to change the county to an executive form of government. What do you think about the referendum and the board’s resistance to allow voters decide whether they want to elect the board chairman at the ballot box?
I am opposed to the County Executive form of government. It gives one individual dangerous powers that doesn’t exist today (veto power, the authority to unilaterally hire and fire employees and make appointments). When people elect their four district representatives to the county board, they choose people who they believe will make good decisions on their behalf. One of those decisions is to choose a county board chairman. The chairman is accountable to the other 23 board members, and by extension, the voting public. That layer of accountability would be missing if the county’s leader was not chosen by the other board members. In addition, over the years, under our current form of government, county board members have taken away some of the more significant powers that a county board chairman could exercise. For example, according to the statutes, today a county board chairman could make appointments to boards/commissions without the board’s input. Instead, we use committees that make recommendations for appointments. By using committees, we eliminate a potential abuse of power through which a board leader could give influential appointments to his political allies. In cases of zoning, a politically stacked committee could have especially devastating results.
Do you support county government using taxpayer money to lobby against state legislation that would have protected property taxpayers from tax increases in years when property values declined? Explain your answer.
I oppose using taxpayer money to lobby against legislation that protects taxpayers. In this particular instance, a lobbyist was not hired to help defeat a particular bill, but rather to protect the county’s revenue streams and preserve the county’s ability to remain a safety net for the provision of vital services, like emergency services, law enforcement and health services. I believe this particular issue has been politically spun by the sponsor of a specific bill to make county board members look like they do not care for their constituents. To the contrary, the current county board members often make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions that protect the health, safety and welfare of the county’s residents. At a time when municipalities are experiencing decreases in state funding and unconscionable delays in state aid payments, the county is the safety net that must remain solvent so that those who truly need help have access to the programs and services that can help them. In a state where Chicago and Cook County take a disproportionate share of the tax revenue statewide, lobbyists are an important tool that McHenry County uses to ensure that our share of the funding is protected and stays local.
The County Board is working this year to not collect the inflationary tax levy increase allowed under state law. Will you agree to support a freeze to the county’s levy again next year? Explain.
While a quick, unthinking “yes” is the politically popular response, I believe it would be irresponsible to give a definite yes or no to this question this far in advance of our budget planning period. There are too many variables that exist to say with certainty that we won’t adjust our tax rate next year. However, my pledge is this: I will do everything in my power to keep the tax rate as low as possible without sacrificing the current level of essential “safety net” services that residents rely on today. I also pledge to be very mindful of economic conditions and will encourage the board to do everything in their power not to raise taxes next year if the economy is still sluggish and unemployment remains high. While the county portion of residential tax bills is only 10% or less of the total tax bill, I recognize that every penny counts during these difficult economic times. McHenry County has a longstanding history of conservative spending and prudent budget practices, and these accomplishments are key reasons why McHenry is one of only three counties in Illinois and it’s the smallest county in the U.S. to have the highest-possible bond rating.
Given the obstacles a local couple have had with turning their vineyard into a winery, how business friendly would you say the County Board and county ordinances are? What changes would you seek if elected?
This proposal was a new type of project in the county and a new classification of liquor license had to be created. This complicated and lengthened the process to a degree. However, the review process did take much longer than it should have. It is important to note that the majority of the board was not opposed to the proposal for the winery and, in fact, encouraged the new business development. It was a few individual members of the liquor control board who took issue with the proposal and slowed the review process for the applicant. I believe McHenry County works very hard to have business-friendly practices in place. Again, I would point to the IDEP report that shows McHenry County leading the state right now in job creation and reducing unemployment. We accomplish this by working closely with the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation and the workforce development network board to help retain existing jobs and promote business expansions and relocations here. We must continue reviewing our policies and ordinances to make certain we are being as competitive as possible, especially since our county borders Wisconsin, a state known for its business-friendly practices. We need to welcome new business start-ups; not throw up roadblocks.
Outside of jobs and the economy, what is the biggest challenge facing voters in your district and how would you address it?
McHenry County has an ongoing need to improve the safety and capacity of its roads. I have been working very hard on this issue since 1991, and it continues to be a priority for me today. As a member and leader of the County Board, I have successfully secured tens of millions in state and federal dollars for road improvements. Recent key projects include the widening of Algonquin Road from Route 31 to Route 47, the widening of Rakow Road, and the widening of Route 47 through Huntley. The Western Algonquin Bypass and the construction of a full interchange at Route 47 and I-90 are also now underway. I am also working with our Congressmen and U.S. Senators to secure approximately $85 million in federal funds for much-needed intersection and capacity improvements along Randall Road. Having roads that are safe and of adequate capacity goes hand in hand with our ability to attract and retain businesses here, so its importance cannot be understated. I would enjoy the opportunity to continue working with state and federal leaders to make sure McHenry County is in a good position to get funding to offset our local costs for future projects.
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