County running out of fat to trim; staff cuts imminent

Monday, September 20, 2010

After two consecutive years of bare-bones budgets, Sangamon County officials are having a hard time finding more fat to trim.

As they seek to balance the $93 million fiscal year 2011 budget, county officials hope to save $1.15 million by cutting 37 positions from the county payroll, mainly through attrition.

“With all the cutting we have done, I believe we are to the point where we have cut everything we can possibly cut. … Honestly, I’m not sure where else we can cut,” said Sangamon County Board member Andy Goleman, chairman of the county’s finance committee.

Costs, revenue

Over the past five years, Sangamon County has cut its overall workforce from 788 to 735, a decrease of about 6.7 percent.

The 37 reductions would be in addition to previous cuts.
Twenty-nine of the 37 positions are vacant and will not be filled. The remaining eight cuts could involve layoffs, or not filling positions after an employee retires.

Of the eight filled positions, three are civilian employees in the sheriff’s office, three are deputies and the remaining two are under the county board office.

County officials are looking at a 5 percent cut in contracts and other costs, which is expected to save about $1 million. Another $1.15 million in savings will come from cutting the 37 positions.

The county board will vote on the new budget in November.
Sangamon County Administrator Brian McFadden said the county’s budget woes are tied to the economy and factors beyond local control.

The county, for instance, is anticipating a reduction of $525,000 in fines and fees. Some of that amount, about $275,000, is due to changes in state law.

“Two pieces of legislation that passed the General Assembly took away fee revenue from the county for sheriff’s foreclosure sales and the corporation fee the recorder charges,” McFadden said.

Pension costs are up $360,000.

McFadden said the county pays into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The IMRF has money invested in the stock market, and when returns from their investments go down, governments have to make up the difference.

“When the market took a dive a couple years ago, everyone had to kick in to make up that loss. … They give you the option to spread that payment out over a couple years. We took the option of spreading it out.”

Personnel costs make up the biggest chunk of the county’s budget, about 80 percent to 85 percent.

The new budget includes about $750,000 in raises. Pay raises for non-union employees are based on performance and can be up to 2 percent. Raises for union employees depend on individual contracts.

Earlier this year, when faced with the prospect of 14 deputies being laid off, Sangamon County deputies agreed to a pay raise of one-half of 1 percent instead of the 31/2 percent their contract called for.

Deputies are currently scheduled for a 3.8 percent pay increase. Part of that amount is to make up for the earlier wage concession.

Goleman said the county is obligated to cover the pay increases for union employees and added that non-union employees are just as important.

“We have asked all our employees to sacrifice their raises. Last year, all of them said they would take half-percent raises, and in turn, there wouldn’t be layoffs. I think they have given a lot,” Goleman said.

Treasurer, sheriff deal with budget realities

As county officials work to trim the budget, department heads such as Treasurer Tom Cavanagh are looking for ways to save money.

Cavanagh said he has gone from 14 to 10 employees over the past eight years, and he has implemented a number of policies to lessen the impact. Employees, for instance, are cross-trained in more than one job so they can fill in for co-workers.

Also, Cavanagh is putting more and more information online.
“When you put information on the Web, that reduces the volume of phone calls that come into the office. We are trying to put more and more information on the Web.”

Cavanagh also has reduced the workload for processing property tax payments by contracting with Illinois National Bank.

“That freed up staff from having to manually handle thousands of mailed-in property tax payments,” Cavanagh said.

Over at the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Neil Williamson is preparing for cuts. He expects to eliminate all of the deputy positions through retirements.

In the past, Williamson has handled personnel cuts by eliminating specialty units such as crime prevention and the drug team, and moving those deputies to street patrol.

The specialty units provided valuable services, but there was a greater need to have the deputies on the street.

This time around, the sheriff said the three cuts would come from the patrol division.

“This will put us at a critical shortage of deputies,” Williamson said. “You are going to see reduced patrolling in the county.”

Williamson added that about 90 percent of his budget is personnel costs.

“There’s no place else to cut,” he said.