EDWARDSVILLE — Madison County's proposed budget will be 3.5 percent lower than last year, and is projected by county leaders to keep the tax rate about the same.
Chairman Alan Dunstan presented a budget of $123.86 million for fiscal year 2013, including a $4.5 million reduction from last year's budget of $128.36 million, largely spurred by the loss of state and federal grants. The budget was unanimously approved by the county Finance Committee at its October meeting and it will be presented to the County Board on Wednesday.
"While this budget includes cuts to special revenue and capital project funds, it is a balanced budget that enables Madison County to provide the services our residents expect and deserve," Dunstan said. "I think Madison County is probably in better financial shape than any other county in the state of Illinois. We want to continue to be that way."
The levy, or total amount requested from taxpayers, is estimated at about $33.65 million, according to County Administrator Joseph Parente. It has gone up each year for the past several years by about $1 million to $1.5 million.
However, the proposed budget currently does not include an estimate for increased salaries, according to Chief Deputy Treasurer Jeremy Plank. Union negotiations will take place next year, and historically have been about 3 percent, he said; if that holds true, it could add another $1 million to the budget.
The budget cuts are largely due to loss of federal and state grants that funded special programs, according to county Treasurer Kurt Prenzler. Special revenue funds were cut by 7.7 percent, which includes programs such as the Healthy Homes initiative, a lead hazard control program, and the remaining job training programs funded by the federal stimulus program.
"The grants go up or down; we're at the mercy of the state and federal government on them," Parente said.
The general fund, which controls most salaries for county employees and most major operations, increased by 0.8 percent from $42.8 million to $43.1 million. No layoffs are planned, though Parente said the county may reduce a position or two by attrition.
One position is being added for foreclosure mediation as part of a program created by Chief Judge Ann Callis, and will be funded through an additional fee on foreclosure filings, Parente said. Another new position is budgeted for the health department, but will only be filled if a pending grant is approved, he said.
The probation department has been hardest-hit over the years because of cuts at both the county and state level, Parente said. About half their funding comes from the state.
Capital projects also were cut by 11.3 percent. The only major capital project on the boards right now is a proposed renovation of the Madison County Jail. Dunstan said the jail was designed for 100 inmates and currently holds an average of 300. A study is being conducted on the best way to modernize the jail.
The county currently has $1.2 million in renewable jail bonds, and Dunstan said if officials decide to go forward, they will renew the jail bonds and continue making the same payments to fund the project.
That will have the side benefit of helping the county's credit rating, he said. Currently Madison County is nearly debt-free, having paid down most of its debt with its portion of the tobacco settlements years ago. That meant the county could not improve its AA rating unless it borrowed and paid back more money. Renewing the bonds should improve the county's rating to AAA, Dunstan said.
The property tax rate for the county's portion of the bill dropped from 0.71 cents to 0.68 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value for tax year 2011 as collected in 2012. Dunstan said county officials estimate it will stay the same or go lower next year, though the exact number is not yet available.
If it remains at 0.68 cents, the owner of a house valued at $120,000 would pay about $272 a year toward running county government.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2501.