Kane County balks at tax increase, for now
Kane County residents received at least a one-week reprieve from a tax increase Wednesday. But the latest draft of the county's 2019 budget fails to restore a program that tracked potentially dangerous people awaiting trial.
The county board's finance committee spent the past few months figuring out a combination of cuts and income enhancements to address a $5.2 million deficit. They got some help from a sizzling economy Wednesday with a report that sales and income tax projections for 2019 are better than expected. That shrank the deficit to about $4.9 million.
Not appearing in the budget debate so far are any suggestions for program cuts. Board members expressed a desire Wednesday to keep department budgets mostly flat in 2019, erasing the bulk of the deficit.
But there's still a problem. Drafts to date have not included any funding for employee raises. Negotiations are pending on multiple expired union contracts. Such negotiations, even if they end up in arbitration, have resulted in raises of at least 2 percent in recent years. The county board has extended raises union employees get to nonunion workers, adding to the financial burden. Board members agree that policy should remain in place.
The dilemma spawned discussion Wednesday of raising the county's property tax levy to the maximum amount allowed without voter approval. The county unfroze its levy a couple of years ago to include taxes from new development. But it hasn't included a levy increase to account for the rise in the Consumer Price Index since the 2011 budget.
With the CPI at 2.1 percent, such a tax increase would pull about $1 million in new money into the county's general fund.
County board member Deb Allan was one of only two members of the finance committee to support a CPI tax increase Wednesday.
"We have spent a lot of years holding the line," Allan said. "I don't know if it's reasonable to do that forever. You've got departments that have lived within their means. To hold on to those people, we have to plan to do (salary) increases."
Board member Sandy Wegman also supported the plan, but the pair failed to win over any allies.
Board member Kurt Kojzarek, who also sits on the committee overseeing union negotiations, said in an interview the county has enough money to fund reasonable raises without a tax increase. The county has a property tax freeze protection fund with about $1.2 million. He said he can't justify a tax increase until that fund is empty.
"A tax increase always needs to be a means of last resort," Kojzarek said. "It should almost be where if you have to raise taxes you should apologize to your constituents because that's the only way you've found to do things. We have the funds right now. It makes no sense to keep those funds and ask for more."
An inability to find more money will cause the judiciary to be a loser in the 2019 budget. A committee formed to revive the GPS monitoring program used to track potentially dangerous people awaiting trial failed to identify a permanent funding source.
Judges and county board members all agreed the program could not return without funding that would keep it off any future chopping blocks.
Board member Theresa Barreiro has been a champion for the program. She said the loss of state grants to support the GPS program all but doomed its return.
"We can't revive it," Barreiro said. "Once we cut it last year, we weren't going to get that state money back. But I'm disappointed there was no one here from the judiciary today. I don't understand why they're not defending it anymore."
The county board's executive committee will take the next look at the 2019 draft budget next week. Board members expect the CPI tax increase will see another round of consideration at that time.