In recognition of the slow economy, Kane County is set to approve a budget with no overall increase in operating expenses for 2012. But in recognition of increasing political tension in the budget debate, board members decided not to discuss the potential budget savings of giving up pension and health care benefits that come with their part-time jobs. The entire county board is up for re-election next year.
Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay led a push in recent weeks to go beyond the original savings of the budget initially proposed by the board's Finance Committee. That original budget showed reduced overall expenditures, but an increase in the costs to run the daily operations.
McConnaughay then proposed a budget to keep operational costs flat, which several board members rallied behind. McConnaughay's budget holds the line mainly by eliminating nearly all money set aside in case of unexpected cost overruns.
The most controversial element of McConnaughay's plan is the reinstatement of lobbyists as a $51,000 expense. Finance Committee Chairman Jim Mitchell has long called for the elimination of lobbyists. He could not find a single vote in support of his view Monday.
"It is absolutely unrealistic to think that an individual doing this job can be in Springfield at the drop of a hat to respond to legislative issues," McConnaughay said of her ability to be the county's lobbyist. "I would prefer that we didn't have to do this. It would be much better if the way things in Springfield worked was they didn't do things in the eleventh hour when they think no one is paying attention."
Committee members agreed with the need for a lobbyist. However, not everyone agreed the lobbyists should be Raucci & Sullivan Strategies. Board member Cristina Castro said she is disappointed the county spent so much time talking about ComEd's smart grid bill and never heard anything about changes to sex offender and juvenile sentencing laws that may cost the county thousands of dollars. Outside of public meetings, several board members have also expressed discomfort with Andy Raucci's ties to McConnaughay's political campaigns.
Legislative Committee Chairman Jesse Vazquez spoke in support of Raucci & Sullivan.
"We've got some great people who are well connected," Vazquez said. "If you look at what other counties spend on lobbying compared to what we pay our lobbyists, we get a heck of a deal."
Vazquez also derided Mitchell for asserting last week the county won't need a lobbyist if McConnaughay is elected to the 33rd state senate seat.
"You have some real close friends, and they haven't alerted you to stuff," Vazquez said, referencing Mitchell's role as a chairman in State Sen. Chris Lauzen's bid to become county board chairman.
Mitchell didn't fire back, but brought up the topic of board member pensions and health insurance. Numbers show those perks cost taxpayers $239,000 so far this year. After Human Resources Director Sheila McCraven said she can't find any county resolution legally bestowing health insurance benefits on board members, the discussion came to a halt.
Vazquez chastised Mitchell for bringing it up. He noted it was an easy topic for Mitchell because Mitchell already receives benefits outside of his county board service for his years working with the department of corrections.
"You get your health insurance and stuff paid for the rest of your life," Vazquez said. "There are county board members who don't have that luxury."
The full county board must vote on McConnaughay's budget before it is approved.