Rockford's Independent Newspaper

LTTE: Budget amendment implications

From Steve Schultz
Winnebago County Board District 3

County government is made up of many different departments with different types of management.

Some departments are managed by independent elected officials, others are managed the County Board and some are managed by appointed boards.

Departments managed by elected officials include the Sheriff who manages law enforcement and the jail, the Clerk of the Circuit Court who manages our court system, the County Clerk who manages our elections and other business functions like marriage licenses and birth certificates, the Coroner who determines cause of deaths, the Treasurer who collects property tax, the Auditor who is the watchdog of all county funds, and the States Attorney who prosecutes crime in Winnebago County.

Departments under the control of the County Board include, Animal Services, River Bluff Nursing Home, the Supervisor of Assessments who determines home values for property taxes, the Highway Department, the Building Department, Economic Development, Zoning, and the County must care for all the property that is owned to support these functions.

The Health Department, Housing Authority and our new Mental Health Board are also part of county government and are managed by appointed boards.

County government provides many services important to your daily life.

The county board sets the annual budget for all of these services, but has no control over the spending of each elected official in the county.

The budget is a plan that determines the share of our total revenue given to each of the various departments. When one department uses more of their share then other departments lose some of their share.

Based on actual spending, law enforcement is requesting a $2.7 million budget increase to cover the amount they have spent over budget this year.  That request was approved by the County Board finance committee 5-2.

The county will end the current fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2020) with a revenue shortfall close to $10 million (based on current projections).

With the amount spent over budget and the revenue shortfall, the County’s reserves will drop below what the Board decided was an important lower limit this fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2020), following many years of decline.

While some County departments have spent less than their budget for this year, it is a small portion of this combined total deficit.

The 2020-21 fiscal year will be painful financially, not just because of the pandemic. This will only add to the current year’s losses.

Based on these financial realities, the County’s bond rating is threatened (which will increase our borrowing costs); the remaining county reserves are rapidly depleting; and tax increases, cuts in county services and expensive borrowing are the outcomes that will now follow.

In order to offset the money that has gone to law enforcement and the lost county revenue, other county budgets must be reduced. River Bluff Nursing Home, Animal Services, Health Department, States Attorney, Public Defenders, Circuit Clerk, County Administration, Planning and Zoning, County Clerk are all options on the table.

The Board cannot fix this problem alone. The people of Winnebago County hold the power to elect county officials and hold them accountable to fix this financial problem.

Doing nothing will make the problem worse. We need to hear from our community. How do you want your board members and elected officials to deal with this financial reality? What services should be cut? What additional taxes should be levied?

Please let your voice be heard, so the people you elected know what you want to be done. It will not be easy or pleasant, but actions need to taken now.

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