DANVILLE – If the 27 members of the Vermilion County Board fail to pass a budget Wednesday, then the county government enters uncharted territory in Illinois and would be in violation of state statute, according to legal opinion.
Based on research and advice from the Illinois attorney general's office, the county cannot incur any expenses or any debt in the new fiscal year without a budget in place, said State's Attorney Frank Young.
"The statute is pretty clear," Young said.
In reviewing Illinois Supreme Court cases, Young said there have been some counties that mistakenly did not have a budget in place by the new fiscal year, but no county in the state has ever purposely missed the budget deadline.
At its next meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Vermilion County annex, county board members will vote on a proposed budget for the fiscal year, which begins Thursday. The board also will consider the next property tax levy, which would be a 20 percent increase over last year's levy and a 23 cent tax rate hike for property owners.
The proposed increase means the tax rate for the county's portion of property taxes would increase from $1.22 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.45 per $100. The owner of a $60,000 home with no exemptions would see the county portion of their property tax bill increase $69, and the owner of a $100,000 home would see about a $76 increase.
The spending plan, which reflects more than one round of cuts, including at least a dozen personnel positions, has generated controversy among board members and within the community. Some residents have spoken out against the proposed property tax increase while others are against the impact of cuts on county services.
The county finance committee, which drafted both versions of the budget and levy, brought the original spending plan to the county board on Oct. 11.
The full board approved it for display with no discussion.
More than two weeks later, more than 200 people packed the county board meeting room for a truth-in-taxation hearing to speak against a proposed 27 percent increase in the county's property tax levy.
That disapproval carried over to the board's next meeting, when a majority of the board voted down the budget and levy, asking for more cuts. The finance panel then made more cuts, resulting in the present tentative budget and levy, reducing the proposed tax increase from 27 percent to 20 percent.
Some county board members are still not satisfied with the budget and levy, but with the new fiscal year just days away, they have run out of time to make changes.
About two weeks ago, they approved the revised budget and levy for public display, but some board members suggested moving into the new fiscal year without a budget in place to allow more time to rework the plan.
But Young said statute and previous case law are clear that the county is not allowed to incur any expenses or in any way encumber the county without a budget in place by Dec. 1. In addition, if the county does not approve its levy by the second week of December, it also cannot collect any taxes.
The spending plan, which includes at least $109,000 in personnel cuts in various county departments, projects $45.8 million in expenditures and $45.3 million in revenues. The positions identified for elimination were two animal regulation employees, two courthouse bailiffs, two circuit clerk clerical workers, two jail correctional officers, a county board labor relations clerk, a health educator position and two probation officers.
Without the proposed increase in the tax levy, which is projected to be about $11.7 million, the county would end up with more than a $3 million deficit.