The path to keeping Kane County's portion of the local property tax levy flat for a fourth year contains a $2 million pothole.
Members of the county's Finance Committee learned of the pending deficit for 2015 this week as a full calculation of the impact of raises given out in 2014 and pending new hires for next year is now known. A series of individual raises and union contract negotiations resulted in board members giving existing staff members more competitive salaries via raises between 2 and 5 percent. Those moves alone added about $1 million in costs to the budget, according to County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen. Costs for utilities and an increasing financial burden to cover health insurance costs for county employees represent the other major new costs to contend with.
Joe Onzick, the county's finance director, told the committee revenues flowing into most county departments are declining, but sales and income taxes are ticking upward. The overall 2015 forecast sees county income rising by 1.6 percent and expenditures rising 4.2 percent.
"Obviously, the deficit must be eliminated," Onzick said. "We must have a balanced budget."
Onzick suggested a combination of income enhancements and cost reductions to reach that balance. The auditor, juvenile justice center, public defender and sheriff all want to add staff. Those positions may need to be reconsidered, Onzick said. Staff will also hire a consultant to determine if any fees can be raised in the county clerk, recorder, sheriff or animal control offices.
Lauzen indicated particular enthusiasm for an idea that involves recalling some of the bonds the county has issued. The county would have to pay a premium for the early recall. And that can only happen if the investors can be located who are willing to deal with the county.
"If we can double or triple what we're earning, on at least a portion of the bonds, that would be a big deal," Lauzen said.
He also recommitted to his election pledge to keep the overall tax levy flat for his first term in office. And he also plans to accomplish that without dipping into any reserves.
"All of my thinking is you don't give back reserves," Lauzen said. "We need those for when the economy goes bad. We're not decreasing (the levy). And I know that all of us would want to pay less. But our objective is to at least not make it harder on our residents. Everything has to fit into that constraint."
The budget will now go through the county board's individual committees for fine tuning and the hard work of finding expense reductions. The new fiscal year begins at the end of November.