Cuts in state-supplied revenue prompted a new Tazewell County Board committee to begin work Wednesday on next fiscal year’s budget barely a month after the current fiscal year began.
That’s the start of what board Vice Chairman Tim Neuhauser called a “structural change” in both when to begin the board’s budget chores and how to approach them.
Whether the county will seek to solve its financial problems with employee reductions remains uncertain as the new Ad-Hoc Budget Deficit Committee met for the first of an expected 10 times into mid-June. It was joined Wednesday by directors of most of the county’s departments.
However, Neuhauser, the committee’s chairman, asked those directors to review services their departments provide that are not mandated by state law.
“There is no magic bullet” or one solution, Neuhauser said, that will enable the county to replace the estimated $1.2 million in state-supplied revenues that are now targeted in the new state budget to help Illinois erase its huge debt burden.
“We’re not looking here to cut” county employees, said committee member Mike Godar. “We’re here to look at new approaches” to prepare the annual budget in light of the state funding reductions. “We’re not unique” among the rest of Illinois counties in that need.
To a question posed by committee member Jim Donahue, Neuhauser said the effort is necessary regardless of the outcome of a March ballot referendum in which the county is seeking voters’ permission, required under the county’s tax cap restrictions, to raise the county property tax rate by 15 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Approval would inject $4.3 million in new revenue, the same amount as the overall county budget deficit projected for this fiscal year. It would be the first significant county tax rate hike in 15 years.
Whether or not the increase is approved, Neuhauser said, “There needs to be some major changes” in how the county addresses its budget, which County Administrator Wendy Ferrill said now operates with expenditures exceeding revenues as the result of the state funding cuts.
Neuhauser, also chairman of the board Finance Committee, said the ad-hoc committee answers the call he made last fall to get a head start with new ideas on budget planning before the board’s regular budget preparation meetings begin in June.
He wants the recommendations by June 19 to give the board “time to implement true change” that will immediately affect the next fiscal budget, he said.
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