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Article posted: 4/3/2013 6:10 PM

Kane Co. may return portion of surplus to taxpayers

By James Fuller

A week after a Kane County Board committee drafted a plan to set aside a $7.6 million surplus for raises, pensions and future infrastructure needs, board members indicated Wednesday there might also be chance to give back some of that money to taxpayers.

The plan drafted by the county board's Finance Committee calls for a $1.8 million chunk of the surplus to go toward arbitration-mandated raises for sheriff's employees. Another $1.4 million will keep the county up to speed with its pension obligations. It's the last $4.4 million of the surplus earmarked for infrastructure projects that may see some cash break loose for a tax abatement.

At best, taxpayers may see about $1.4 million returned to them. However, that depends largely on how the current fiscal year shakes out for the county.

For one, there is no mechanism to abate that $1.4 million back to the taxpayers. That mechanism will come as the county sets its tax levy for 2014.

Key in that levy will be deciding how to fund several looming big-ticket infrastructure projects -- a jail and judicial campus expansion as well as a major technology upgrade for the court system.

Finance Committee Chairman John Hoscheit pushed for the full use of the $4.4 million for infrastructure projects because previous county boards reduced the portion of the annual tax levy that would normally fund that work. Indeed, the county's capital levy shrank both last year and this current fiscal year, leaving the county with about $3 million less than it normally would have collected.

"We're woefully underfunded from a capital perspective," Hoscheit said.

County board member Mike Donahue pointed out that $4.4 million is more than $3 million if the goal is to make up for the lost tax revenue.

"I support taking these surplus funds to effectively replenish that fund," Donahue said. "But if we have funds that exceed that amount, should there not be a concept of abating that to the taxpayers?"

Hoscheit agreed some consideration should be given to abating the $1.4 million difference. However, he alluded to the tough political decision also looming in next year's budget.

Voting to abate the $1.4 million back to taxpayers and keep the county's capital levy reduced would create a repeat of the infrastructure funding shortfall that spawned the idea to use the surplus for such projects this year. There is no guarantee of a similar surplus in 2014. That could create the tough political decision of raising the capital levy, and thereby the overall levy, which could be seen as a breech of campaign promises for several board members.

The county board typically begins its budget process for the next year in late summer or early fall.

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