Balanced budget approved by County Board; state continues not to pay its share

Cala Smoldt

The Mercer County Board approved the balanced 2016 budget during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, meeting. The county’s general fund is projected to end 2015 in $152,178 in the red as a direct result of the state of Illinois’ budget challenges.

The Board approved the just more than $10 million budget on first reading Oct. 13. The spending plan contains an estimated surplus of slightly more than $175,000. The new fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

The board approved the transfer of money from special revenue funds to cover the balance of the current fiscal year. Matt Sorenson, of Bellwether LLC, the county’s new consultative administrator explained, “Elected officials have legal control over those funds. … This is really a team effort. As we saw the shortfall in state reimbursement dollars coming specifically into the general fund, we had a meeting with the department heads and discussed that challenge and as a team they came up with this plan to get dollars into the general fund.”

The general fund received a surprise $42,000 in income tax revenue payment from the state on Monday, Nov. 2.

Special funds were transferred as follows:

Circuit Clerk Document Storage Fund- $46,800

GIS Fee Fund - $31,200

Clerk’s RHSP Fund - $16,800

Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Fund - $15,000

Liability Insurance Fund (controlled by the county board) - $250,000

Funds were strategically transferred to cover costs of employee benefits from each particular office with the exception of the Liability Insurance Fund, a property-tax supported fund with a balance in excess of a typical full year of expenses. This transfer also ensures a positive financial beginning to 2016 for Mercer County.

“This guarantees we’ll be able to pay off the IMRF loan on time,” Sorenson said.

That debt continued to climb as the county treasurer had to take a cash flow loan out of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund to make payroll last week. The board subsequently authorized the county to move forward with litigation to force the state to comply with state law and reimburse Mercer County for the ongoing salaries of the state’s attorney, public defender, and supervisor of assessments. The state is required to reimburse the county for salaries it pays to the state's attorney, public defender and supervisor of assessment.

"They haven't been paying," Finance Committee Chairman Ted Pappas said last month.

It is anticipated the state will owe Mercer County more than $120,000 in salary reimbursements as of Dec. 31 of this year.

In other business, board member Mark Bieri received approval of his motion to authorize the County Board Chairman Brian Anseeuw to sign off on loan documents with a cap of $93,000 to buy new highway department equipment and make payments on existing loans. Bieri said the county is paying more in repairs on some equipment than it’s worth - with more costs in sight. With the board’s approval, the Highway Committee can act quickly when the right equipment becomes available. Bieri said the department has spent between $200,000 - $300,000 on repairs. He said their main tandem truck, a 1994 with 420,000 miles, needs replaced after multiple repairs, namely an engine replacement repair two years ago that cost $20,000.

 “I don’t know the exact details, they tell me the engine is out of it again,” Bieri said. "We’re still not saying we’re going to use (all of ) it. We tried to take the worst case scenario of the equipment we had and say ‘if these things happen instead of investing in this older equipment.’ “

Finally, discussion is under way about hiring a permanent county highway engineer. Mr. Sorenson said, “IDOT prefers a model where you share a true County engineer with another county," Sorenson told the board. "Legally we could probably go out and contract a professional engineer or engineer firm … .”

The board and former County Engineer Jimmy Samaniego agreed to what was termed a mutual separation agreement on Oct. 13.

Highway Department employee Matthew Lower is the interim engineer. He may hold the job on an interim basis for 100 days.