County OKs another fund transfer

County employees will receive their scheduled paychecks this week, but only because of a last-minute vote at Tuesday’s meeting of the Fayette County Board.
After what has been an almost monthly discussion on the county’s finances for the past few years, board members initially voted down a request to transfer up to $400,000 from the county’s capital improvement fund to the general fund.
But, after handling all other matters and taking the scheduled break to review the county’s bills, board members took another vote – and approved the transfer – after returning to open session.
As has been the case in recent months, the meeting started with County Treasurer Rose Hoover telling board members that the county’s general fund is in the red, this month by $210,879.02.
Board Chairman Jeff Beckman started the discussion on the transfer request by saying that with the county’s ongoing financial struggles, “There’s no answer for it.
“We’ve checked with our (legal) counsel (Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison) on other things (including employee furloughs and layoffs); it can’t be done,” Beckman said.
“We need operating capital,” he said.
He asked board member Darrell Schaal, chairman of the finance committee, whether he had anything to add. Schaal said, “I think it’s all been said.”
Beckman said, “The reality is, in two years, maybe less, there’s not going to be anything left (in the capital improvement fund).
Board member Chad Austin asked what would happen if the board didn’t approve the transfer, and Beckman said, “I don’t know.”
Because of union contracts, he said, the county is having to continue using capital improvement funds to meet its payroll obligations.
“We pay until we’re broke,” Austin said. “Then what?”
“We make cuts,” Beckman said.
“So we have to be broke before we make any cuts,” Austin said.
Morrison said, “You have got to pay the bills” and continue to pay employees as required in union contracts.
Austin asked Hoover how long the $400,00 would last, and she said that the county has three pay periods this month and that each pay period total averages $113,000-$120,000.
She said that he has received about $155,000 in state income tax and sales tax monies from the state, but that the county will still not have enough to meet its obligations.
“To me, we seem like every month we’re going $100,000 in the hole,” Hoover said.
Hoover said that she is estimating that when the first tax distribution is made in September, “we’re not going to have enough money, just out of tax money, to pay back to the capital improvement fund.
“We’re all going to have to watch our spending and we’ve got to cut,” she said.
Hoover said that about seven years ago, it was brought to the attention of department heads “that we were having problems, we need to do something. Everybody’s just got to do their part.”
Beckman repeated, “While that money’s in there (in the capital improvement fund), we’re going to be obligated to fulfill that (union) contract.”
Austin said he opposes cuts, because having less employees “will create more workload” for those who are not cut and make them less efficient.
That, he said, is why he would like to see if the county can close the courthouse for a day. “You’re not singling anybody out,” he said.
“I’m very much like you,” Beckman told Austin. “If you’re not meeting payroll, somebody’s got to go. That’s how it happens, except in government, because our hands are tied.”
Glenn Gurtner made a motion to OK the transfer.
“We’ve go to pay our bills” and abide by the union contracts, he said.
Glen “Whitey” Daniels seconded the motion, but later rescinded his second.
“I want to see the people get a paycheck, but after that …,” he said.
“That (payroll) is what the bulk of that is,” Beckman said.
Schaal then seconded Gurtner’s motion “for the same reason ‘Whitey’ did.”
In a verbal vote, only Beckman and Gurtner voted for the transfer. Others present and not voting for it were Austin, “Whitey” Daniels, John Daniels Jr., Troy Pattillo, Schaal, Dean Bernhardt, Wade Wilhour and Mark Isaiah; Jenny Waggoner, Jake Harris, Bryce Kistler and Keith Cole were not present for the meeting.
Hoover said, “I want to know where I stand next. I’m signing these checks and I’m liable. I want to know what my guidelines are.”
Morrison said, “When you run out of money, you can’t write any more checks."
“Then there’s no pay this week,” Hoover said, “and no claims (bills) will be paid, either, and they’re supposed to go out tomorrow.”
On the agenda was an ordinance for a cost study of two county offices – county clerk and sheriff – to be performed by Bellwether, and Bruce Delashmit of Bellwether spoke on the issue of the county’s finances at this point in the meeting.
“I understand the frustrations, understand the emotions,” Delashmit said. “A ‘no’ vote (on the transfer) sets in motion legal action by bargaining units.
“Your story is not unlike so many other counties in Illinois,” he said.
“You need to go through and look at all of your fee opportunities,” Delashmit said, adding that the county also has to improve its debt collection practices.
The board approved the cost study of the two offices, which will cost $12,000, but Delashmit said that his firm can go beyond that, if the county desires.
“Everything you spend money on, we’re going to look at,” he said, explaining that Bellwether would start the process by work sessions with all department heads.
In recommending passage of the cost study, Schaal said, “We thought this was the first step.”
After board members returned from the break to review county bills, Beckman said that he wanted the board to reconsider its denial of the funds transfer.
Austin said, “We vote ‘no,’ a judge is still going to pass it. We took our stand.”
Gurtner added that if the transfer was not approved and the matter went before a judge, the county would then incur court expenses.
The transfer was then approved, with Wade Wilhour and John Daniels Jr. again casting dissenting votes.
The meeting closed with a chance for those in the audience to speak, and Ron Wilson spoke on the county’s finances.
“Whatever you’ve done to get here, how’s that working for you? It’s not,” Wilson said. “You guys got to have responsibility.”
“You’ve got good hearts … and it’s a thankless job (to serve on the board),” he said.
“You’ve got to work as a team,” he said, speaking of board members, department heads and all employees. “You’ve got to understand that we’re frustrated.
“You’re hearts are in the right place, but you don’t have the tools,” Wilson said, supporting action like the cost study.

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