Financial concerns dominate county board discussion
Concern over the county's financial situation hung over nearly every discussion at the Mercer County Board's monthly meeting Jan. 8.
Chris Brewer, the county's animal control officer made a request of the board to increase the hours to one of the individuals working in her office to make that person full time. Brewer noted that the department was sell sustaining now and there has been a steady increase in revenue since she took over. The department is expected to bring in $116,000 this year which will more than make up for their expenses.
Brewer noted that while it is self sufficient she believes the department could bring in more money by extending one of it's part time employees to full time.
Board member Ted Pappas asked Brewer to look at the question from his point of view, "The county is going to burn through $1 million in cash this year.
Board Members Gary Gregg and Larry Stone suggested increasing the hours of the part-time individual but not making them full-time but were notified by members of the audience that it would be against union rules.
Pappas asked Brewer to approach the board again in a few months as it gets the budget sorted out.
Pappas told the board that he didn't feel the board would get any better interest rates than it already has by refinancing the jail over a 20 year period.
Board member Larry Stone added, "The jail's going to be there for 50 years. Why not extend the term of the lease, that's what's killing us. What's wrong with that. I thank we should be talking about putting in to 30 years. Stone knew the county could get a lower interest rate if the term of loan was increased, believing it could save the county up to $100,000 a year.
Pappas noted that the It was the Public Building Commission's realm to do that but he didn't have any problem suggesting it to them."
Stone added, "We've got a helluva job to do in the next couple of years.
Gregg noted, "We could always pay it down quicker if we picked up business at the jail."
The board discussed a hiring freeze at great length before settling an a free for departments where payroll was coming out of the county's General Fund.
Prior to the freeze Carla Ewing, the head of the Mercer County Health Department noted that her department is very aggressive in seeking out grants to fund the salaries of the individuals in her department. She noted the $1 million flood grant they received browned in half a million dollars to the county. She noted that her department was not funded through the General Fund and they are waiting on two grants.
Jimmy Samaniego, county engineer, noted that the Highway Department was also self-funded and that much of the work the county does for IDOT is dependent on how many workers the department has.
Stone suggested that the board give the department chairs a little flexibility in running their departments. "We can't tie their hands too much."
Board member George Howard reminded the board. "The best I can tell is we have a $1.2 million shortfall in this year's budget."
Mercer County Sheriff Tom Thompson discussed a conference call with officials from Cook County he had in regards to bringing more inmates into the Mercer County Jail and hopes to bring a contract in front of the full board to sign at the board's February meeting.
The board heard from Lynn Hunt of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau concerning an extension of an agreement to allow the bureau to include Mercer County in its service area. The Bureau uses the arrangement to increase the amount of federal funding it receives. The county in return is supported by the bureau's assistance in promoting area events such as the Rhubarb Festival and the New Windsor Fair and Rodeo.
Jeff McWhorter noted that the transfer of the nursing home to Genesis Health Systems should happen in early February.
The board agreed to table a decision involving the zoning ordinances and the zoning officer contract for 90 days. Zoning Chairman Ted Pappas requested the delay and it was agreed to by the full board after some discussion.