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County Board approves $73 million budget

SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Board approved a $73 million budget Wednesday, which is expected to result in property tax bills for the average homeowner increasing more than $11.

Although bills will increase, the county will still bring in roughly $6 million less in 2013 than in 2012 because of a decline in federal grants and plummeting property values. The drop in property values by 9 percent – or about $18,000 off the average $200,000 home – led to the increase in property tax rates.

Overall, the county’s assessed value is expected to drop from $2.03 billion to $1.85 billion, with new construction accounting for $10 million of the value.

Many county departments, such as public health, senior services and veteran’s assistance, will see less property tax money in 2013, while some offices, such as the county sheriff and public defender, will receive an increase to offset cuts made in previous years.

The budget anticipates spending down the fund balance – essentially, savings – in the county’s largest operating fund, according to staff budget analysis. County leaders anticipate having a fund balance of $10.5 million in the general fund Dec. 31, well above the $8.07 million fund balance an independent auditor suggested. County leaders anticipate spending about $900,000 of that fund balance in 2013 and could safely spend a similar amount in 2014, the staff analysis states.

The county sheriff will add a corrections officer for $84,000 to help with the increasing amount of inmates at the jail, and the public defender will hire another attorney for $73,000 to deal with the growing caseload. Both additions were made later in the budget process, and both figures include base pay and benefits.

An even later addition to the budget, Wednesday night before the board voted, further bolstered the public defender’s office and added $74,000.

Riley Oncken, a Sycamore Republican who lost his re-election bid, suggested adding a second attorney to the public defender’s office. He said only one additional lawyer would not be enough to handle the growing caseload now or in the future.

“This is long overdue,” said Oncken, who as a lawyer sees the office in action every day. “I understand we’re in a difficult economic time … but the burden we place on the public defender’s office is only going to get worse.”

The addition, which will increase property tax bills by about $2.24, was supported 14-9 by the board – the same split for support of the overall budget.

Voting against both adding a second public defender and the amended budget were: Ken Andersen, R-Sycamore, Larry Anderson, R-Malta, Dan Cribben, R-Somonauk, Russ Deverell, R-Kingston, John Emerson, R-Genoa, Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, Julia Fullerton, R-DeKalb, John Gudmunson, R-Somonauk, and Scott Newport, R-DeKalb.

Oncken was not the only one who served at his last board meeting Wednesday. Six others will not be back when the new board is seated in December. Marlene Allen, R-Sandwich, and Scott Newport, R-DeKalb, lost re-election bids while Jerry Augsburger, D-DeKalb, John Hulseberg, D-Sycamore, Pat Vary, D-DeKalb, and Anderson, the board chairman, did not seek re-election.

Most of the departing members gave brief final comments, thanking fellow board members for their service.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Anderson said.

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