More budget work ahead for county board

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MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — The budget approved by Piatt County board members this morning came with a caveat: more work is still ahead to improve the county’s financial straits.

Figures on Tuesday indicated $5.8 million in revenue stacked up against $6.3 million in county expenses and although board members did give their formal stamp of approval to a tentative budget — still in the red — they announced they’re hoping they can find up to $110,000 in cuts to mitigate the problem.

Currently, the budget is more than $500,000 in the negative.

Already, county department heads had been tasked with finding 9 percent worth of cuts in their individual budgets ahead of the fiscal year that starts on December 1.

Not all of them met that threshold.

And not all county board members found that acceptable: Dale Lattz on Tuesday said that reflected the fact that “many (departments) did good things and some didn’t do much at all.”

Altogether, the cuts to the county’s overall budget by the department heads came just shy of 7 percent.

But department overspending isn’t the single cause of the county’s budget situation.

State’s attorney Dana Rhoades said that, in her 11 years of experience in county government, the departments have typically “been careful with what they’ve spent.”

What’s prompting the county’s budget crisis now are the ramifications of when the state failed to pay corporate replacement taxes, which was around 2015-16, Rhoades said.

When that happened, Piatt County — one of the smaller counties in the state — was forced to dip into whatever “savings” it had built up, setting it back financially.

Since then, the county hasn’t started a fiscal year without being in the red.

Latz said that even if the budget were to be balanced for the coming year, it wouldn’t be a “long-range” solution.

Board member Randy Shumard said members had been elected to “control the purse strings” of the county; in response to the board wanting to reach that nine percent cut goal, members said Tuesday they would review individual department budgets for more opportunities to make reductions.

Rhodes said following Tuesday’s announcement that more cuts were needed, assistant state’s attorney Elizabeth Dobson opted to take a $5,000 furlough and Rhoades — the only state’s attorney in the county — would donate $5,000 of her salary to the general fund.

The board could vote on a final budget as soon as November 13.

In the meantime, they’ll have to come to terms on what measures need to be taken to reach the 9 percent cut goal — and they’ll have to come to terms on how the Emergency Management Agency will be funded.

Board members on both Monday and Tuesday disagreed about the EMA itself, with some saying they didn’t believe the position needed to be full-time — and therefore paid at a full-time rate — and one board member asking again if the county was required to have an EMA at all.

An Illinois Emergency Management Agency statute requires all counties in the state to have such an agency.

Board members have also voiced concern that the EMA budget is currently higher than it’s been in previous years. Officials say that comes as a result of the previous EMA director failing to maintain department standards.

Failing to do so means the county could be eligible for potential legal action, or the revocation of grant monies. An EMA budget increase would bring the department into working order, Rhoades said, making it not an arbitrary request.

And a salary increase — requested by the current EMA director — would only be a $9,000 increase in cost to the county: up to $22,000 from $13,000 in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The salary increase requested was $65,000, but grant money is expected to cover more than $40,000 for the county.

For comparison, county documents reflect that another public safety department head in the county — Sheriff David Hunt — makes around $70,000 per year.

Other department heads make salaries ranging from $50-$60,000 per year on average; the lowest currently is the EMA director at $37,740 — 65 percent of which is reimbursed to the county.

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