Saturday, October 16, 2010
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County board makes 1st pass over proposed 2011 budget

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(Originally posted Friday afternoon)

[October 16, 2010]  On Thursday evening, two weeks before elections, a month and a half before a change in the makeup of the Logan County Board and the start of a new annual budget, the board met as a whole for discussions.

The primary topic for the evening was the first presentation of next year's fiscal year budget, which would begin on Dec. 1, 2010.

Following three months of intensive work by the finance committee, chairman Chuck Ruben says that the proposed budget "takes a big bite" out of the county's "too slim reserves."

Going into Thursday night's meeting, the 2011 budget would eat $339,282 of the projected $474,778 reserve as this fiscal year rolls into the next. Ruben said he was uncomfortable moving into a year budgeted with only a $135,490 leftover.

Ideally, he would have 30 percent on a $6 million operating budget, which would put $1.8 million in reserve. Government consultants recommend having a 20 to 30 percent safety net in case of a catastrophic event that would not be covered by insurance, Ruben said.

This year's budget process began much like last year. After department budget requests were in, projected revenues and expenses were tabulated, and current accounting figures were meshed. There was a significant deficit that would put the county deep in red.

All department heads and officials were asked to look for where they could create new or increased fines and fees to up the revenues. They were also asked to participate in joint efforts that might reduce operational expenses; many ideas were generated by the Tax Reduction Task Force.

After culling general operation expenses, there still remained nearly a million-dollar shortage.

Much like last year, the committee decided in September that the fairest step it could take would be to involve the department heads. It would make "across the board" cuts, allowing officials discretion in how they would get along with fewer dollars in their budget.

Last year, department heads were handed 5 percent budget cuts. This year's cuts were steeper at 13 percent.

During the Thursday night meeting, Ruben began with a few adjustments that would put approximately $12,000 back into the general budget. A line in probation would change from $20,540 to $17,731, and Emergency Management Agency director Dan Fulscher was able to get a $9,000 Local Emergency Planning Committee grant from the state of Illinois to help their budget.

Next, law enforcement chairman Rick Aylesworth proposed putting $50,000 in the budget for the sheriff's use.

Ruben said he supported this. "It keeps staff that is needed for public safety, but still that budget is tight," he said.

John Stewart questioned giving $5,000 to the chamber of commerce.

Ruben explained that this is a request made by the chamber to support the balloon festival. He said the festival brings in revenues that improve economics for the county, and he felt this is a good thing to support.

Fittingly, the funds for the balloon festival come out of the airport and farm fund. Airport and farm chairman Bob Farmer explained that the chamber pays to use the land at the airport for the festival. They pay for the crop that is lost on half the growing season: 28 acres at $127.50.

Stewart felt that the festival funding ought to be accounted with other like requests that fall under tourism. He added that he could not support passing a budget that gives away $5,000 while cutting department budgets 13 percent.

Luster said that the coroner's office could use $4,000 of those funds. The coroner is going to have to lay off deputies and work weekends, she said.

David Hepler agreed that the 13 percent cut on the small coroner's department changes the nature of the coroner's job. Deputy coroners would need to be laid off, which "makes his job seven days a week on call, whereas it only provides a part-time salary," Hepler said. "So, it's something I'm uncomfortable with."

Ruben later dug out some past figures on the coroner's budgets. In 1996 that budget totaled $23,000. The budget jumped between 2003 and 2005. Actual expenditures, including the coroner's salary: $21,000 in 1994, $40,000 in 2001, and in 2007 it was $50,000.

Some of that department's budget has been the costs of an office. Prior to the current coroner, the position had been filled by funeral directors who didn't need an office space and some other expenses.

Aylesworth said that when the coroner's salary was raised three years ago, he was the second-lowest paid coroner in the state, "and that still is the case."

"We couldn't catch him up fast enough," Aylesworth said. "I don't think we need to reward him with on-call every other weekend, 26 weekends out of the year."

Hepler also proposed cutting the $25,000 for economic development that is allocated to the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership. He felt that the board-to-partnership relationship is not a like a marriage, "until death do we part."

"I don't think it (the partnership) warrants public funds," Hepler said.

He added that he would not support passing the budget.

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Ruben reminded the board that this is a large document and it needs to be passed.

"You don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water," he said. He encouraged the board, saying that if a member has one problem with the budget, it's called an amendment.

"Anyone can make a motion and see if the rest of the board agrees," he said.

Hepler agreed and made a motion to remove funding that goes to the development partnership.

Bill Martin opposed removing those funds.

"In economic development we are light-years ahead of where we were years ago," Martin said. "Joel Smiley is having one success after another. I don't see where the objections are."

Kevin Bateman agreed that it is important to support.

"I may not always agree with the direction that the economic development is going, but I don't see any reason we need to remove the money -- just maybe use it in a different light," Bateman said.

Hepler and O'Neill each expressed a responsibility as public officials overseeing public funds, and said that there has not been enough communication between the board and the development partnership.

It was mentioned that frequently the partnership goes into executive session.

Jan Schumacher addressed these concerns and expressed her opinion:

  1. We have board members on the partnership. The county board can and does get communications through them. She pointed out that Joel Smiley has come regularly to the county board as a whole to present what is going on.

  2. I think you are shooting yourself in the foot if you cut money where it's going to generate more money. This is the one place that brings in more businesses, more property taxes and more jobs.

"As far as use of public money, I think it's the wisest use, actually helping our county," she said.

Martin and board chairman Terry Carlton are the board's liaisons to the economic development partnership. Martin said they had not been called on by the board to give a report, but that he'd be happy to do that regularly if that is what is wanted.

As regarded a charge made by O'Neill that the partnership is often secretive, Martin said he didn't think that had been done in any situation when the information could be talked about.

"You have to understand, in this business (referring to dealing with privately owned businesses that might want to expand or move here) you can't talk about everything that is going on," Martin said. "Because the people that you are working with don't want things out until they are ready to release them. And, it's not us that calls that shot; it's our client, the one we're working with. We're open as we can be. You just can't talk about everything, you just can't do it."

Ruben pointed out that the $25,000 is lumped in the budget with $5,000 that is paid for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and shows as $30,000.

Ruben said clarified that the CEDS funding needed to stay in place.

He recalled, "If we'd had CEDS in place, we could have used it, such as when Sysco came to town, we could have save(d) a bunch of money. There were funds available that we couldn't get."


Below are the verbal straw vote outcomes to proposed amendments:

  • Add $4,000 back to the coroner's budget -- all "aye."

  • Not give $25,000 to the development partnership -- a couple or few ayes; far more opposed.

  • Add $50,000 back to the sheriff's budget -- all "aye."

  • Accept and place on file and display the proposed budget -- all "aye."

Official votes will take place on Tuesday.

It would be at the November adjourned session that the final budget would actually be approved.

If revenues, such as sales tax, would increase during the year, the board could vote to increase department budgets.

Following next Tuesday's official voting session, a copy of the 2011 budget, if accepted, would go on display.


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