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County seeking ways to make cuts, save jobs

Severson: Declining property tax, sales tax revenues hurting finances

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 4:58 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 10:34 p.m. CDT

Grundy County officials are working on ways to decrease expenditures in order to avoid layoffs.

Budget meetings have been held repeatedly in recent months as the county works on its finances that are suffering due to falling property taxes from dropping equalized assessed values.

“What we’re doing right now is assessing all of the budget in total and going back and squeezing a little bit here and there,” said Board Chairman Ron Severson Friday. “We are really committed to not laying off people, and we are really committed to the basic services not being cut.”

A recent meeting was held with most of the county’s department heads and elected officials to discuss their ideas to cut the budget, said County Administrator Chris Wittkamp.

“I can’t stress enough how awesome it was to bring that group together,” she said.

The leaders’ ideas will be presented at the next Finance Committee meeting, at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.

Their proposals included looking at volunteer furlough days, decreasing professional services costs, reorganizing office supplies to come from one supplier to take advantage of discounts, and making board committee meetings quarterly to reduce per diem cost, among other ideas.

Severson said the county is also looking at its benefit packages and may require for employees to cover more of the costs.

The Personnel Committee is also discussing asking its office holders and department heads to consider not filling positions that are opened and to try and consolidate the work with other employees.

Elected officials cannot be told how to spend their budgets once they are approved, but personnel chairwoman Vicki Geiger said the county could ask them as a common courtesy to come before the committee to see if there are ways to work around filling these positions.

“We’re not talking about downsizing, we’re talking about being smart,” she said during Thursday’s personnel meeting.

This will be discussed further next month, she said.

Severson said he expressed during the budget meeting Thursday his concern that decreased sales tax revenue so far this year could be a problem as well.

Upon closer examination, Wittkamp said the decrease is not as high as it appeared, but sale tax revenue is still lower than what had come into the county by the same time last year.

This, on top of the large decreases in EAV, increasing fuel costs, increasing union contractual pay and other losses in revenue, could put the county in real trouble, said Severson.

“It’s tough, but the county is committed to a balanced budget. We are not going into deficit spending,” he said.

The chairman said he has received criticism from some that the county should not be purchasing its new emergency response command vehicle for $154,000 if it is struggling financially. The county board approved this purchase Tuesday.

Severson said he replies with two answers for these criticisms, one that the county has been planning for such a purchase for a couple of years and was able to pay for it in cash out of its cash reserves. And two, it is needed and will benefit everyone in the county.

He cited the fact that Grundy has numerous conditions that could require a command vehicle at any time, including that it has three major railroads, chemical plants and underground pipelines.

During the April 18 flooding, Grundy was able to borrow Will County’s command van to handle the rescues on Cemetery Road, but if Will County had encountered the same flooding, Grundy would not have had it and lives would have been at risk.

“If it saves a life or two, or even just property, it pays for itself,” said Severson.

The county is also looking to see if municipalities or industrial businesses will contribute to its costs for the vehicle. In addition, it is a one-time cost, not a repeat budget item.

The county is continuing to hold budget meetings to work on cost-saving measures.

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