New DuPage budget: Higher property taxes, but sheriff, clerk don't get all they sought

The DuPage sheriff and county clerk likely will receive more money for their offices next fiscal year, but not as much as they sought.

County board Chairman Dan Cronin on Tuesday presented a proposed $476 million spending plan for fiscal 2020 that increases DuPage's general revenue fund - which includes the budgets of most county offices and departments - to $183.9 million from $179.6 million.

It also calls for the county's property tax levy to be increased by $1.9 million to $68.8 million - the first such increase since 2007.

"I've proposed a plan ... that takes a comprehensive approach to meeting our community's needs," Cronin said. "It is a balanced, conservative program making necessary investments that ensure the highest level of service possible for our citizens."

He said it also "answers well-publicized requests for new expenditures as responsibly as possible."

One of those requests came from Sheriff James Mendrick, who sought $50.4 million next year - an increase of roughly $5.3 million over this year.

Cronin's plan gives the sheriff's office roughly $46 million, an increase of nearly $900,000. He said he arrived at that figure after talking with Mendrick about the sheriff's vision and "how we should go about accomplishing his goals."

"He realized that what he was requesting ... was something that we would achieve over a couple budget cycles," Cronin said.

Cronin said the proposed budget provides continued funding for the sheriff's crime lab and money to pay for five additional full-time positions - two sworn deputies, one court security officer and two nurses. The nurses will coordinate a jail program to provide safe, supervised treatment to those suffering from mental health disorders or drug addiction.

While the county will fund only Mendrick's highest priorities in 2020, Cronin said, "we are working together to phase in initiatives as we can locate federal, state or community sources to finance them." A spokesman for Mendrick said the sheriff will withhold comment until the final budget is approved by the county board.

Clerk Jean Kaczmarek also didn't get everything she requested. She wanted to more than double the budget for her election division to $7.84 million from $3.63 million. The request is roughly $2 million more than the election commission spent in fiscal 2016, the last time there was a presidential election.

Kaczmarek said the increase is needed because voter turnout in 2020 is predicted to be historic.

Kaczmarek wants to hire more election judges for both the primary and general elections and to increase their pay.

Cronin's budget calls for the election division to receive $5.87 million, including $1.5 million to buy 1,000 electronic poll books to replace 900 aging devices. Cronin said there's "a compelling argument" to buy electronic poll books, which are used to check in voters at polling places.

In addition, Cronin's spending plan gives the clerk's office a little more than $2 million to pay for election judges. He said that would allow the office to hire more than 5,800 judges for primary and general elections at the existing pay rate.

Kaczmarek requested $3.15 million because she wanted to raise judges' pay. Cronin said she could provide raises if she hires fewer judges.

Some officials believe 5,896 judges may not be needed because the new poll books will make the work easier.

Kaczmarek released a statement saying she's pleased with the commitment to fund poll books, but disappointed by the lack of a pay increase for election judges.

"Election judges are our most precious resource, and at the current pay rate of $8.12 an hour, it's challenging to recruit and retain people," she said. "I am open to further discussions with the chairman and county board on the budget, and I am committed to working in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the 2020 election year is a success."

County board members have until Nov. 30 to review the proposed budget, make revisions and approve it. The fiscal year starts on Dec. 1.

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