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Revenue flat as county talks budget

Deficit to eat away $4.7M in reserves

Published: Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 11:28 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – DeKalb County leaders say they are maintaining a healthy savings in their main operating fund despite plans for a $4.7 million overall deficit for 2014.

The proposed spending plan for the fiscal year starting Jan. 1 is on display at the county clerk’s office and online at www.dekalbcounty.org, and County Board members are expected to vote on it at their Nov. 20 meeting. The proposed 2014 budget includes about $77.9 million in expenses, with $28.6 million of that slated for the general fund, which is the main operating fund.

County Finance Director Peter Stefan said revenue is more or less flat compared to 2013 and mirroring a recovering economy.

“We’re past recession, but it’s a slow recovery,” he said.

Outside auditors suggested that county leaders have at least 35 percent of the annual general fund expenses – or about $8.5 million – in the savings, according to a September administrative recommendation. After a projected $900,000 deficit will reduce the general fund balance, or savings, to $9.35 million on Dec. 31, 2014, county leaders could continue spending at similar levels in 2015 without savings dipping below the suggested levels, the recommendation stated.

The budget includes 1 percent raises for nonunion employees, while employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union will see a 1 percent raise and employees represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers will receive a 1.5 percent raise. Contracts for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Metropolitan Alliance of Police expire late this year.

Meanwhile, county leaders are seeking a slight increase in property tax revenues to $20.8 million, up from $20.3 million in 2013.

The overall assessed property value in the county is expected to drop 8 percent, similar to the 8 percent drop officials saw in 2013 and 2012. The value of the average home has dropped from $200,000 in 2010 to an estimated $160,000 in 2014. Meanwhile, the property tax rate is expected to increase from about 1.1 percent in 2013 to 1.2 percent in 2014. 

Charles Foster, R-Shabbona and vice chairman of the Finance Committee, said he was concerned with the increase in budgeted expenses in the county’s general fund over the past decade. 

Budgeted expenses for the general fund in 2003 were about $15.2 million in 2003 and has increased to a projected $28.6 million for 2014, he said. 

Much of those expenses are spent on salaries and benefits for county employees, he said. The county spent about $12.1 million for salaries and benefits from the general fund in 2003 and is projected to spend about $21.5 million next year. 

Foster said one of the challenges the county faces with rising salaries and benefits is health insurance costs. Overall, the county is facing a higher demand for its services, he said. 

He said while the county has a “tremendous group” of administrators and staff, he doesn’t want to see it get into the same financial difficulties as the state. 

“When I raise this alarm this isn’t a criticism of any one person,” he said. “... it’s giving us a way to look at things differently.” 

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