Friday, September 16, 2011
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County prepares to contest city annexation, discuses raises for nonunion employees and more

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[September 16, 2011]  The Logan County Board meeting of the whole saw all 10 board members present, with David Hepler, vice chairman, presiding.

Lincoln College's Dennis Campbell explained to the board the request for a conditional permit for 5 acres of a 400-acre tract of land owned by the college. The permit would allow for the development of an outdoor environmental education center intended for use by all members of the community, including children and elders. In addition to educational opportunities for students of the college and the local school system, the community would also be provided opportunities to use the facility. Environmental festivals would be promoted a couple of times a year, and there would also be times to come out and simply enjoy the natural setting.

The center would serve as a valuable teaching tool in land use by looking at past, present and future, with emphasis on how modern-day agriculture has affected the natural environment and vice versa.

Campbell said plans for a road and pavilion are included in the variance request. A call for a vote by Hepler was unanimous on the variance, and it will be voted on Tuesday at the board's voting session.

In other business, AFSCME representative John Black came before the board, requesting their support to fight the proposed closure of Logan Correctional Center by Gov. Quinn.

Black said the prison has 357 employees, with 135 of them living in Logan County.

A letter asking the governor to reconsider his decision and the adverse effect it would have on the community has been drafted by the board, and after a unanimous poll by the board, will be voted on Tuesday.

Black asked the board not to disregard the potential closure of the prison as just a political ploy, but to take the proposal of closure seriously. He said petitions will begin circulating and a public meeting will be held soon. He will advise the board of all updates.

Finance chair Ruben asked that the board be polled on the question of hiring an attorney, if necessary, to assist the state's attorney's office in fighting a city proposal to annex the two prisons into the city.

A discussion brought up at this week's city council meeting included a possible annexation of the prisons and the 3,000 prisoners at the facilities. Such an annexation would increase city population and thus not require a downward restructuring of the current 10 city wards to eight.

Ruben said expert lawyers on annexation laws are available but come with a high price. He asked that the board vote on authorizing the hiring of a law firm at a cost up to $400,000 to fight any attempt by the city to annex the prisons. The amount of $400,000 is the current yearly amount the county receives from the prison population count in the form of state income tax, use tax and motor fuel tax.

The agreement to seek outside counsel, if necessary, was unanimous and will be placed on Tuesday's voting agenda.

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In another matter, finance chair Chuck Ruben brought before the board the need to make a decision on whether raises for nonunion members should be included in department heads' line-item budgets for the upcoming year.

There was considerable discussion on the topic, with differences in opinion from several board members. Board members Bill Martin and Pat O'Neill said they believe raises should not be considered this year for nonunion employees. Board members Carlton, Anderson and Bateman disagreed, saying that raises of 2 or 3 percent are in order after approving a freeze on nonunion wages last year.

Anderson asked for a clarification that nonunion staff received no pay increases last year and had the costs of their insurance copays go up, and now the board might forgo a raise for the employees again this year.

The information was confirmed by Ruben, who wanted to clarify that the board only sets the dollar amount in each line item of departments' budgets, and it is up to department heads to decide how that line item is spent. Ruben said that in one case, a nonunion staff member did receive an increase last year by accepting more duties, thus reducing the need for a part-time employee in that department.


Although the debate went back and forth, the discussion was amicable.

Martin, who opposes adding the money to the budget, said he would rather see everyone keep their jobs than see raises given and then someone has to be laid off.

"I don't see anything improving in the next four or five years, moneywise, and I think we need to hold the line," Martin said.

Ruben clarified for the board that a 3 percent pay increase under discussion would amount to $40,000.


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