A vote for the pending 2013 Kane County budget is a vote to grow government even if it doesn't include a property tax increase, according to county board Chairman Karen McConnaughay.
County officials put their proposed budget for 2013 on public review Tuesday. It designates no specific pool of funds to pay for union contract increases, including at least five contracts that have already been negotiated.
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"They need to decide what their policy is on that," McConnaughay said in an interview after a presentation on the budget. "I didn't hear anyone say anything."
McConnaughay said she's concerned the board may be preparing to pay for the union raises with contingency money. The pending budget already slashes the contingency fund for next year below the amount called for by board policy.
McConnaughay warned board members that strategy could leave officials without enough money to cover unplanned expenses in 2013. In part, the money that would have been set aside for unplanned expenses will be used to help pay for raises for nonunion workers and state's attorney's and public defender's employees.
That, too, is a mistake, McConnaughay said. She believes the board should not approve any raises in 2013.
"In this current economic environment, growing the overall cost of government is a bad idea," McConnaughay said. "The board should not be increasing budgets for these purposes. They need to find greater efficiencies in the existing budgets they have."
In other words, if county employees want raises in a bad economy, the money should come from making cuts elsewhere. McConnaughay agrees workers should be properly compensated. But, "the issue is there is X-amount of dollars to spend. You have to spend it as wisely as possible without putting any further burden on taxpayers."
Board members, and the public, now have about two weeks to review the budget plan. The board voted to delay final votes on five union contracts that have already been negotiated. They all call for union employee raises.
The board also decided to delay ratifying an arbitration ruling for sheriff's department employees that also involve raises. If the board takes no action, the arbitration ruling will be automatically implemented.
The county budget does call for an overall flat tax levy, meaning county property taxes for residents will not increase if the current budget plan is approved.
There is also an as-yet untapped $5 million budget surplus from last year the county board may choose to use if a large amount of unplanned expenses occur in 2013. Its usage would require a policy change the board would have to vote on.