County board efforts to tighten strings

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor

A federal probe of county finances has shown a spotlight on the business of the Winnebago County Board.

Chairman Scott Christiansen’s discretionary fund became a hot-button topic after spending reports showed outlays on third-party consultancy for the proposed Winnebago Works! development center.

Those consultants’ fees, totaling more than $50,000 since January 2015, have been the turning point for some members of the county board who now say that discretionary spending needs to come in-line with general budget practices.

Christiansen has spent more than $800,000 in discretionary projects the last five years. That money is generated by the host fee collected from firms who utilize the Winnebago County Landfill.

The county amended spending guidelines in light of the FBI investigation to cap non-voting expenses by the chairman and department heads to $12,000. The previous threshold was $30,000.

Christiansen has asked for two exemptions above the $12,000 limit to pay for consultancy fees he previously agreed to.

“The air’s ripe for change now,” one county board member told The Times Monday. “We just have to re-sow the seeds.”

John Guevara, R-19, says he expects to see a big shift in spending guidelines over the next eight-to-12 weeks as the board works to close gaps in the county’s finances.

“(Changing the discretionary guideline) is an obvious step that I’m glad is being taken,” he said. “Future boards should have specific guidelines when making decisions about funding economic development.”

Other board members lamented the fact change has taken this long to come about but view the measures as a sign of real progress in the work of the county government.

“It’s better late than never,” said David Boomer, R-4. “This is at least a positive step toward a more transparent government, but there’s a lot more to do.”

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