Metro-East News

Slower police response? St. Clair County asks department heads to cut budget 10 percent

St. Clair County highway workers put a rock-fill mix into a washout along Frank Scott Parkway, then tamped in cold-patch over it to prevent future erosion.
St. Clair County highway workers put a rock-fill mix into a washout along Frank Scott Parkway, then tamped in cold-patch over it to prevent future erosion.

In order to help the county cut its budget by 10 percent, some residents might have to wait a little longer for a St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputy to respond to a scene.

“I’m sure there will be times people will have to wait for a deputy to show up at their house or show to their accident,” said St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson.

St. Clair County is in the process of building its budget for next fiscal year, which begins on Jan. 1, and county officials are looking for a 10 percent reduction in expenses.

Department heads are being asked to come up with the cost savings, said Interim Director of Administration Debra Moore.

“Each department has the responsibility of getting to that number,” Moore said. “They might be able to get it through non-personnel costs.”

“It’s at the discretion of each department head,” she added. “In some cases, we might be able to redistribute some dollars, but in others, we might have to take a direct reduction for those individual departments.”

For the sheriff’s office, the county’s largest department, asking for a 10 percent reduction could mean losing six to eight positions among corrections officers, patrol personnel and bailiffs, Watson said.

The sheriff’s office would not replace people who are expected to retire, possibly avoiding layoffs of employees, according to Watson.

“Luckily, I have a big department and have a lot of retirements coming up and things like that. I won’t replace those people,” Watson said.

How it would affect service would depend on call volume, he said.

Luckily, I have a big department and have a lot of retirements coming up and things like that, I won’t replace those people.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson

Watson added budgets have been tight for several years, and cutbacks could lead to diminishing returns.

“You can only cut so much and maintain what you’ve done with a higher staff,” he said.

The county’s general fund budget for 2015 is $35.1 million. That budget covers general county operations, including within the clerk’s office, circuit clerk, general administration, treasurer’s office, human resources, animal control, sheriff’s office and assessor’s office, among other functions.

The county is in the midst of a hiring freeze in an effort to save money.

As of mid-September of this year, the county had employed 955 people.

In 2014, the county had 1,051 employees. In 2013, 1,085 people were employed by the county, according to records.

Moore said the reduction in employees has been through attrition, as some people have retired or left to take other jobs.

“We have not experienced layoffs,” Moore said. “I cannot predict the future.”

We must cut back. We must anticipate ... being hit pretty heavy ... We don’t have the revenue that we once had.

Debra Moore, St. Clair County interim director of administration

The budget for 2016 is expected to be completed in December rather than the traditional November, Moore said.

“We are impacted by outliers, those being state impasse (and) unfunded mandates that have been levied upon St. Clair County and other counties,” Moore said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly have not been able to come to an agreement on a state budget for its fiscal year that began on July 1.

Proposals for reducing money given to municipalities through the local government distributive fund and talk of requiring a property tax freeze has helped lead to the 10 percent reduction goal.

“We must cut back,” Moore said. “We must anticipate ... being hit pretty heavy. We don’t have the revenue that we once had.”

Counties and municipalities around the state have been waiting for payments from Illinois, including late payments for emergency telecommunications, delays in motor fuel tax funding, and probation services funding.

“It’s a difficult position this county and others are in to provide service that are not the counties’ statutory responsibility,” Moore said.

The highway department itself won’t be replacing three maintenance workers who have left recently, said County Engineer Jim Fields.

The rest of the savings would come from office supplies.

1,085 People employed by St. Clair County in 2013

1,051 People employed by St. Clair County in 2014

955 People employed by St. Clair County as of mid-September

He said the department already has the materials, including its contracted amount of salt, to get through the upcoming winter.

“We’ll get by,” Fields said. “It won’t affect the maintenance of the roads.”

The department has reconfigured snow plow routes so workers move more efficiently, he said.

Fields is concerned about motor fuel taxes being held by the state and not being distributed to the local entities because of a lack of a state budget.

“If they don’t pick up again, we’ll have to make other provisions of where to get the funds,” Fields said. “We’re watching it and saving where we can.”

Moore also pointed to the new requirement in place to pay jurors $50 a day after the second day of jury duty, and the possible cost of needing to register voters on election days at polling places, as other costs to the county.

Moore said it takes money away from other county services.

There is a desire by County Board Chairman Mark Kern to offer a small pay increase of 1.5 to 2 percent, and administration officials are trying to work their way toward that, Moore said.

“We like to move forward to start to build a budget recognizing the need for a decrease, but at the same time, with hard work and commitment we can continue to offer great service for St. Clair County residents,” Moore said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter