County denies hidden fund, wants raises
By Shellie Berg
By Shellie Berg
While a nearly 50 percent pay hike for County Board members hangs on tomorrows (June 28) board meeting, Winnebago County officials are rejecting rumors floating around about a so-called county slush fund of $1 to $2 million.
County Board Chairwoman Kris Cohn, who refused to name individuals who apparently leaked rumors, held a meeting on June 20 at the courthouse to denounce accusations.
County Administrator Steve Chapman and Auditor Tom Ross say they dont know who is responsible. They claim a $1.5 million surplus from the 2000 fiscal year exists, due to revenue projections and an increase in income from sales taxes as a result of the economy.
Chapman said, I think we had the meeting to set the record straight so everybody was on the same page when we went into the new budget year.
Theres no money hidden, Ross added. The only question that should be asked is whether or not we budget too conservatively. The countys outside auditor, Robert Wright of BDO Seidman, maintained a fund marked slush doesnt exist.
WNTA radio talk show host Chris Bowman said, Theres a $1.5 million surplus in the budget that this administration says because of the good economy, it is not earmarked in the budget expenditure because they didnt expect to have any. A slush fund is Kris Cohns words. Shes the only one who calls it a slush. It sure is a nice Slurpee.
Coroner Sue Fiduccia, who was denied a raise last year, said she hasnt spread rumors and agreed a surplus exists.
In June of 2000, the board denied raises totaling more than $17,000 to four elected officials, Coroner Sue Fiduccia, Treasurer Sue Goral, Auditor Tom Ross, Cohn and Recorder Ken Staaf. Their pay will be frozen for four years.
Fiduccia believes its unfair that the county might obtain the board member pay increases because she and others were denied and noted that most of them are retired or receive outside funds, although they may deserve pay hikes. I think County Board members, along with anyone else, deserve a raise, she said.
Concurrently, County Board members are harping on the fact that they should get raises of nearly 50 percent. But according to the publication, This Is New, on the Internet (www.pihraonline.org), Harold Schwartz states that most white collar workers received annual increases of 4 percent to 6 percent in 1998.
The raises would skyrocket from $5,000 to $7,500 in 2002 and go up to $9,000 in 2008 for board members. Committee chairmen would reap a raise that would jump from $5,500 to $8,500 in 2002 and increase to $9,500 in 2008. They would remain in place for 10 years. The board will vote on the raises tomorrow (Thursday, June 28).
Chapman stated the county has enough money to provide the raises. The board pay increases that theyre talking about wont affect the budget year, anyway, he said.
Despite the potential boosts, Bowman believes board members are clueless about the daily jobs of elected officials in the county. He concluded that they are unaware of whether the sheriffs department is patrolling the streets adequately to whether the animal shelter is feeding dogs housed there.