McHenry, IL. – A cost of living report on McHenry County and a tax burden report about Illinois top the news in this latest column. Plus, additional results from my summer survey. Elsewhere, Illinois’ agriculture industry recently inked a deal to sell more than $2 billion in corn and soybeans to Taiwan and harvest season is underway across the state.
In other news, we had some great local events on Medicare and Identity Theft, with more events planned. I also spent time as Principal for a Day at a local school and took a tour of the Stratton Lock & Dam. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Human Services is stepping up efforts to address drug addiction, with an emphasis on opioids and the state’s heating assistance program opens for enrollment applications.
McHenry County’s Cost of Living Score
There was an interesting story recently published online by IllinoisBusinessDaily.com. According to the article, McHenry County is the most expensive county in Illinois to live, with an estimated $3,650-per-month cost of living. The cost of living analysis included costs for housing, food, health care, transportation and other necessities. The monthly housing cost in McHenry County was the single biggest expense at $940.
Illinois Business Daily reported on the findings originally published by another online publication, 24/7 Wall St. The latter provides financial news and opinion content that is widely used by other media.
Illinois: The Least Tax-Friendly State
The personal finance publication, Kiplinger recently ranked all U.S. states to determine which is the most, and least, tax-friendly state based on the tax burden placed on residents.
According to the publication, Illinois takes the top spot for least tax-friendly, primarily due to the property tax burden, which has been ranked second-worst in the nation by the online personal finance website WalletHub in a report issued earlier this year.
According to Kiplinger, Wyoming is the most tax-friendly. As a comparison, Kiplinger reports Illinois averages $2,048 in property taxes per $100,000 of home value, compared to $635 for Wyoming. However, Illinois wasn’t the only Midwestern state to land in the 10 worst spots, Wisconsin was ranked 4th least friendly, Ohio 8th, and Iowa 9th.
You can see the entire Kiplinger report here: https://www.kiplinger.com/tool/taxes/T055-S001-kiplinger-tax-map/index.php.
Survey Results Part 2
In July, I mailed a legislative newsletter that included a survey. Last month, I reported on survey results of the three questions about issues of redrawing legislative boundaries, local government consolidation and teacher pension responsibilities. Another part of that legislative survey asked respondents to rank other key concerns in order of importance, with 1 being the most important and 10 being the least important.
Here are the results:
- Property Tax Relief
- Taxes are too high
- Public Safety/Crime
- Healthcare/Human Service
- Ethics Reform
- Job Creation
- Senior Programs
- K-12 Education
- Saving for Retirement
- College Education
A Win for Illinois Agriculture
Some good news to report about Illinois agriculture. The State of Illinois recently announced that Taiwan committed to purchase over $2 billion in Illinois corn and soybeans over the next two years.
On September 24, representatives from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, the Illinois Soy Bean Association, the Taiwan Feed Industry Association and the Governor came together to sign letters of intent for the purchase of $1.1 billion in soybeans and $1.1 billion in corn. Taiwan, currently Illinois’ third largest trading partner of agricultural products, committed to purchase 197 million bushels of corn and up to 97 million bushels of soybeans produced by Illinois’ farmers.
Caution: Harvest Time
Meanwhile, the fall harvest in Illinois is revving up and that means you may encounter farm equipment on area roads. It’s a cautious time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transportation incidents were the leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers in 2016.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported, 26 percent of Illinois corn is now considered mature and soybean coloring is at 53 percent, which means heavy farm equipment traffic is expected to increase on roadways in the weeks ahead.
To help keep harvest season safe for everyone, here are two common sense safety considerations:
- Find the lights on farm vehicles. Farm vehicles are required to have amber and red rear lights. The amber lights should be visible to the front and rear. They should flash as a warning to other motorists.
- Slow down as soon as you see a farm vehicle. Most farm equipment only travels 15 to 20 miles per hour, so it is crucial to slow down before it is too late.
On September 23, I hosted an informational Medicare seminar at the Woodstock City Hall. About 40 people attended. We had great discussions and learned about possible changes to the senior healthcare plan, including closing of the so-called “doughnut hole” in Part D prescription coverage and possible elimination of Supplemental Plan F next year. I have two more Medicare sessions planned for October 22 and 24. I hope you can join me. Here are the details:
- Medicare Informational Seminar, from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Village of Fox Lake Council Chambers, 66 Thillen Drive in Fox Lake;
- Medicare Informational Seminar, from 10-11:30 a.m. at Harvard Diggens Library, 900 Eaast McKinley Street in Harvard.
ID Theft Seminar
On September 26, I hosted an Identity Theft Seminar at Fox Lake City Hall attended by about 20 people. One of the most interesting discussions was about a fraud that’s quite common today: getting phone calls, supposedly from the IRS, Social Security or other government agencies asking for personal Identity information over the phone. These agencies will NOT call you or email you with threatening messages that the police will come to your home if you don’t comply with their requests. We also found out there are scam letters being mailed, claiming to be from the IRS, with a stated overdue tax amount seeking payment. You can go to www.IRS.gov to verify contact from the IRS.
Principal for a Day
I was “Principal for a Day” September 27 at Johnsburg High School. I was very impressed at the level of student engagement with the teachers and their classmates, especially in a Spanish 3 class, where they were translating and acting out Shrek. In U.S. History, we discussed aspects of the Declaration of Independence and debated whether the 55 words, starting with "We hold these truths to be self-evident…" are arguably the most important words of our nation’s Founding. In the Government class, there was discussion about how to increase voter turnout, a debate on lowering the voting age, Internet voting and whether felons should regain their right to vote.
Upcoming school events are scheduled at Landmark Elementary in McHenry on October 8; Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake on October 9 and; Edgebrook Elementary in McHenry on October 24.
Lock & Dam Tour
On September 24, I toured the Stratton Lock & Dam (pictured left) to view the on-going construction project replacing the mechanically troublesome sluice gates with three new torque gates. Construction is now focused on the first two gates, with the third gate to be replaced once the first two are completed. I should note, the construction was delayed due to the state budget stalemate, but is now well under way. I’m pleased Illinois was able to move forward on the upgrade to this critical flood control equipment.
Illinois Promotes Helpline for Opioids and Other Substance Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 2,202 drug overdose deaths involving opioids in Illinois, during 2017. That is a rate of 17.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is higher than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.
Now, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is launching a statewide video campaign aimed at raising awareness for the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances. The videos will feature individuals who share stories of recovery and organizations from across the state who are providing treatment and recovery services for opioid and other substance use disorders. The Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances number is 1-833-2FINDHELP. Their website, with additional information, can be found at www.HelplineIL.org.
Illinois’ Heating Assistance Program Begins
The enrollment period for the state’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is now open. The program offers assistance with heating bills for households at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. That income level ranges from around $1,500 per month for a single person to just over $3,200 per month for a family of four.
On Oct. 1, enrollment opened for seniors ages 60 and older, as well as households that contain a member who is disabled, who receives a permanent disability benefit. On Nov. 1, enrollment expands to households with children younger than six, and homes where service has been or will soon be cut off. After Dec. 1, all other qualifying households may apply.
For more information, visit https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/communityservices/utilitybillassistance/.