Cronin's budget plan holds the line on taxes in DuPage, builds on sales tax growth
Around this time last year, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin drafted a budget that cut back spending to weather the pandemic and fears of revenue loss.
Among other belt-tightening measures, the plan provided no cost-of-living salary increases for county employees and deferred vehicle purchases while avoiding furloughs and other "draconian" steps, Cronin said at the time.
What a difference a year makes.
The county expects to end fiscal 2021 with sales tax revenues up by $18.2 million, or nearly 20%, above budget. A hot suburban real estate market has boosted income from recording fees and transfer stamps collected during property transactions. The county estimates those revenues will come in $2.6 million ahead of expectations before the current budget year ends Nov. 30.
"We will be able to use the resulting funds to position ourselves for the future," Cronin said.
Striking a more optimistic note than the last budget cycle, Cronin is proposing a $465.5 million spending plan that anticipates further gains in sales tax receipts and holds the line on property taxes in the coming fiscal year.
The balanced budget proposal also earmarks federal coronavirus relief money for affordable housing projects and the placement of social work case managers in the county's eviction court.
On the revenue side, general fund sales tax dollars are projected to climb to $107.4 million, an increase of $15.4 million or 16.7% over the current fiscal year.
The proposed budget calls for a $69.5 million property tax levy, a slight increase to account for new construction. The county's property tax rate would remain flat.
The owner of a $250,000 home currently pays roughly $132 in property taxes to the county.
Cronin's plan closes a $10.4 million gap between anticipated revenue and funding sought by department heads and countywide elected officials. Those department requests totaled $212.8 million.
"We worked closely with elected officials and department heads to identify priorities and potential areas of savings to close this gap," Cronin said in a budget address to county board members.
DuPage Sheriff James Mendrick requested a $54.1 million department budget. Cronin's plan gives the sheriff's office $50.6 million and increases the department's total head count by two positions to 502.
The proposed spending plan also sets aside funds to staff diversion programs and a specialty court that allows first-time drug offenders to receive treatment.
"Participation in these programs has increased dramatically, thanks to the good work of prosecutors, public defenders, probation, our judiciary, and court staff," Cronin said. "We are using every tool we have to reduce crime, cut recidivism, and make our communities as safe as possible while providing those eligible a path to a productive, positive life."
Cronin wants to double the funding for a county task force formed in response to the opioid crisis. The Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education Taskforce, or HOPE, is a joint effort by the county board and county health department and provides grants to social service agencies.
"We know an increasing number of our residents are impacted by opioids, including pills, heroin and fentanyl," Cronin said. "Moving our line item from $100,000 to $200,000 this year allows the task force to fund more grass-roots community programs that will make a difference."
Liz Chaplin, chair of the board's finance committee and a Democratic member, said she was "pleasantly surprised" with the chairman's budget plan.
"I am pleased the chairman has worked with Democrats and embraced the addition of a vehicle replacement fund," Chaplin said in a statement. "The vehicle replacement fund will ensure adequate funds will be available for all future vehicle purchases."
The proposed budget also includes adequate funding for a sheriff's department body camera program and additional head count for the state's attorney's and public defender's budgets to comply with the SAFE-T Act, a criminal justice reform bill signed into law earlier this year, Chaplin said.
"As the county continues its fight against COVID-19, I was pleased to see our reserve levels will remain the same," she said.
County board members have until Nov. 30 to approve a budget for the 2022 fiscal year that begins Dec. 1.