Lauzen urges cuts to cover Kane County's projected $6 million shortfall

Kane County officials Thursday pined for the days balancing the budget didn't involve raising the property tax levy. But increasing costs, dwindling revenue and recent precedent could make that a difficult task.

A panel of officials charged with balancing the books focused on a $6 million budget gap projected for 2018. Representatives from the sheriff's department, state's attorney office and public defender took turns explaining either losses in revenue or plans to spend more money in 2018.

But when the panel started discussing across-the-board cuts of between 2.5 and 10 percent, county board Chairman Chris Lauzen called for a different perspective.

It may not be enough to talk about spending cuts heading into the 2018 budget compared to what was spent in 2017. After all, the county has a $600,000 midyear deficit for 2017 it still hasn't resolved.

That deficit materialized despite county officials raising the property tax levy for the first time in five years. And it ran counter to Lauzen's No. 1 pledge of keeping that levy frozen. Lauzen said it's time to get back to that promise.

"In our family we used to say to our kids if they ever got lost in a crowd to go back to the last place where we were together safely," Lauzen said. "That's kind of like where 2016 was. That's the last time we had a relatively easy vote on the budget and, by the end of the year, had fulfilled our promises."

Turning back the budgetary clock will mean either deep cuts or finding new revenue to make up for about a $12 million in lost income.

A reduction in court fees, traffic fines and bond revenue is fueling much of those losses. And judicial and public safety officials don't see those losses improving.

For example, State's Attorney Joe McMahon pointed out many marijuana and retail theft crimes that used to be felonies are now considered misdemeanors, which carry lower fines. That changing approach to justice is coming at the cost of taxpayers, said county board member John Hoscheit.

"It's the perpetrators who benefit from that," said Hoscheit, who oversees the county's budget committee. "From my constituents' perspective, they would like for us to look at ways to restore those sources of funds or at least have the people who are using the system pay for the system, particularly when their violations give rise to the need for the system."

Lauzen suggested the key element to solving the problem is for other elected officials to sign on to cost-cutting measures such as limiting travel reimbursement, use of county credit cards and sticking to the hiring freeze the county board put in place.

"The board is going to have to ask all the countywide elected officials to participate in that," Lauzen said. "Would you please help? Would you please participate?"

Standing in the way are some recent examples that may set the stage for a double standard. For instance, the county board's executive committee just gave preliminary approval to the hiring of three building management employees to fill vacated positions. It was the first hiring request after the county board voted to renew its countywide hiring freeze policy. The department is directly overseen by Lauzen and the county board.

Likewise, the county board cast only a handful of "no" votes to Lauzen's request for travel, meal and magazine subscription reimbursements totaling $657.88 at last month's board meeting.

The county's 2018 fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

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