In her first State of the County address, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant touted the services, programs and operations of Will County government both big and small that officials have worked hard to improve over the past year for the benefit of residents and community members.
“Whether it is patching county highways, helping a job seeker update their resume, assisting residents with marriage licenses, or providing general health support—like eye exams and oral cleanings to families in need—staff have continued the day-to-day work of the county under unbelievably challenging circumstances throughout these past 17 months,” Bertino-Tarrant said.
When Bertino-Tarrant first entered the Office of the County Executive in Dec. 2020, Will County was in the middle of grappling with how to deliver vaccines against COVID-19 to its 700,000 residents.
Since then, the county health department has focused on pop-up clinics at community events such as farmers markets, concerts and street fairs, and partnering with community groups and local governments to bring the vaccines to where people are.
“Today, I am happy to report Will County is seventh in the state in persons fully vaccinated, and seventh in doses administered, with more than 730,000 doses administered and nearly 52% of our population fully vaccinated,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “While this feat should be commended, we remain cautious as the Delta variant continues to impact our communities.”
As the pandemic raged on over the past year, Will County continued to attract new businesses, as well as see the expansion of existing businesses.
Last year, more than 90 businesses relocated to or expanded in Will County in a variety of industries, totaling more than $1 billion in new investment and the creation of more than 1,600 new jobs, officials said.
“All of these efforts have helped bring down the unemployment rate in Will County from a high of 16% in May 2020 to less than 7% in May 2021,” Bertino-Tarrant said.
Bertino-Tarrant emphasized that Will County is due for a pandemic comeback.
“Right now, it’s more important than ever to invest in, create, and support good-paying jobs, which is why it is vital the county continues its investment in our ever-expanding infrastructure needs,” she said.
Will County continued to make upgrades to its roads and bridges over the past year.
“Last year we completed the southbound lanes of the $70 million reconstruction project of Weber Road at the I-55 interchange,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “This year, we are on schedule to complete the northbound lanes and the diverging diamond interchange this fall, with the anticipation of total completion by next spring. Completion of this two-mile stretch of six-lane highway will greatly enhance safety and reduce congestion on our county’s busiest highway.”
A few weeks ago, the county celebrated a groundbreaking for the Houbolt Road extension bridge, which Bertino-Tarrant said is made possible thanks to a public-private partnership bringing infrastructure improvements to Will County.
Bertino-Tarrant said general maintenance is just as important as projects that expand the county’s infrastructure. This year, the county’s department of transportation is repaving 4.6 miles of county highway as part of the annual general maintenance program.
The county also continued to demonstrate it can operate under a lean budget over the past year, officials said.
Bertino-Tarrant emphasized that even with the uncertainties prompted by the pandemic that government cannot be bloated, but it must have the resources to provide for the needs of residents.
“The continued growth and expansion in Will County demands financial resources and support, but the county must continue to find new ways to generate revenue without asking taxpayers for more,” she said.
Will County has also maintained its AA-plus bond rating for the 13th year, which Bertino-Tarrant attributes to “sound budgeting decisions.”
Will County has its share of challenges to address moving forward, as well.
“While most of the attention is often focused on urban transit needs, we at times overlook the limited options afforded to our rural communities,” Bertino-Tarrant said.
Bertino-Tarrant said she looks forward to working with Transportation Chairman Joe VanDuyne as they begin working towards overhauling the county’s Will-Ride transit program into a more efficient and unified system.
Bertino-Tarrant acknowledged that the day-to-day operations of county government often occur with little fanfare. She then gave kudos to all the staff members and elected officials who make it happen.
“The people involved with county government want what is best for our residents,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “We tackle problems and put our shoulders into making real, lasting change.”
Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.
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Photo Courtesy of Will County
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