County looks into deep cuts

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Include elimination of chief deputy post

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The Fayette County Board is in the final stages of preparing a budget for the next fiscal year, and the board chairman said the proposed budget includes “some pretty hard cuts.”
Chairman Steve Knebel said that the new budget has cuts totaling about $300,000, with the majority of those cuts in the sheriff’s office.
Included in the spending reductions proposed at this time is the elimination of the chief deputy position.
Under the current timetable, the board must have the budget ready for public display by Oct. 29 in order to approve it at its Nov. 13 meeting.
Knebel emphasized to board members that $160,000 of the $307,609 cash on hand is money from the county’s capital improvement fund, which was created from the sale of the county’s coal rights.
“We’re trying to prevent that for the next year,” Knebel said, speaking of the effort to keep as much money in that fund as possible.
The biggest factor in getting the budget finalized appears to be agreeing on the sheriff’s office line items.
Knebel asked other board members and county department heads present for Tuesday’s meeting if they “still feel comfortable” with cuts that were agreed upon at the board’s September meeting.
Sheriff Aaron Lay said that he did not.
It was at that point that Knebel expressed his displeasure with Lay for not having proposed changes to his budget to the board.
Lay told Knebel, “There are some areas where I think I would be able to cut (that are not included in the proposed budget).
“Why don’t you have those to us tonight … or at the last meeting”? Knebel asked.
Lay said that he had been waiting on information from the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, and that he now had that information. He told Knebel that he would be ready to meet with the board’s finance committee within a week or so.
He told Lay, “I would say, get it to us, Aaron, as soon as possible.”
Knebel said that it’s important to get the budget work done now.
“We have a timetable,” he said. “It doesn’t do us much good to throw out a budget to the public and then change it. It makes no sense.
“Everybody knows that the budget comes up this time of year,” Knebel said.
Though specific cuts to the sheriff’s budget were not discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, a major sticking point with Lay is the elimination of the chief deputy position.
Lay told Knebel that he has some ideas on how to keep the position, while not adjusting his budget total. He said that he would like to “go a different route” with his department’s cuts.
“I can propose different cuts to make up for Brent’s salary,” Lay said, referring to his chief deputy, Brent Ellis.
Knebel, who said that cutting the chief deputy post would save the county about $50,000, told Ellis that the action is not directed at him personally.
“Please do not take this as a personal attack on you, because it’s not,” Knebel said. “We’ve got to make some cuts.”
During the budget discussions, Knebel said that the board presented proposed budget figures to department heads after its September meeting, and that only one department head responded with possible changes.
He said that Circuit Clerk Mary Sue Ruot proposed using a little more than $50,000 of court-generated revenues to cover the salaries of two employees, and she told Knebel at Tuesday’s meeting that he had gotten approval from Judge Gene Schwarm, chief judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, and from the state to use those funds for that purpose.
“I really do appreciate it, Mary Sue,” Knebel said, referring to Ruot’s plan to use money from her document storage and court automation funds to help the county address its financial issues.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
• Knebel reported that the board’s solid waste committee is looking into adding some county ordinances “to address some problems we’ve seen in the county.”
He said that the committee is researching the issue, and that it likely will be some time before the committee brings the matter to the full board.
• The board approved changing agents for county employees’ dental and vision coverage, a change that allows the rates for those coverages to remain the same.
Board member Dean Bernhardt, chairman of the insurance and personnel committee, said the committee was recommending that the county change to Shawnee Administration Services as its agent.
The cost for dental coverage stays at $25.33 per month per employee, and the monthly rate for vision coverage stays at $10.82 per month per employee.
A key issue, Bernhardt said, was that the county could not add three new employees to the coverage with its former agent.
• The board approved a two-year energy contract with Nordic Energy. Under the contract, which goes into effect next May, the county’s cost drops from .0589 per kilowatt hour to .04562 per kilowatt hour.
• The board agreed to close the courthouse from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, for the county Christmas party.
• The board approved its meeting and holiday schedules for 2013, with board member Wade Wilhour casting a dissenting vote.
“That’s a lot of paid days off,” Wilhour said.
• The board met in closed session for about 30 minutes to discuss personnel matters. It did not take any action after returning to open session.