Madison County will hire additional public safety employees but will see cuts in several other departments after the County Board approved the budget for next year on Wednesday night.
The final vote was 24 in favor and four against. The board members who voted against the budget were Gussie Glasper, Jack Minner, Michael “Doc” Holliday and Jim Dodd. Ann Gorman was absent.
The budget makes room for an extra sheriff’s deputy, four jailers, one public defender, a deputy coroner, a probation officer in pre-trial release and, with the aid of a grant, one full-time and one part-time assistant state’s attorney.
The new hires in the public defender’s and state’s attorney’s offices were expected to take some pressure off their staff, in order to speed up the process of getting people out of the Madison County jail, which has been the subject of lawsuits due to poor conditions.
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The budget cut funding for early voting. Instead of offering 11 sites, the county allotted money for only 10 sites. Venice Township, which encompasses part of the city of Madison, was scheduled to be the site to lose early voting because it had the lowest turnout in the previous year. Venice Township is a largely African-American area.
“In my opinion, it was an intentional act to suppress the vote in Madison County,” Holliday said.
He and other county board members expressed frustration with the budget process. Instead of seeing department line items changed by the Finance Committee, they said they wished departments themselves were tasked to identify areas to save money and the things they thought were very important.
Larry Evans, an election judge, raised a challenge to the early voting cuts and said he wanted funds for it restored so the “citizens of Madison County can vote in a manner they’re accustomed to.”
“(A) full and equitable voting process is always worth the cost,” Evans said.
County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza later confirmed that Venice Township will assume early voting responsibilities.
In addition, there will be fewer election judges at every site. In the primary, there will be three instead of five, and in the general, there will be four instead of five.
Regional Superintendent of Schools Robert Daiber also raised objections to the budget of the Regional Office of Education. Madison County cut his office budget from $590,000 to $460,000, though a board member said later that the office’s budget also receives state funding.
“A cut of this magnitude is largely unheard of,” he said. “I don’t just spend money to spend it. I spend when it’s necessary.”
Daiber requested $45,000 the ROE plans to return to the county this year to be rolled back into the budget. He also requested an additional $15,000 for required operating expenses.
The recorder, Amy Meyer, called the more-than-20-percent cut to her office “draconian.”
The office, which processes documents for title companies, lenders, people buying land and others, is entirely funded by fees, and earns money for the county, she said.
“There’s no reason to do this except to use the recorder’s office as a cash cow to make the bottom line, and that is not the way to incentivize investment in Madison County,” she said.
A few board members said they planned to vote for the budget even though they didn’t like it.
“I have to vote for it because I’m afraid of what happen if we have to put it back in their hands,” Mike Parkinson said.
Other board members, mostly Republicans, praised the budget process.
“All in all, I commend the administration for letting us see how the process works,” said Lisa Ciampoli, who chairs the Finance Committee. “I’m sure we can make improvements next year.”
Philip Chapman praised additions to the public safety personnel in the county.
Don Moore said that although not everyone would be happy with the budget that some department heads said they could work with it.
“I feel pretty good,” he said.
Hearings on the budget have spanned more than 30 hours, according to a press release from County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler.
“It wasn’t easy, but in the end it was a cooperative effort by all,” he said.
The auditorium where the board meeting was held was packed with people, including more than a dozen activists protesting the cuts to early voting who wore short-sleeve T-shirts that said “Debbie has our back.”
“It appears (Prenzler) is attempting to create a situation whereby the clerk will fail in providing proper services, thus allowing his political favorite to run against her while touting her failure,” said Theresa Morrison, a member of Action Metro East, in a statement.
There were also several changes to capital improvement projects, according to Jennifer Zoelzer of the auditor’s office.
▪ Funds for the jail project increased from $2.5 million to $5.5 million.
▪ New funds for renovations at an administrative center in Wood River were set at $2.6 million.
▪ Funds for the courthouse decreased from $2.17 million to $1.58 million.
Some reductions included:
▪ The county’s retirement contributions were set to decrease from $5.3 million to $4.38 million, based on new calculations from the fund.
▪ The bridge fund was reduced from $3.8 million to $2.2 million.