In putting a political ally on the Kane County payroll, Chairman Chris Lauzen said the decision was made to address financial woes in the county's Animal Control agency. A financial presentation Tuesday suggests the move is making a dent in the problem.
Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers, who oversees Animal Control, said the agency raked in about $20,000 more compared to this same time last year. She credited the hiring of a billing manager for that success.
If that trend continues, Jeffers said, the agency will once again be self-sufficient and able to repay $93,000 to the county's capital fund. The agency could not afford to make that payment last year. In fact, the agency received a $45,000 funding boost from taxpayers to keep its head above water.
"I don't want you to get excited today and say, 'We're there'," Jeffers said. "We're not. We need to go above and beyond if we're going to get back on track and stay fluid. If we had not aggressively gone after getting those billings in, this (trend) would not look like this."
Lauzen hired political ally Robert Sauceda at the end of January to be the temporary billing manager for animal control. Sauceda receives a salary of $52,000 with no benefits, a position that was not openly advertised and has drawn criticsm from some county board members.
The financial gains are mainly attributable to one Sauceda initiative. Jeffers said Sauceda pushed the idea of using robocalls to remind county residents when their pet registration and tags need renewal. Fees from those renewals account for more than 90 percent of agency's annual income. The calls are not only cheaper than the postcards the county formerly used, but they've also proven more successful in getting residents to pay the fees. It's unclear how much of the gain in registration and tag revenue is attributable to the county more than doubling the cost of pet registration late last year.
Lauzen attended the presentation and said he was pleased both by the financial gains and decision to hire a billing manager. Lauzen has repeatedly defended Sauceda's hiring as a move suggested by board members in a closed-door meeting. On Tuesday, without naming names, he publicly thanked the board member who suggested hiring a billing manager for the first time.
"When I described my worry to the board, it was at a closed meeting," Lauzen said. "I said, 'Here's our problem, and it ain't getting better. One person on this committee said, 'Why don't you hire a billing manager?' I just wanted to express my gratitude to that person today."
The board member Lauzen was referring to was Myrna Molina. In a later interview, Molina painted a different picture of her billing manager suggestion. She said she suggested a billing manager only after board members agreed Sauceda was not qualified to be the new Animal Control director.
"I said if the main issue is really generating revenue, why aren't we looking at something like a billing manager who can look at how to get the revenue in," Molina said. "Some other board members brought up the idea of using a temporary billing service, a collection agency, that would get paid with a portion of what they collected. That's what I was going more toward."
Asked if she ever intended for a new billing manager position to be created and filled by Sauceda, Molina said, "Absolutely not. That would make no sense."