County likely to seek levy increase for next tax cycle

State cutbacks forcing action by county board


Edgar County’s fiscal year ends Nov. 30 and the county board is looking at unavoidable increases to the next budget.
Board chairman Jeff Voigt discussed what the next budget and levy will require during the Oct. 9 study session and Oct. 10 regular board meeting. The final budget and levy will be approved later in November. Voigt said the early calculations indicate a 2.78 percent levy increase is necessary to cover the need for more money in the general fund, which will likely rise by 7.7 percent over the current budget.
“We don’t have much choice,” said Voigt. “The state keeps cutting us back.”
The state not only cuts back funding to local government but also imposes increases on what the locals must do.
“We had a big increase to the public defender’s office because the law now requires it to be funded at 90 percent of what the state’s attorney receives,” said Voigt.
More money is necessary for the sheriff’s budget with the addition of two new corrections officer positions starting next year.
“That ties back into the report we got from the bureau of prisons,” Voigt said.
A Department of Corrections inspection earlier in 2017 was critical of the jail for lack of adequate personnel. According to DOC rules for county jails, a minimum of one officer is needed for each floor of the facility. The older portion of the Edgar County Jail has a cellblock located on the second floor, but the jail does not always have two officers on duty.
When Sheriff Jeff Wood reported the results of the inspection at a prior county board meeting he passed on a warning from DOC to either spend the money hiring adequate staff or be prepared to spend the money defending against legal action DOC would bring against the county.
Voigt said closing the upstairs bullpen is not a solution because that fails to address all of the staffing needs and the two new positions are necessary to make sure inmates and jail staff are safe in the facility.
“We have an obligation to all involved,” said Voigt.
Other areas in the budget getting bumped up are the highway department, the health department and the County Aid to Township Bridge fund along with the federal match fund.
The technology line item is also increasing to keep pace with software costs.
Cuts were made to line items for Social Security, retirement and tort immunity in order to keep the increase manageable.
Voigt noted the preliminary budget is balanced and does include a transfer into the courthouse improvement fund to eventually start taking over responsibility of paying for the 2012 courthouse tower restoration. It does not have any money allotted toward paying down other debt.
Voigt emphasized there is no other option than going with a larger levy request.
“The state looks at us for how we are doing for ourselves,” said Voigt. “If we are not at or close to the max, state support drops.”