Kane County residents will likely have to wait until next April to decide whether they want to pay a new sales tax to support state-mandated justice reforms.
The decision, recommended by the county board’s executive committee this week, punts a treacherous political decision until after the November election, when all 24 county board seats are on the ballot.
State lawmakers put new financial pressure on local governments with the passage of the SAFE-T Act. The phased-in justice reforms require expensive changes, including body cameras for law enforcement and the end of cash bail.
It will also force Kane County to hire dozens of new employees, fueling more than $20 million in new expenses over the next three fiscal years.
Kane County doesn’t have that kind of wiggle room in the budget. So, the current plan contemplates raising the county’s property tax levy each of the next three years by as much as 5%.
Officials would pair that by asking voters to approve a new, 0.5% sales tax whose proceeds would go toward the sheriff’s office and court system.
In real terms, the proposed sales tax would increase the cost of a $100 purchase by 50 cents. If voters approve the new tax, the county would collect an estimated $10.8 million in new revenue in 2023.
Up to now, the county board was headed towards asking voters for that approval this November.
But this week, officials learned they could defer asking for voter approval for the sales tax until the April 4, 2023, election and still begin collecting the new tax the following July 1. That’s the same time the collection would begin if voters approved the tax this November.
The executive committee said the additional time would allow more voters to become informed about the sales tax and why the county wants to create it. Based on past trends, the April election is expected to have a lower voter turnout than a November ballot that features a gubernatorial race.
The April ballot will also not feature any Kane County Board incumbents seeking reelection, allowing for more political comfort for county board members who fear being ostracized because they support the tax increase.
The delay may also allow more time for inflation to ease.
However, such a delay would also cast more uncertainty on the 2023 budget, county board Chair Corinne Pierog said.
“The state’s attorney is looking at hiring, as we speak, an additional 49 employees,” Pierog said. “How do we move forward with managing a budget if we don’t know if Kane County voters are going to approve this or not?”
The full county board will have the final say on the timing and fate of the sales tax referendum next week.
But the delay until April is a virtual certainty with 14 of the board’s 24 members already voting in the executive committee in favor of it. That said, there will be a debate by the full board about whether to move ahead with the sales tax referendum at all or possibly defer that decision until after the November election.