Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay Wednesday gave Finance Committee members a verbal smack in back of the head for even thinking about a budget that may increase property taxes. It was McConnaughay's first public input on a budget debate that's considered the value of employees' raises and increasing the county's overall tax levy as much as legally possible.
McConnaughay brought forward her own version of a new county budget with a flat levy, no tax increase and no employee raises. Now is the time to be frugal, McConnaughay said in spotlighting a $1 billion overall reduction in Kane County property values from just a year ago.
"Property values are going down and yet we're going to be growing government?" McConnaughay asked. "Are you kidding me?"
They weren't. In fact, several board members began chipping away at McConnaughay's budget by saying nonunion employees' raises are long overdue. They also pointed out that a flat levy will actually bring in less tax money to the county because of lower property values. And, a flat levy also fails to include any new construction, little though it may be, into the tax calculations. Finance Committee Chairman Jim Mitchell said the plan to raise the levy now, but reduce it in March is solid. By March, county officials should have all the tax revenue figures from new property growth and final sales tax receipts to rework the math.
"I don't consider that a joke," Mitchell said. "To me, that's good planing. You know exactly what your figures are, and you take action on it."
A big flaw in that plan, McConnaughay said, is that about 10 current county board members voting on the budget won't be on the county board in March. There's no guarantee a new board, with a new chairman, would vote to cut the levy. In fact, such a vote would be unprecedented in the recent history of the county.
The committee then brainstormed a combined solution that keeps the Finance Committee's budget plan, including employees' raises. But the plan also flattens the overall levy, erasing the proposed tax increase. Money for nonunion employees' raises, including staff members in the state's attorney's and public defender's offices, will come by cutting contingency funds for next year and money saved through changes to the county's insurance plan.
That still leaves one budget problem with no publicly-described solution. The county is in the middle of contract negotiations with several of its unions. At least five of those contracts include pending raises between 1.5 and 3 percent next year. There is no money specifically set aside in any budget plan discussed so far to pay for those raises.
Mitchell said after the meeting he believes there is money in the county to fund those salary increases, but county officials don't want to specify how much money is available while contract negotiations are ongoing.
During the meeting, McConnaughay indicated there's a larger pool of money available. The county ended the last fiscal year with a $5 million surplus. By the county's self-imposed rules, that surplus goes into the capital projects account. The account is used to fund expenses such as the looming judicial campus expansion and/or the judicial system technology upgrade.
Several board members suggested it's time to revisit that policy and reroute some or all of that cash for salaries and other expenses. That vote, however, is unlikely to happen until a new board is seated.
The full county board must still vote on the new budget plan before it is final.