Kane County likely to finish Lauzen's first year with a surplus

  • Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, right, told members of the finance committee Wednesday that a last-minute budget deal with Coroner Rob Russell is only as strong as Russell's word.

      Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, right, told members of the finance committee Wednesday that a last-minute budget deal with Coroner Rob Russell is only as strong as Russell's word. James Fuller | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/27/2013 7:02 PM

Kane County appears poised to finish Chairman Chris Lauzen's first fiscal year at the helm with a surplus despite some last-minute budget overage haggling among elected officials.

Eleventh-hour financial deals to address disputed expenses have become commonplace at the county in recent years. A late deal to address sheriff's deputy salaries a few years ago was overturned when the deputies sued to get all the money they were owed. A budget battle and a lawsuit between the county board and Deb Seyller, the former circuit clerk, was a stumbling block in a subsequent budget.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This fiscal year, the late deal comes regarding new Coroner Rob Russell's budget.

The county board's finance committee agreed Wednesday to give Russell about $88,000 more to close out his current budget. The money will mostly cover expenses Russell had already committed to, largely in the category of autopsies.

The cash influx comes only after Russell committed to keep his budget flat for the next three years.

"Things have changed here," Lauzen said of the deal. "We are not going to spend taxpayers' money in unnecessary lawsuits."

The deal says Russell will get no more money beyond what the county board gives him at the start of the new fiscal year. Raises coming from union negotiations and "unforeseen costs" will be the exceptions to the deal.

The question the next three years will be whether any new costs are truly unforeseen.

Russell has repeatedly decried a lack of money to perform all the autopsies he is bound to as authorized by law. Lauzen has contended Russell has more flexibility to not perform as many autopsies if the budget doesn't have the money to pay for them.

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Russell was not at Wednesday's meeting, but Lauzen said all parties have agreed the money Russell will receive to begin the next fiscal year will cover all his autopsy costs.

That county board, though, has no control over how Russell spends the money the board gives him once the cash is put into his accounts.

"So, how do you practically hold the line in an agreement like that?" Lauzen said. "The answer to that is the strength of the personal guarantee that's being put forward in the relationship."

Even with the additional money headed to the coroner, the county coffers will still have about $300,000 left in the contingency fund. That, combined with upward trends in both sales and income tax money, should see the county finish the 2013 fiscal year in the black.

"I never count until the last out in the ninth inning, but it does look like we have managed within the constraints of the year," Lauzen said in an interview. "For everything that I currently know, we will have lived within our means without asking taxpayers for more."

County board members plan to create a multiyear budget plan to avoid future late supplemental financial requests.

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