Metro-East News

For years, St. Clair County helped pay employees in other counties. That’s changing.

Listen to the difference between Madison and St. Clair County Board meetings

Board meetings in St. Clair County and Madison County are very different. St. Clair County's meetings are short and streamlined, while Madison County's are often lengthy with lots of discussion and debate.
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Board meetings in St. Clair County and Madison County are very different. St. Clair County's meetings are short and streamlined, while Madison County's are often lengthy with lots of discussion and debate.

St. Clair County could save at least $100,000 annually after eliminating salary and benefit contributions for eight probation officers who were never employees of the county to begin with.

County Board Chairman Mark Kern said St. Clair County is “not responsible” to help pay for those employees, who work for other counties in the Illinois Twentieth Judicial Circuit courts.

The discussion came during a budget caucus hearing Monday night before the St. Clair County Board.

Paul Sullivan, a union representative for the Illinois Federation of Public Employees, said the move to cease funding for those positions represents “unfair labor relations” because there was no change to the employees’ collective bargaining agreements. The employees work in Washington, Perry, Monroe and Randolph counties.

“These salaries and benefits have been included in this budget for decades,” Sullivan said. “If the county board takes these steps, you’re sending a clear message to our members that you do not support the men and women of the probation department.”

But the county chairman said neither county administrators nor county board members ever signed off on any such agreements. The employees’ wages and benefits are the responsibility of the counties they work for, he added.

“Although they work for the Circuit, and although the chief judge is a St. Clair County judge, that doesn’t mean those eight employees are employees of St. Clair County,” Kern said. “It isn’t that we don’t value probation at all. It’s just that those employees should work for the counties they represent.”

Kern said the eight employees are an “unfunded pension liability” who “don’t live or work in our county.”

Sullivan said removing the employees from the St. Clair County health plan will be harmful to those employees and won’t save county taxpayers any money. The outer counties pay for the salaries and benefits, he argued, disputing Kern’s claims. The chairman argued the county’s health care benefits are funded through property taxes, and so St. Clair County property owners subsidize those benefits.

Kern said St. Clair County warned the other counties about their plans to eliminate funding as early as two years ago.

Sullivan said his group plans to address the county’s move with the labor relations board.

County Board members went on to approve $35.1 million in general fund budget appropriations for fiscal year 2019. The change from fiscal year 2018, a $260,353 difference, represents a less than 1 percent increase.

The following departments saw significant cuts:

Emergency Management Agency: 20 percent decrease ($208,415) because of a decrease in dispatching service costs;

Recorder of Deeds: 19 percent decrease ($53,268) because of a decrease in full-time payroll;

Superintendent of Schools: 18 percent decrease ($53,211) because of an eliminated lease payment and custodial services;

County Clerk Elections: 18 percent decrease ($53,211) because of reduced need for election judges in April elections.

Some departments saw increased budgets:

County Board Administration: 57 percent increase ($96,807) for the addition of a full-time financial analyst to work with the county’s current financial analyst, Sue Schmidt;

Coroner: 16 percent increase ($85,564) for full-time payroll expenses and greater autopsy service needs;

Data processing: 41 percent increase ($597,818) for equipment and software purchases.

The budget for the Sheriff’s Department remained largely the same, increasing by 1 percent for administration and patrols, and decreasing by less than 1 percent for jail services.

In other business

County Board members honored Frank “F.X.” Heiligenstein, who lost his seat on the board to a Republican challenger in the Nov. 6 elections. Heiligenstein, a Democrat from Freeburg, served on the board for 42 years.

In remarks to the County Board, Heiligenstein, 71, said he enjoyed his years serving the county and said “there are plenty of positions” open in Freeburg. Bert “Dean” Pruett will take his place on the board.

Heiligenstein is a fifth-generation county board member over 122 years since 1896.

Frank With Cards Prosthetic.jpg
Former St. Clair County Board Member Frank “F.X.” Heiligenstein poses with his St. Louis Cardinals-themed prosthetic leg. Heiligenstein had his leg amputated because of complications with diabetes. Provided

Born in 1941, Heiligenstein went on to pursue a long career in public service. He earned a Master’s Degree in government, international affairs and public administration. As a student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, he was elected to the village board at the age of 21. He later served on the Freeburg Park Board and then the St. Clair County Board.

In addition to his work as owner and operator of Illinois Codification Services, Heiligenstein taught social studies at Mascoutah and Belleville East High Schools for 30 years.

He has two children with his wife, Georgia.

Kelsey Landis is a watchdog and local government reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat. She focuses on informing you about how public figures are using your tax dollars, and that includes keeping an eye out for wasteful spending.