Saturday, October 13, 2012
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County hearing on bond issue

Siltman: $130,000 is a big cut

Smith: Bonds will not burden taxpayers

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[October 13, 2012]  Thursday was a busy night for the Logan County Board. Prior to the regularly scheduled board of whole meeting, there was a special public hearing regarding the issue of bonds that the county is looking to sell in order to pay for the major criminal cases line item in the 2013 fiscal year budget. The issuing of the bonds determines which plan the county board will put in place -- either Plan A or Plan B, as they are code-named -- for the 2013 fiscal year.

The public hearing was held in compliance with the Bond Issue Notification Act of Illinois. A statement announcing the hearing was published on Sept. 26, also in accordance with this act.

The floor was opened to any members of the public who are in opposition to the bonds being issued. No citizens were present to explain their objections to the bonds.

Attention was then given to those present who supported the issuing of bonds. Steve Siltman, chief officer of the Logan County Ambulance Service, was the first to speak. The ambulance service would be one of the agencies that would experience a reduction in property tax levies should the board not be able to sell bonds.

"We do not receive a great amount of money as far as tax dollars to subsidize the ambulance service when you look at the total budgetary concern that we have," said Siltman. The total operational budget for the service is roughly $1.6 million annually, and the tax levy makes up a little under $130,000 of that total.

The ambulance service is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

"We're not in the business of making money; we're in the business of maintaining ourselves," said Siltman. "When we budget tightly, $130,000 actually is a great deal of money."

Siltman also said that for every dollar they charge for their services, they receive 50 cents back. In order to maintain the business, the ambulance service sends out over $3 million in bills.

Siltman mentioned this statistic because the tax levy is used to help keep billing at that level. Aside from that purpose, the levy is also used to buy and maintain the ambulances. The last ambulance bought by the county cost $178,000. The service has five ambulances, and they frequently require maintenance.

Without the tax levy, the ambulance service would have to charge a great deal more to the public just to pay for maintenance costs. Siltman mentioned that when he began working for the ambulance service 38 years ago, an ambulance call cost about $100. Currently, the average emergency call will cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000.

"It's a very expensive venture," he said.

After Siltman's thoughts were heard by the board, Vic Martinek of the Lincoln & Logan Development Partnership presented a letter from Steven Smith, the president of the partnership.

Smith's letter states:

"The recommended Plan A will not burden the taxpayers of Logan County with increased taxes. ... If the bonds are not issued, the people with the most need in the county, will be the ones that suffer the most harm in the only alternative budget available."

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After Martinek presented the letter, the board members were allowed to voice questions or comments.

Jan Schumacher reported that she had spoken to Robert Henderson, who began a petition to put the bonds on a referendum. (Henderson was not present at the hearing.)

Schumacher passed his concerns along to the board:

  • The lack of transparency in selling bonds without allowing the public to vote on the issue. This type of bond, an alternate revenue bond, does not require a referendum. This method of approval is sometimes known as a "backdoor referendum."

  • The amount of money the county wishes to borrow is too high at $1 million.

  • Furthermore, the interest payments could prove to be too much for the county to pay back easily.

Schumacher reported that Henderson is aware of the potential consequences should the bonds be required to go on referendum in the spring.

Finally, while no presentation was made by the Logan County Department of Public Health, a document was handed out detailing what would happen should their tax levy be reduced to only $10,000. A number of services would be shut down, including the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program; DCFS HealthWorks; Women, Infants, & Children, known as WIC; public health nursing; the dental clinic; and home health. Furthermore, as many as 28 employees could be laid off due to severe lack of funding.

Board members present for the public hearing were Robert Farmer, chairman; Andy Anderson; Rick Aylesworth; Kevin Bateman; David Hepler, Bill Martin; Pat O'Neill; Gene Rohlfs; Chuck Ruben; and Jan Schumacher.


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