Kane County budget surplus earmarked for employee raises

Updated 2/27/2019 6:13 PM

Kane County officials will continue their streak of transforming projected deficits into end-of-the-year surpluses, as the county closed the books on 2018 with $4.5 million more than it needed to pay its bills.

That $4.5 million comes via double-barreled good news for taxpayers.

For one thing, revenues came in 1.9 percent higher than expected. Sales tax revenue continued to rise. Local Use Tax dollars rose thanks in part to internet sales tax collections. Even investment income was up for the county.

Plus, expenses fell 3.5 percent overall. All but seven county departments fell below budget with no need to tap into contingency funds set aside for 2018.

That leaves the county with its largest surplus in recent years. The county closed the books on 2017 with a $2.1 million surplus. In 2016, the final ledger showed a $2.9 million surplus.

Members of the county board's finance committee debated what to do with the surplus Wednesday.

The initial plan calls for setting aside about $1 million for capital projects. The county has a number of ongoing infrastructure improvement needs. It's a regular policy for the county to set aside most, or at least a large portion, of any reserve for such needs.

In this case, the $1 million may be a significant amount as board members look to scrounge up money to build a new coroner's facility. Board members called Wednesday for at least an estimate of what even a very basic new facility might cost. That work is already underway. The estimate should be available later in March.

The bulk of the $4.5 million surplus ($3.5 million) will serve as a pool of funds to finance union and nonunion employee raises. County officials are still in negotiations with the bulk of their employee unions. Those that have reached deals so far will see raises of about 2 percent.

If that holds true for the rest of the county's employees, the $3.5 million set aside, combined with a maximum property tax increase, would fund the cost of 2 percent raises for all employees through 2021 and part of 2022.

The county board has not voted on or even discussed, the idea of a maximum property tax increase for 2020. Chairman Chris Lauzen was careful to point out that a full discussion and vote would be needed before any such property tax increase.

Joe Onzick, the county's CFO, also repeated his warnings about funding ongoing costs with one-time revenue sources like an end-of-the-year budget surplus. Finance committee Chairman John Hoscheit also urged his colleagues not to get caught up in the idea that the county will always have budget surpluses.

"Things turned out well last year," Hoscheit said. "But the needs always seem to be growing, and the revenue streams always seem to be limited."

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