With nearly five months on the job as the new Kane County Board chairman, Chris Lauzen used his first state of the county address Tuesday to detail various problems he says he has uncovered with the county's financial management.
Lauzen referred to several of the practices that were in place when he arrived as "bizarre," "very interesting" and as ways of doing business that "just didn't make any sense."
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He displayed a chart that indicated the size of government in Kane County grew 4.43 percent in the past 10 years. That was well above the 2 percent rise in the cost of living during that time, and well below the per capita income changes for Kane County residents.
"Shouldn't government grow slower than the per capita income in our larger ares?" Lauzen asked an audience of fellow county and local government representatives.
Lauzen did give credit to the preceding administration and county board for voting to freeze the county's property tax levy in the two most recent budgets. However, he said that freeze has come at the expense of new capital projects in the county.
Lauzen also said he was surprised to learn there are no consistent job descriptions for the majority of the county's 1,250 employees. There are also no established salary ranges, annual performance evaluations or policies in place that govern the hiring and firing of nonunion personnel. Lauzen said he's in the process of changing all of that and fixing two other major problems he's unearthed.
The county won transparency awards from both the Sunshine Foundation and the Illinois Policy Institute in the past couple of years. But Lauzen said critical interior transparency was sorely lacking from what he could tell.
"The situation, until about a week to 10 days ago, was the treasurer of Kane County did not have access to the (county's financial) numbers," Lauzen said. "And the county auditor, who is responsible for auditing those numbers, did not have access to those numbers. We're going to do it a different way."
Lauzen also criticized other budgeting practices, such as, in one instance, tabbing gas fuel costs at $2.18 per gallon.
"I don't think it's been there in quite awhile," Lauzen said. "Just that one assumption was a $150,000 surprise."
Lauzen also pointed out a failure to budget for $927,000 in raises mandated by an arbitration award to certain sheriff's employees.
"If that was in a private company, and had a judgment that you had to do this, don't you think that before you pass that budget you'd make the adjustment for $920,000?" Lauzen asked. "We didn't have that."
All told, Lauzen said he's found $2.8 million in "surprises" compared to only about $1.1 million in contingency funds set aside to pay for them. A loan refinancing Lauzen pushed that will save about $2.3 million during the next few years will help pay for some of those surprises; the rest will have to come from some place else, Lauzen said.