County’s 2010 budget approved without layoffs
By Stuart R. Wahlin
There was no fanfare, partisan bickering or dissent. Despite historically lengthy battles on the floor when passing its budgets, the Winnebago County Board unanimously adopted its 2010 spending plan Sept. 24, just six days before the end of its 2009 fiscal year.
Finance Committee Chairman Tom Owens (R-1) described the 2010 plan as “probably the longest budget process we’ve ever seen,” but weeks of preparation amid declining revenues led to an arrangement board members could live with.
In the interest of avoiding further layoffs, despite cutting approximately $13 million from the operational budget, the board opted to reduce work weeks to 38 hours for 204 employees of several county departments. Salaried employees will be docked the equivalent of two hours per week. The move is expected to trim nearly $350,000 from personnel costs.
Effective Oct. 2, the offices of the circuit clerk, recorder, state’s attorney and supervisor of assessments will close at 3 p.m., instead of 5 p.m., on Fridays.
Being directly affected by the reduced hours, 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Janet Holmgren announced the Winnebago County court system would also adjourn at 3 p.m., Fridays, affecting 163 court workers.
Combined, the two-hour reductions to the work weeks are expected to save more than $700,000. Additionally, county department heads have been instructed to reduce spending by 11 percent.
The county is operating with 154 fewer workers than a year ago, attributable to early retirement packages, furloughs, layoffs and positions remaining vacant.
The shortened work week is expected to last throughout the new fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30, 2010, but county leaders are hopeful for improvement in the economy.
Meantime, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents about 130 county workers, plans to file grievances, claiming some of its members are guaranteed 40 hours per week. Instead, AFSCME has proposed four 10-hour days as a cost-saving measure.
• General Fund: $12,232,000
• Public Health Fund: $3,219,000
• Detention Home Fund: $1,545,000
• Highway Fund: $3,128,000
• Bridge Fund: $352,000
• Federal Aid Matching Fund: $1,978,000
• Veteran’s Assistance Fund: $158,000
• Tort Judgment & Liability Insurance Fund: $3,688,000
• Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund: $5,011,000
• Social Security and Medicare Fund: $3,366,000
• Historical Museum Fund: $103,000
• County Nursing Home Operations Fund: $3,177,000
• Children’s Advocacy Project Fund: $196,000
• Increase: $26,000 Emergency Service Disaster Agency (ESDA) grant to hire a consultant “to develop a county-wide tactical interoperable communications plan.”
• Decrease: $75,000 for data processing equipment related to the circuit clerk’s document storage system.
• Transfer: $33,000 from the Circuit Court to the Jury Commission for salaries “to offset a portion of the personnel reductions required this fiscal year.” The request for the amendment noted the increasing number of jury trials.
• Increase: $600,000 grant from the state as reimbursement for 2008 flood relief, administered through the Salvation Army.
• Increase: $100,000 grant from the City of Rockford for salaries related to the state’s attorney’s elder abuse prosecution and juvenile programs.
• Increase: As the result of an unforeseen extension of a $30,000 Department of Children and Family Services parental rights grant, $78,537 for salaries, health and life insurance was allocated to the state’s attorney’s office. The remaining $48,537 will come from the general fund, $39,302 of which will be generated by increased cable franchise fees.
• Increase: $145,564 from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, to be used by the Sheriff’s Department for the purchase of an “E-ticketing/GPS system” and software.
• Increase: $11,000 traffic safety grant to the Sheriff’s Department for an automated license plate recognition system, “which can recognize and run up to 2,000 license plates per hour.”
• Transfer: $45,000 from “other professional services” to pay the salary of Law Enforcement Aviation Coalition’s (LEAC) chief pilot. Board member Randy Olson (R-1) presently serves as chief pilot.
Wind farm ordinance to be voted on Oct. 8
A text amendment to the Winnebago County Zoning Ordinance for the purpose of regulating commercial wind power generating facilities received a first reading Sept. 24, and was laid over until the Oct. 8 meeting.
A supermajority, or 21 of 28 votes, will be required for approval, unless Seward Township withdraws its legal objection.
Although a number of the township’s concerns were addressed in committee, Seward still opposes proceeding with the ordinance as a permitted use, favoring a special use instead.
A special-use permit would require a public hearing for every application submitted by developers, giving citizens a chance to express concerns regarding specific proposed sites for wind farms. Under a permitted use, however, the application is only reviewed by county staff, and without public input.
A motion to amend the ordinance to a permitted use could be made during the Oct. 8 meeting.
In related news, during a Sept. 23 meeting, the Zoning Committee opted to revert back to original language that had been changed at the previous meeting.
Instead of including barns, machine sheds and livestock buildings in the definition of occupied buildings, which are protected by safety setbacks, new language was added to protect the farm-related structures without being defined as occupied.
Another last-minute change in committee raised the required minimum amount of liability insurance coverage from $1 million to $2 million for wind farm applicants.
Meantime, the Natural Land Institute (NLI) remains uncomfortable with language regarding a Wildlife/Avian Survey and Mitigation Plan.
Sally Hoff, NLI’s board secretary, argued: “The applicant’s [in this case, Minneapolis-based Navitas Energy] wildlife expert is the person who is going to make the assessment, whereas what we had asked is that there be consultation with the IDNR [Illinois Department of Natural Resources] and local natural resource professionals to identify already sensitive wildlife areas and flyways.”
Noting the potential for conflict when an expert is paid by an applicant, Hoff noted, “I’m sure we all wonder how impartial that person can be.”
Hoff said it makes sense for the applicant to pay for an expert, but that the expert should not be supplied by the applicant.
Other language in the text amendment indicates the county “may” hire another wildlife expert to review the assessment, but Hoff argued the language should be changed to “shall.”
“There’s no teeth in ‘may,’” she asserted. “Because of the lack of state standards for protecting wildlife from the impacts of wind power generating facilities, it’s imperative that this ordinance provide clear, enforceable criteria for evaluating the impacts.”
The committee, however, chose not to commit the board to what could be costly reviews of otherwise uncontested applications. As presently written, the decision whether to have the applicant’s assessment reviewed by a third party—which would require a bid process—will be left entirely in the board’s hands.
Instead, the committee decided the assessments would be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and IDNR.
Frank Gambino explained: “If we have conflicting assessments, and we don’t know how to resolve that, or we need some further identification, then we ‘may,’” hire a third party wildlife expert.
If the language instead stated “shall,” Gambino added, “there may be no conflict at all, but then we’re forced to hire somebody to tell us that.”
• Authorizing an intergovernmental cooperation agreement for the administration of veterans assistance benefits.
• Authorizing a change order for the resurfacing of Linden Road, between Mulford Road and Cherry Valley Township Line.
• Authorizing the execution of a joint funding agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey for the operation of a streamflow-gaging station on the Kishwaukee River at Mulford and Blackhawk roads. The county’s cost is $6,375.
• Authorizing the transfer of property to the county by Robert Kleckner to satisfy a $47,540.47 debt. Kleckner owed the county for the cost of constructing a left-turn lane and other access improvements in front of his business on Spring Creek Road, between Perryville and McFarland roads. The estimated market value of the county’s new property is $154,500, resulting in a net gain of about $107,000. The Village of Roscoe has been keen on the county acquiring the property to accommodate a future right-of-way for the extension of Willowbrook Road, between Belvidere and Swanson roads.
• Awarding bids for the county’s sign replacement program. Vulcan Signs was awarded $87,100.51 for complete signs. Allied Municipal Supply was awarded $64,167.50 for posts and bases, and $1,621.21 for bolts.
• To reject bids for pharmacy benefit services. Effective Sept. 26, a law changed regarding the average selling price, which could impact the county’s cost for benefits. According to the resolution, the proposals received “did not fully explain how the pricing and the audit of those prices will be handled to ensure the county is paying appropriate cost.” The county’s broker, Rockford Consulting and Brokerage, recommended that bids be rejected, and that new bids, including information pertinent to the change in law, be requested.
Mike Castronovo, who has been a regular speaker in recent months to oppose a median in front of his business, began, “There’s been some questions as to how many times someone can come up and speak.”
Castronovo has been denied the opportunity to speak in the past. County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) cited Castronovo’s specific reference to Highway Engineer Joe Vanderwerff in his comments as a personnel issue not to be discussed in open session. Additionally, Christiansen noted, the matter of the median had already been decided by the board.
Castronovo referred the board to its own rules regarding public participation:
Sec. 2-65. Limitation of debate.
(a) No member shall speak a total of more than twice on the same question unless permitted to do so by the chair.
(b) No member shall speak longer than three minutes upon recognition, unless permitted to do so by the chair. Any member called to order shall immediately cease speaking, unless permitted to explain.
(c) Nonmembers may address the board if written request is submitted to the county board office by 12 p.m. the day of the board meeting for which recognition is sought. The written request must identify the name of the speaker, specify the subject matter the speaker will address, and indicate the speaker’s interest in the subject. Each person from the public will be limited to three minutes.
(d) A maximum of 20 minutes shall be allowed for nonmembers to speak at each meeting. If a particular item is deemed by the chair to be controversial, the chair shall strive to allow all sides an equal amount of time within which to speak at each meeting, subject to the 20-minute time limit. The chair shall determine the sequential order in which nonmembers will be allowed to address the board.
(Res. No. 96-CR-253, 12-2-96)
“Under parliamentary law, you can do anything you want to do, unless there’s a law prohibiting it,” Castronovo argued. “As I understand it, there is nothing in this ordinance that says how many times a person can speak. There’s nothing in this ordinance that says what subject matter can be talked about. There’s nothing in this ordinance that talks about that I, as a citizen, cannot mention the name if I deem it proper.”
Suffering the same ordinance he was citing, Castronovo was cut off by Christiansen at exactly three minutes.
Sept. 15-Oct. 15 was proclaimed Hispanic Heritage Month.
Isidro Barrios (D-11), George Anne Duckett (D-12), Bob Kinnison (R-10), Steve Schultz (R-2) and David Tassoni (D-7) were absent.
From the September 30 – October 6, 2009 issue.
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