Tuesday, March 22


Get the facts on public safety tax before you go to the polls       Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 22, 2005]  County representatives are now on a hard run to get the word out on an important referendum that will appear on the April 5 ballot. The campaign began last month to get a 0.5 percent public safety sales tax implemented.

According to projections, the current county finances will soon be insufficient to continue meeting basic county needs. It is being predicted that the impact will be felt by the end of this fiscal year, which comes at the end of November. During budget talks last fall, finance chairman Chuck Ruben said: "If correct and we hold the line, we will end up with $200,000 in the general budget at the end of the year. I'd rather see a half a million there. It is far less than I'm comfortable with."

Even if it isn't this year, the county coffers are dwindling sufficiently that the board feels forced to push for this sales tax increase.

While, if it passes, the tax can't be assessed until September, it will help with next year's budget. Both the highway department and health department were left out of this year's budget and need to be put back in. Those departments are currently running on reserves.

The main causes of the crunch were identified at board meetings throughout the last two years. At the top of the list are high law enforcement and court costs related to criminal activities, less state funding, increased unfunded mandates, less revenue return from the state -- the state keeps more of our dollars -- and lower investment returns on money on hold. Add increasing health and liability insurance costs, and that gives you county funds with a disappearing budget.

Officials say that while the tax will provide only temporary relief, approving it now is important to spare local public services. It is estimated that it will bring in $800,000 per year.

To date, the board has taken numerous measures, asking departments to assist with the financial crunch by cutting costs and by looking for new revenue sources. Departments were also asked to cut any unnecessary expenses.

The department heads were responsive in all of the above. In the past year they have found ways to help. They have raised some revenues with increased or added fees. The highway department budgeted zero dollars and has been functioning off reserves for two years. The sheriff's department is negotiating early retirement of two senior deputies, leaving the department short two men on manpower. And other measures as fit the departments were found also.

However these are not enough to keep up with dwindling revenues as well as increasing costs. Soon the general fund will not be sufficient to keep things as they have been in the past. The next step will be layoffs of county employees. The layoffs will cause reduced services.

Public safety tax impacts on offices supported by the general fund

Due to increased costs and declining revenues, the county could face up to a 25 percent across-the-board cut in the 2006 budget.

1. The sheriff's department would be hit the hardest, as it is the largest public safety entity. Cuts would include seven deputies, one secretary, reduction of courthouse security and two maintenance positions. In addition, the cuts would result in a loss of revenues from fines and fees. The cuts would also reduce the available patrols within the county and reduce the sheriff's department to basic functions.

2. The public defender's office would eliminate one attorney.

3. Juvenile crime costs the county in excess of $350,000. Due to the high crime and prosecution levels, the circuit court is very limited in what cuts could be made.

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4. The county highway department would lose two or three employees and would not be able to provide the level of service now provided to the citizens of Logan County. Snowplowing, road and ditch maintenance, and improvements would be reduced. This could negatively affect rural road conditions and snowplowing. This could subsequently affect bus routes that get our children to and from schools.

5. The county clerk would have to cut two positions. This would adversely affect the current level of services in recording of documents as well as providing records requested by citizens of the county.

6. The circuit clerk would possibly cut two employees. This office is responsible for all records, notices and other functions under the circuit court system. The reductions would affect the availability of services required of this office and for the citizens of Logan County.

7. The animal control department has made significant improvements over the last couple of years. The 25 percent budget cut would reduce the hours of operation, reduce part-time help, reduce surgeries and surgery supplies, as well as other levels of service. Required maintenance of the building as well as the dire need for new pens to handle the increased animal count will not be possible.

8. The Logan County Health Department would face the following:

  • Layoff of up to six employees.

  • Services provided by the Rural Health Partnership mobile unit would be eliminated.

  • Clinic hours would be reduced.

  • Public health home nursing services would be eliminated.

  • Staff participation in the Healthy Communities Partnership would be eliminated.

  • Beginning with the fourth and subsequent reduction in staff, grant funding could be lost or reduced due to the inability of the department to meet grant objectives.

--Stats compiled by finance and referendum committee.

The county representatives are now meeting with local groups. They would like everyone to know how important this is and to answer your questions. If you would like someone to come speak to your group, call Dewey Colter at (217)732-5927.

You can learn more about how passing or not passing the referendum may affect you. There will be an informational meeting open to the public on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at The Oasis. Dewey Colter will speak.

[Jan Youngquist]

More facts and figures on the tax and finances will appear in LDN in the future.

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