Insisting the move wouldn't be a fund raid, Kane County officials Thursday considered the consequences of taking transportation money and spending it on public safety.
The county uses the vast majority of $17.4 million in RTA sales tax money to fund transportation projects and leverage millions of dollars in matching state and federal funds. But there is a budget deficit for 2018 that now stands at $5.6 million. That doesn't include any personnel cost increases that may come with the expiration of all the county's union contracts at the end of 2017.
County officials are asking department heads to find budget cuts. The RTA sales tax is the only immediate and major piece of revenue officials have identified to help address the deficit so far.
Revenue is a particular problem in the judicial and public safety departments. The sheriff's office is down more than $4 million since 2012 thanks to the cancellation of a contract to house federal inmates at the jail and declining foreclosure revenue. Costs in the public safety realm are up more than $6 million over the same period. The state's attorney and public defender costs are also up by more than $1 million each since 2012.
Those problems make using a larger percentage of RTA sales tax money for public safety seem appealing. But there are both infrastructure and political costs at stake.
Tom Rickert, the county's deputy director of transportation, told the county's budget committee any shift in the funds means fewer infrastructure improvements. There are 45 such projects on the to-do list between now and 2023. The county already spent millions of dollars in engineering on some of them.
"The sales tax is so important to us," Rickert said. "If we are going to add new projects, the sales tax is our only ability to do that. That sales tax is our transportation capital fund. If there is a need to shift, we'll have to start looking at what projects to remove."
Budget committee Chairman John Hoscheit said delaying projects would be more palatable than removal. But even Hoscheit, a Republican, recognizes not everyone would agree.
"Obviously, the unions that do roadwork want us to allocate 100 percent of that tax to transportation," Hoscheit said. "As a finance chairman, I think it's important to understand what resources we have available."
One scenario could see the Kane County Department of Transportation getting a bigger chunk of the RTA sales tax in trade for a sweep of the $5.4 million in property taxes that flow to the department. KDOT uses that property tax money for maintenance and road repair work.
The problem with that plan is any increase in KDOT's share of the RTA sales tax means less for the judicial and public safety departments. Those are the departments that already have the largest revenue problems.