Lake County to cut another $9 million

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lake County officials for the second consecutive year are considering millions of dollars in budget cuts in light of continuing dips in revenue and a flat outlook for an economic recovery.

The proposed 2011 budget, presented to county board members Friday, calls for an operating budget of about $306 million - about $9 million less than last year.

Much of the savings will be realized with the reduction of 34 positions and shifting of nine others to be paid for outside the general fund.

Most of the reductions are a result of an accelerated retirement option the county has made available, although nine workers will be cut outright.

During the past two years, the county will have reduced the number of employee positions by 113 and cut the operating budget by about $15 million.

All departments were said to have been affected in some way, officials said.

"Everybody has worked together because everybody realized what's going on in the economy," County Board Chairman Suzi Schmidt said. "Nine million is not an easy thing to cut from the budget, especially when you cut $6 million the year before. Once again, Lake County has a balanced budget."

Drivers for the 2011 budget include a loss of about $2.7 million the county receives from various sources, including foreclosure sales and state income tax.

"The reality is, we're like anywhere else. We have less revenue coming in and we had to make cutbacks to balance our budget," County Administrator Barry Burton said. Officials estimate revenues will be flat and any recovery will not be quick.

Other items of note include a $1.1 million drop in interest income and a $2.6 million increase in pension and health benefit costs in the operating funds.

The proposed budget does not include funds for pay increases for any of the county's 2,700 full-time work force. Talks will soon begin with several unions representing 750 to 800 county workers, and any salary raises would have to be offset, county officials said.

About $800,000 in spending also is proposed to be eliminated or reduced for outside agencies or non-core services, including affordable housing, brownfields, the University of Illinois Extension and the Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"It's not a question of their program, it's one of priorities," Burton said of the proposed cut to the convention and visitors bureau from $100,000 to $50,000.

Some board members immediately voiced concern over some of those cuts, such as affordable housing, and will get the chance to make their cases during committee meetings Oct. 5 and 6. Burton cautioned anything that is restored will result in cuts elsewhere.

Board members also were told the state's economic woes have resulted in later payments, although some sources, such as the county's share of income tax, have dropped because of the economy.

"The revenue has declined but we haven't gotten shorted," said Gary Gordon, director of finance and administrative services. Still, there was concern from some board members about the state being able to pay what it owes.

"We have our reserves. We do have a safety net," Burton said.

To help balance the budget, the county also is proposing to increase user fees by an aggregate of 12 percent to "get closer to what it actually costs us to provide that service," Burton said.