Will County committee proposes $1 million in salary cuts for amended budget

Will County committee proposes $1 million in salary cuts for amended budget

The Will County board is considering a plan next week that would slash $1 million in salary expenses for county staff but earmarks more money for sheriff workers overtime and the Health Department.

The amended budget proposal is designed to reflect exactly what the county spends, said Republican members of the board’s Finance Committee. The new fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

As approved by the committee Tuesday, the proposed budget is $887,300 less than the one presented by Democratic County Executive Larry Walsh in September as it also recommended cuts in travel expenses across the board. It also recommended an $830,000 cut to Sunny Hill Nursing Home, which reduced the number of residents by 50 percent when it switched to private rooms in the past year.

The committee decided to propose eliminating a $1 million increase in tax revenues allowed by the Consumer Price Index — recommended by Walsh — and cut nearly all budgets for staff salaries by 6.8 percent, or just over $1 million — a move that drew criticism from some department heads.

Each department will decide how to handle its own reductions, Finance Committee Chairman Mike Fricilone said.

“If the money is spent and it’s not in the budget, then it is not balanced. If we think we are spending it, it’s included in budget. If we think it’s excess, we’ll take it out,” he said.

Even as Sunny Hill reduced the number of residents in recent years, its budget remained the same, even though there is less personnel, food, and supplies, Fricilone said.

In September, Walsh said he presented a balanced budget of $551 million that took into account the $2.4 million the county will be losing in state revenues next year. He proposed a $3.1 million increase in the property tax levy — $2.1 million from new construction and $1 million within the CPI.

But Republicans criticized the budget numbers from the outset, claiming it was not balanced because it did not include overtime pay for the sheriff’s department.

Historically, overtime has not been fully funded in previous budgets, even though the county paid it, officials said.

Saying he wanted the budget to reflect what they actually spend, Fricilone added $861,000 in overtime, bringing it up to a total of $2.2 million for overtime in all areas of the sheriff’s department.

Most of that overtime pay is for officers at the county jail, and hiring more officers would reduce the need for overtime, officials said, agreeing that at least six officers should be hired next year.

At the same time, the state’s new Bail Reform Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will allow offenders who have committed non-violent, minor crimes to be released without posting bail.

Undersheriff Bob Contro estimated it could mean 50 to 70 fewer people in the county’s jail.

With fewer inmates, Fricilone is hoping the county can move toward closing down one of the six residential pods at the jail to reap further savings.

Not everyone was happy with the new budget numbers.

Curt Paddock, director of the Land Use Department, said his budget shows an 11 percent reduction in salaries, or $250,000, at a time when the economy is rebounding and they are issuing 3,000 building permits a year.

Having two building inspectors perform 20 inspections per day is “not sustainable,” he said.

“You cannot ask them to do a thorough job when they are doing 20 per day,” Paddock said, adding that these cuts were never discussed with him.

Similarly, Rhonda Novak, supervisor of assessments, said with new changes in the homestead and senior exemptions, and a 50 percent increase in new subdivisions, “this is worst time to lose an employee.”

Her department was slashed $117,200 overall, about half of which was for salaries, according to the county’s budget numbers.

Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, said they know their budget is “tight” and that “additional appropriations might be needed.”

“If there’s a shortfall, come to us and we can make adjustments. We do that all the time,” he said.

Paddock said if one has to come back and talk to the finance committee, it appears to be “poor management.”

Fricilone disagreed, saying, “It makes it more transparent if you have to come to us and ask for more money.”

“We are trying to get a budget that allows the county to operate, rather than just add fluff to every department,” Fricilone said.

The county may have less revenue next year, if the state’s proposed property tax freeze is passed by the legislature, he said.

Not all departments saw salary cuts.

The coroner’s office could receive $70,000 more to hire a full time employee, and the auditor’s office could get $25,000 more for a part-time worker.

slafferty@tribpub.com

Twitter @SusanLaff

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