Metro-East News

No pay raises for county employees in St. Clair County draft budget

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department
The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department File photo

A budget that includes no pay raises for county employees could complicate next year’s negotiations with the union that represents sheriff’s deputies.

“It’s probably unlikely that they’re going to accept a 0-percent raise,” Maj. Thomas Knapp said about the union.

The Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to a request for comment.

St. Clair County expects to spend 7 percent more from the general revenue fund in 2018, but very little of the additional spending will go toward personnel.

The budget calls for about $35.8 million in general revenue spending, up about $2.4 million from the $33.4 million spent this year. Only about $240,000 of the increase, or 10 percent, is going to salaries, as county employees will forgo pay raises next year unless otherwise stipulated by contract.

The County Board delayed a vote on the budget at its November meeting and is expected to vote on it Dec. 18.

A pay raise of 1.5 percent in last year’s budget came after a countywide departmental budget cut of 10 percent in 2016. At the time, Sheriff Rick Watson said that residents may have to wait longer for deputies to respond. Today, he is still not pleased with response times.

“Our response time is not where it should be,” he said Nov. 27. County politicians of both parties would agree that there needs to be more staff, he added later.

“That’s all due to staffing,” Knapp said. There are between six and seven deputies and supervisors per shift, he said. He would like to see one more deputy per shift.

In other expenditures, the jail population project was removed from the budget because the project ended. The project, which ran for about three years, supported additional help in the public defender’s office to give attorneys more time to investigate and present information about their clients for judges that would allow them to make more informed decisions about bail, said former Chief Judge John Baricevic.

The jail population project was removed from the budget because the project ended. The project, which ran for about three years, supported additional help in the public defender’s office to give attorneys more time to investigate and present information about their clients for judges that would allow them to make more informed decisions about bail.

The idea behind the program was that more information would allow judges to set lower bail amounts so that defendants facing less serious charges could make bond and therefore lower jail costs, including food, safety and operations.

“Long story short, our jail population went from 500 a day to between 375 and 425,” Baricevic said. “It absolutely worked.”

The average jail population in 2017 through mid-November was 392 people, according to a year-end report from the sheriff’s office. When the jail filled up before the project, as many as 70 people were sometimes taken to a gym to stay overnight where they were watched by one guard, Baricevic said.

Now that the program has ended, however, it is unknown what will happen with the jail population.

Public Defender Rick Roustio could not be reached for comment.

Ken Easterley, who chairs the Finance Committee, noted several challenges to the county in a memo to Chairman Mark Kern, including:

▪  More than $5.3 million in unpaid state funds for probation services.

▪  $800,000 to pay for bailiffs and dispatching services due to fee reductions and delayed payments from municipalities.

▪  $800,000 in reductions by the state in Personal Property Replacement Tax payments.

Kern did not respond to a request for comment.

New revenue includes fuel sales from increased passengers, as well as parking fees from MidAmerica Airport beginning in April are expected to generate about $320,000 in 2018 and $1.2 million in 2019.

The airport released plans for expansion through 2023 at a Public Building Commission meeting Nov. 20.

In 2018, the airport plans to expand the passenger terminal and rehabilitate airport access roads. In 2019, the airport will buy a snow broom and continue expanding the passenger terminal. And in 2020, the airport will expand the runway shoulder and build blast pads for large Boeing 747 planes.

Airport Director Tim Cantwell could not be reached for comment about the budget.

County Clerk Tom Holbrook’s office saw substantial increases because of upcoming elections. There are two next year, a primary and a general election. Unfunded state mandates that began in the past few years, like a required number of early voting sites and same-day registration, were the largest increases to his budget, he said.

The Parks Department also saw large increases in its budget. Although its budget for full-time salaries fell by two-thirds, it was injected with $1.5 million for community development programs that will pay for improvements to municipal parks, financial analyst Sue Schmidt explained.

The line item for land purchases also increased, from $100,000 to $450,000.

Several departments show fluctuations in their budgets compared with last year from departmental reorganizations, expired grants and closed funds, Schmidt said.

Among those changes include the elimination of the automation fund, which was primarily filled by fees. There wasn’t enough money coming in to pay for expenses, so the general fund had to make up for it anyway. The fees previously going to the automation fund will now go directly to the general fund, Schmidt said.

In addition, the landfill surcharge fund evaporated after the Milam Landfill near Gateway Motorsports Park closed. The surcharge primarily funded the sheriff’s department, and the $1.3 million shortfall was made up by the general revenue fund.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel

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