Logan County Board wrestling
through next FY budget
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[September 15, 2020]
At the Logan County Board Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday,
September 8th, the focus of discussion was projections for the
Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget the board will be voting on soon. This
was the first meeting without longtime Finance Chairman Chuck Ruben
to lead the process. Sadly, Ruben passed away unexpectedly last
The county fiscal year begins Dec. 1st.
Committee members present were Committee Vice Chairman David Hepler,
Board Chairman Emily Davenport, David Blankenship, Janet Estill, and
Bob Farmer. Guests included board members Cameron Halpin, Steve
Jenness, Scott Schaffenacker and Jim Wessbecher in addition to
several department heads.
Hepler recently met with Logan County Treasurer Penny Thomas and
Chairman Davenport to look at the budget figures. Hepler said they
tried to apply some “guesstimates” of what the county may be getting
back [from department surpluses]. He asked Thomas to give an
appraisal of how the budget looks right now.
Thomas said there are several changes from last year with both
increases and decreases. Some changes have to do with reimbursable
salaries and insurance benefits.
By taking the 2019 fund balance of $1,610,660, bringing it forward
to 2020, and spending everything in this year’s budget less
$1,051,374, Thomas figured out what would be left. She said it would
leave the county with a fund balance of $559,286 going forward into
The county should be getting $300,000 reimbursed from the CURES (Coronavirus
Relief Fund) Act. In addition, Thomas said there may be around
$250,000 that departments will bring back at the end of the year.
That would leave a $1,109,286 balance at the end of this year.
With the changes Thomas made, she came up with a balance of
$1,282,407. That would bring the amount down to $173,121 deficit.
The $173,121 is with $404,830 in permitting fees added in. The
county is hoping to get these fees but has no definitive
confirmation at this point. Thomas said if these permitting fees are
not added in, it would bring to deficit to $577,951.
Before former Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Ruben’s sudden death,
Thomas said he had asked that she take the highway, bridge, and
other tax revenues and put the money back in the general fund.
Due to the pandemic, Hepler said Thomas has told him the county may
not be able to count on some of the normal revenue streams.
The year started off with good sales tax revenues. Right now,
though, Thomas said revenues are $30,000 lower than last year. Some
are starting to increase, and she said money coming in from the
CURES Act could help reverse that. However, Thomas is not sure what
might happen in the next month or two.
Using approximate figures, Hepler said it sounds like we are roughly
looking at a close to $200,000 deficit. Without permit fees from the
Invenergy project, Hepler said it could be closer to $600,000.
The audit from last year showed a positive balance, but Thomas said
she is not sure how the one at the end of 2020 will come out.
Davenport is not sure permit fees should be put in since they may
not come in. She said that does not seem sustainable.
Blankenship said he agreed they are not sustainable, so it is not
good wisdom to put them in.
When it comes to her own money, Estill said she would not do that.
If the fees do not come in, they do not come in. If we get them,
that is great.
To see how much of a deficit they need to address, Hepler said the
board needs to decide soon whether to include the permitting fees as
a revenue source. In relation to these fees, Hepler said he would
like to discuss the developer statement of intent and the use of
these fees in the general fund or an escrow or designated fund
Invenergy, a power generation development and operations company,
has plans for a wind project. However, for various reasons, Hepler
said Invenergy is not sure about permitting next year. Invenergy has
expressed concern about the how the county has negotiated road use
agreements in the past.
Invenergy told Hepler that if they use the same attorney as they
have for past road use agreements, the county should probably not
count on them permitting next year.
Representatives from Invenergy have told Hepler they would also like
to become more familiar with the county’s zoning and permitting
process. Hepler is hoping the county can work with them. He said it
is good if people in the industry can recommend our county.
Mulligan Solar hopes to start their project soon and is negotiating
road use agreements with Broadwell Township. Hepler said that may
bring in $208,000 in permitting fees next year.
If the $404,000 in permit fees that may or may not come to fruition
is kept in the budget, Hepler said the board needs to address what
Invenergy has indicated will allow the company to do permitting
Davenport asked how it would affect the county if the budget was
taken back to last year’s figures. She wanted to know what it would
save the county.
Because of contractual salary raises in some department budgets,
Thomas said that would probably not work. If the county did go back
to last year’s figures, Thomas estimated savings would be about
Blankenship asked whether that amount is based on the amount the
department is appropriated in the budget or the actual expenditures.
He then asked about looking at the 2018 and 2019 actual budget
expenditures to help decide what to budget for 2021. Blankenship
wants to do this instead of budgeting off requested amounts because
the county board has no idea when the county enters deficit
With the audit, Thomas said she has both the budgeted and actual
expenses shown for 2019 final budget. The audited amount is $562,687
for the final budget. Thomas said the year to date actual amount is
Hepler asked Blankenship if he was talking about rolling back the
present requests for the upcoming budget.
If it is not too taxing, Blankenship said he would like to look at
actual expenditures versus requests for the past two years. Because
the budgets are tight, Blankenship wonders how much flexibility
When looking at the county as a whole versus individual departments,
Blankenship said again, it would be difficult for the board to
determine at what point we enter deficit spending. He is opposed to
overfunding departments, which enables some departments to give the
appearance of efficiency when in fact they may not be giving back
real dollars. If dollars returned are appropriated due to a deficit
budget, it is not real cash money, it is deficit dollars.
Blankenship feels it is the board’s responsibility to be in control
of when we enter deficit spending. He said public officials have
done their due diligence with the budgeting process they have been
The major issue for Blankenship is not knowing where the county is
at financially. He said giving back deficit dollars is like playing
games when there is a deficit budget.
The process has evolved over the years and Hepler said it was well
intended so they did not have to lay off employees or make cuts. He
said is has been easy to say we could have a deficit of $200,000
because the county usually gets some money back from various
departments at the end of the year.
When there are excess revenues or deficit spending, Blankenship said
he feels the money should go into accounts per committee. The money
could then be distributed to public officials when they are unable
to work within their appropriated dollars. The deficit spending
would then be under strict board control.
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What Blankenship would like to see is a zero-dollar deficit budget for the
public officials and departments. Any deficit budget would then fall under the
responsibility of the county board committees and adjourned board as a whole.
Blankenship said that puts a host of checks and balances on any deficit
Both Schaffenacker and Halpin agreed with Blankenship that changes in the
process are needed.
Halpin would like to see the finance committee and full board make changes to
the way the budget is addressed if the county has unspent money each year.
To get a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of the budget, Schaffenacker
said these issues would be something good for the Finance Committee to dig into.
If the wind and solar permit fees are not included in the budget, Hepler said it
may mean cuts for departments. He would like to hear from office holders at an
upcoming special meeting. The board needs to vote soon on whether to put the
For Blankenship, the issue is about making an accurate determination where
services would actually be reduced versus preventing expansion of county
departments. This expansion could relate to salaries, equipment, services and
almost any aspect of a department.
Community member Dale Nelson asked whether there is other revenue besides what
may be coming in from the CURES Act and permit fees.
There are other fees that come in from areas like Circuit Clerk, but Thomas said
many of them have already been figured into the budget.
In time, Hepler said the various energy projects will start to pay property
taxes, which also brings in more revenue.
There are at least two other potential upcoming projects that could be
significant revenue sources, too. Hepler said the board needs to decide whether
to listen to what these companies are asking to try to decide how to proceed.
Hepler is still waiting to hear from Invenergy about fees and what might keep
them from starting. Hepler asked other board members thoughts on putting the
fees in the budget.
Both Jenness and Halpin said the county should not put in money the county is
not sure of getting.
Wessbecher said these fees are not a source of revenue we can count on every
There was a question from Thomas about whether the budget could be adjusted if
there is a decrease in revenue and the fees are put in the budget now. She
wanted to know whether the budget could be amended if the county realizes six
months later these fees are not going to come in.
Four years ago, Hepler said he asked then State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright about
budget adjustments during the year.
Wright told Hepler if the board realizes over the course of the year an expected
revenue source will not materialize, the budget could be amended. Hepler said
that would be twice as painful for the departments if done at that point in the
year. Wright said the board should be careful about putting such money in the
If we wait to amend the budget towards the end of the fiscal year, Blankenship
said departments may have already spent the permit money included in the budget.
Then the county would very likely enter into deficit spending.
Hepler asked what 10 percent cuts across the board would mean for the budget.
With 10 percent cuts, Thomas said that could mean an extra $114,000 in the
budget. She took the grand total of expenses and general funds to come up with
To absorb the $600,000 that would be lost if permit fees are not added in,
Hepler said there would have to be deep cuts. Department budgets would have to
be adjusted. He remembers cuts between 10 and 15 percent around 16 years ago.
Since some areas are reimbursed, Hepler said he does not want to “cut off our
nose to spite our face.”
Logan County Sheriff Mark Landers asked how many years the county has come in at
Last year, Thomas said the budget deficit was over $841,000 when it was done.
After the audit, they came in around $500,000 ahead.
If the board asks for cuts and then the budget ends up with more money than
expected, Landers said that does not seem fair. When department heads are being
asked to cut personnel and services, there are questions that need answered.
The departments work to not overspend and try to be diligent. Landers said
bringing money back speaks to the fiscal responsibility of office holders.
In his budget, Landers said he puts in amounts for insurance that may not be
spent and may come back at the end of the year. The expenditures and salaries
are always used though. The line item for training has increased. The department
now pays for training the state used to pay for, which Landers said was an
Though so much must be put in each department for insurance, Thomas said these
amounts could possibly be thrown all in one line item by averaging the number of
full-time employees on insurance.
Though Halpin said he knows the department heads spend money wisely, he said
constituents have expressed concern about budget issues. He would like to see
some change and more transparency in how the budget is done.
In later discussion, Blankenship said he is not in favor of flat percentage cuts
across all departments. He believes it is an inaccurate response to the problem.
Blankenship would rather look at expenditure trending over the last three to
five years. That gives the board a clearer perspective on what action needs to
Logan County Highway Engineer Bret Aukamp said he has not seen enough from
Invenergy to feel confident they will be permitting. He feels it is premature to
talk about attorneys and road use agreements and said it is like putting the
cart before the horse.
Permit fees help provide services for the public and are used to help with
operating departments, so Hepler said he is inclined to vote to put them in. He
does not want to lose those projects. The board needs to decide soon whether to
put the $400,000 in the budget.
Hepler said we need to grow the county, increase the tax base, and encourage
businesses to come here. The county has pulled back on economic development
efforts and the local economy is not strong. Therefore, Hepler we need to get
rid of impediments to business.
At the upcoming special finance meeting, Hepler wants the board to consider
economic development initiative funding. These items may include the Economic
Development Partnership, the Lincoln College Consortium and CAPCIL. He would
also like to discuss community development funding including tourism, downtown
development, the historical society and education.
There will be a special Finance Committee meeting Monday, September 28 at 5:30
to discuss various budget issues. Among items discussed will be deficit
budgeting and whether to include wind farm and solar farm permit fees as a
revenue source in any form.
Other items the committee will discuss are Airport and Farm account and Criminal
Case Fund reimbursements. In recent years, the county has transferred some of
these funds to help other departments.
In addition, the Finance Committee will be discussing Health Department funding
measures, budget and departmental funding amendments and pay raises for
Hepler said as the board considers changes in departmental funding, they will be
looking at whether they need to make cuts. He wants to hear from department
heads about the impact cuts would have on their services.
Once the board has amended the budget, they will likely vote to put it on
display in October. In November, the board will potentially vote on adopting the