The air conditioning didn’t work in the Tazewell County Board chambers when a board committee met this week to begin crafting next fiscal year’s budget.
“Kinda fitting, isn’t it?” remarked committee Chairman Tim Neuhauser. “We’ll try to find something in the budget to fix it.”
Money will be available to repair the county Justice Center’s broken AC, address other expensive needs in county buildings and pay bills, County Administrator Wendy Ferrill told the board’s Finance Budget Committee.
It could come, however, from revenue sources the board would rather not tap — savings and bank-borrowed funds.
Next fiscal year and in the foreseeable future, Tazewell and other Illinois counties will see significant reductions in state-supplied revenue. Those funds are now targeted in the state’s recently passed budget to begin pulling Illinois out of its deep financial hole.
The state’s population drain is also costing Tazewell, Ferrill said Friday. It means a smaller share of state income tax revenue. Counties, meanwhile, won’t see a dime from the income tax increase that came with the new state budget, she said.
What Ferrill acknowledged are game-changing reductions in state revenue flows to local governments will see Tazewell lose $1.2 million, or about 5 percent, in general revenue funds for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins in December.
“That’s a chunk,” Ferrill told the budget committee.
The county will receive $550,000 less in state income tax revenue. Another $353,600 will be cut from personal property replacement tax revenue that counties have received since the state constitution was revised in 1970.
The state also will now charge a 2-percent “service fee” for collecting “special” sales tax revenue on counties’ behalf, such as Tazewell’s one-quarter-percent public safety tax, Ferrill said.
Tazewell’s own revenue streams are healthy. Its population, job numbers and overall property values increased over the past year, said County Board Chairman David Zimmerman.
“We’re continuing to grow,” he said, “but between what the state is doing to us” and the county’s need to address several million dollars worth of building maintenance projects, “we have some serious decisions to make.”
While using the county’s savings and borrowing “is not a long-term strategy,” it may be the best one available for now, Zimmerman said.
The board accepted that possibility when, at its Aug. 30 meeting, it voted to establish a $5.5 million line of credit with Morton Community Bank. It’s available should the board decide to use it for projects such as the county Justice Center’s air conditioning.
“What (the loan) is going to do is offer us the most flexibility to sit down during our budget meetings and prioritize the projects we feel we need to get done sooner than later,” Neuhauser said at the August board meeting.
Board member Jim Donahue said he preferred using the county’s “contingency fund” of savings for the projects.
They’re “a safety net to be used when you need it. Well, we need it. It’s perfectly clear to me that we can’t borrow ourselves out of debt,” he said.
Those decisions loom this fall. Ferrill said the budget committee will meet again Wednesday to review “line by line” each county department’s budget in search of savings.
A general hiring freeze installed this year, along with 150-day delays in filling vacant positions that saved the county about $200,000, will likely continue next year.
Beyond that, “Put your seat belts on,” Zimmerman said.
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