Wednesday, September 26, 2007
sponsored by Illini Bank

County budget ready for presentation

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[September 26, 2007]  Finance committee members have been challenged once again as they fine-tune details of next year's budget. Like last year, the proposed fiscal 2008 budget is based on a foundation of less-than-firm figures. Each year's budget is to be created with an eye on the previous year's audit. It was just weeks ago that the 2005 audit, which would have been used for the 2007 budget, was completed. So finance heads were forced again this year to create and follow another budget based on believed figures.

The now, old problems occurred while trying to roll the county finances over to a new accounting system. It is hoped that most of those issues were resolved in the process last year and that the 2006 audit, which has just been started, will go much quicker.

But once again, budgeters are in the situation of trusting uncertain figures and moving forth for the 2008 fiscal year.

Last night there was a full review of the figures that have been compiled for a few months. The figures are mostly based on budgets and requests submitted by county department heads and affiliated agencies that receive partial county funding.

As the finance team moved line by line over the 67-page document, finance chairman Chuck Ruben implemented a new practice; one that he hopes might provide a more accurate financial picture in the future. He began talking earlier this year about removing some of the fund balances that are being carried from year to year. In some cases it is not known why it is even being done that way. Carrying the many fund balances has made it more complicated to see just how much money the county has coming in, going out and what the general fund has in it at any given time.

Fewer fund balances to calculate would take some of the guesswork out of future financial decisions and allow a more accurate view of the bottom line of the general budget at any given time.

Many of the departments have fund balances that are kept in place and accumulated from year to year for practical purposes. There are numerous reasons that these funds were started that way, such as motor fuel taxes being pooled over the years to aid in high-cost highway projects. The Logan County Health Department administrator, Mark Hilliard, has explained to committee members that the tuberculosis fund needs to be kept high because even a small outbreak would carry significant costs.

Likewise there are some fund balances that carry a negative figure. Animal control has been accumulating a negative figure for some years. The negative figure shows on the books only, as the county has transferred whatever funds were needed to keep the facility operational out of the general fund.

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Whether positive or negative, wherever it can be done, Ruben has proposed eliminating as many fund balances as possible, "zeroing them out," he says. This will make fewer figures to calculate to get a more accurate picture of the general fund balance at any given time. He thinks this will be particularly helpful as the year progresses, when the figures can be checked closer during month-to-month reviews.

The budget does not have many or extreme changes in revenues or expenditures, and in general is showing stability, or maybe even a gradual improvement.

County Clerk Sally Litterly has prepared the county tax extension figure of 2.5 percent of the Consumer Price Index for next year. The increase comes from new property developments. The estimated income has grown from $3,067,561.90, compared with $3,005,116 the previous year.

Illini Bio-Energy has indicated that they will not be participating in the enterprise zone, so there will be some added income when that project is initiated.

A new motel and other businesses going up in Lincoln's business district will bring more sales tax revenue.

One expenditure that committee members chuckled about and enjoyed sliding over was the $30,000 that is budgeted in cooperation with the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership. Board chairman Dick Logan said, "There's a lot of activity going on there, I can tell you that, after last night's meeting." Committeeman Terry Werth backed him up, saying, "That's money well spent!"

Another evidence of improvement is in the hotel-motel taxes. Main Street Lincoln, which is given 0.5 percent of those funds, was budgeted at $10,000 for this year and may see an additional $2,000 this year.

As soon as Tuesday night's adjustments and corrections have been applied to the budget, Ruben said that copies would be given to all board members so that they have a few days to review it.

The 2008 budget will be presented and discussed at the board-of-the-whole meeting on Oct. 11 and taken to a vote on Oct 16. It will be put on public display for 30 days.

The 2007 fiscal year ends on Nov. 30.

[Jan Youngquist]

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