KC Chairman says future looks bright, despite sour economy

By on May 6, 2011

Photo: Forest Preserve President John Hoscheit and County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay speak at a luncheon sponsored by the Geneva and St. Charles Chambers of Commerce at Pheasant Run Resort on Tuesday. Courtesy Photo

by Sandy Kaczmarski
Kane County—Kane County is in a position to take advantage of future growth opportunities as a result of the fiscal prudence taken by the County Board during the last 10 years, according to the board chairman.

County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay told a group of about 60 business people that the hard work, “sometimes contentious work,” of the County Board is what has put Kane’s finances on solid ground.

“While many government chief executives have been facing financial catastrophes, I can tell you that Kane County is in a solid financial position as we look to the future,” McConnaughay said.

A county update luncheon was co-sponsored by the Geneva and St. Charles Chambers of Commerce at Pheasant Run Resort on Tuesday. Forest Preserve President John Hoscheit also spoke and talked about the recently approved referendum for $30 million for land purchases.

McConnaughay said the board knew even before the economy turned sour that the enormous demand for services and infrastructure would not be far behind. As a result, the board worked to “keep a tight rein” on spending and to build up reserves.

“We believed these policies were sound when we first pursued them in the last decade,” she said, “But they were most importantly the saving grace for us when we ran into the worst recession we’ve seen in generations.”

While unemployment remains at about 8 percent, McConnaughay said several areas with job potential in the future include finance and healthcare, education, and professional services.

She said one of the biggest challenges facing local governments today is the issue of pensions. McConnaughay said $20 million of the county’s budget is spent on pensions and healthcare costs for its 1,300 employees. She said future government employees will not enjoy the same pension benefits as those currently in government have in place.

Population growth projections, regardless of the economy, remains at 800,000 by the year 2040. That is why the board is looking into public transportation possibilities and creative land use management, which McConnaughay said means housing that encourages walking to work, school, and for shopping.

Despite the successful passage of three previous referenda, Hoscheit said it was risky to ask the voters to approve another in light of the depressed economy.

“We’re in an economic situation where we have great opportunities to acquire land,” he said. “What was going for $90,000 an acre is now between $10,000 and $20,000 an acre.”

He said the day following the election, Forest Preserve offices were flooded with phone calls from banks and other land holders wanting to sell their property.

Hoscheit said the referendum will allow the district to take advantage of various matching grants available and partnering with local park districts in helping them with land purchases.