Layoffs, pay freeze coming for Kane County government employees?

Layoffs for Kane County government employees may become a reality for the first time since 2010 as officials scramble to address a midyear budget deficit of $2.8 million.

The cash shortage comes as a $10.7 million upgrade to the records system for local courts has yet to manifest the budget savings officials promised the project would create.

Joe Onzick, the county's chief financial officer, warned county board members Tuesday of the unexpected shortfall. At least half the problem stems from a massive backlog of uncollected fines and fees by Kane County Circuit Clerk Tom Hartwell's office. The office is so far behind on inputting information into the new court records system that Hartwell asked county board members for $80,000 to hire six more clerks earlier this month.

But adding more employees to the payroll is a big part of the expense side of the problem, Onzick said.

“We've had several full-time positions added since 2013,” Onzick said. “At the time we had the revenue to support them, but now we should realize that these positions are a part of what's causing pressure on the general fund.”

With more than 1,300 employees, Kane County government is one of the top 10 employers in the county. Eleven new employees just came onto the payroll as part of a 2017 budget agreement board members reached with various departments in the justice system at the end of 2016. Those and several other new employees added in deals over the past few years found work with the county despite a long-standing hiring freeze that's still, technically, in place.

John Martin, the county board member who leads the board's judicial and public safety committee, said many of those employees resulted from new mandates for the justice system crafted by state lawmakers. Those mandates did not come with more money to fund the positions, he said.

“It's the mandates that are driving that engine, the requests for more money,” Martin said. “And we are getting scissored in the deal.”

Board members suggested a pay freeze for nonunion employees as a one way to cut costs going forward. That's always been an unpopular idea with union employees receiving raises of 2.5 percent most years. They also suggested creating an evening court call, an idea that's been shot down by judges a couple of times in the past. Neither of those ideas would address the immediate need to cut costs for the remainder of the year. That left county board member Bill Lenert with the only other idea.

“It's a terrible suggestion to have to implement, but I think it's one we're going to have to consider,” Lenert said. “If we have to give a 2.5 percent pay increase every year, the only other solution I can see is we cut the labor force by the same amount to offset that 2.5 percent increase. I think that would be a worst-case scenario option.”

The county last went through a large-scale layoff in 2010 when the county board voted to release 62 employees, effectively cutting the county health department by half. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 31 union members in that department then filed an unfair labor practices claim. The county settled the claim at a cost of about $117,000. Voters then ousted the county board member who led the layoff decision, Gerald Jones, in the next election.

The board's finance committee will explore those and any new options today.

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