How Kane County plans to spend $2.9 million budget surplus

With officials still tallying final numbers, it appears Kane County will close the 2016 fiscal year with a surplus of at least $2.9 million.

At one time, county officials feared a deficit of up to $3.15 million.

Plans are in the works for how to spend the money.

The largest chunk of the surplus, $875,000, would be earmarked for future capital improvements. Officials have a $40 million judicial center campus expansion on their to-do list but haven't had the funds to proceed.

Part of the spending plan involves putting $600,000 into the property tax freeze protection fund.

County board members voted to increase the county's property tax levy for 2017 after five years of a freeze. That extra cash will help address what was initially a $5.7 million deficit for 2017. County officials balanced that number out, in part, by dipping into the property tax freeze protection fund. The $600,000 will both replenish the fund and provide a little more cushion.

Another $550,000 of the surplus would go to the county's health insurance fund for payment of employees' claims.

The next largest segments of savings would return money to the judiciary and public safety departments, which contain the largest costs for the county in any budget year. They've also been the source of employee bonuses or "lump sum payments."

Several county board members, including Chairman Chris Lauzen, have decried the payments. They want that money returned to the county's overall budget coffers. As a show of good faith, members of the judiciary agreed to return at least $234,000 to close out 2016. In the end, judiciary and public safety returned a combined $759,000.

The current proposal would give $525,000 of that $759,000 back to those departments. Of the $525,000, $315,000 would go to the sheriff to buy new police vehicles. Sheriff Don Kramer has repeatedly warned the county board about his aging vehicle fleet. The $315,000 is about 60 percent of the vehicle replacement cash Kramer seeks.

The remaining $210,000 of the $525,000 will help pay for legal proceedings that occur on weekends at the county's juvenile detention center.

As a precursor to future belt-tightening, county board members will consider using $150,000 from the overall 2016 surplus to fund a study to determine the mandatory functions for every county department. That would place all non-mandated functions in the crosshairs when determining future budgets.

Finance Committee Chairman John Hoscheit said more cuts are in the county's future to balance out increasing employee salaries.

"Ultimately, we're going to get to a point where, if we don't have corresponding revenue increases, we are going to have to consider what services we have to provide and what services we are not mandated to provide," Hoscheit said. "But we just ended another year where our expenses were exponentially further below what was anticipated. That's the result of everyone working hard to run tight budgets."

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