Tom Kacich: County board looking line by line for budget fix

Tom Kacich: County board looking line by line for budget fix

Champaign County Board members who want to both keep the county nursing home under public control and avoid layoffs in other departments are getting deeply immersed in the county budget in advance of a critical meeting.

The choices are not easy.

"I've been in meetings for more than five hours over the last few weeks and I haven't even been at all of the meetings," said Champaign Democrat Stephanie Fortado, appointed to the county board in June and already the deputy chair of the finance committee. "We're just going through the budget line by line. If you come up with a scenario, we've probably already talked about it."

County board Democrats, who last month voted against putting the money-losing nursing home up for sale, have to find an estimated $1.4 million of budget cuts or new revenue to balance the county's spending plan for the year beginning Jan. 1.

Fortado's goal, she said, is to "make sure the nursing home stays public, but I also want to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure that the cuts don't hurt personnel.

"There are no easy answers. When the whole board comes together (at a committee of the whole meeting) is when we're going to have those conversations. But we haven't found the one silver bullet."

The outgoing county administrator and department heads who have been consulted said that any cuts will take away valued services, such as the re-entry program that serves people recently released from prison, the Youth Assessment Center which works with troubled youth, or possibly polling places in next year's elections.

"The places where we've found to cut the budget are undesirable. No one will recommend that we do that," said County Administrator Rick Snider, who will leave the county staff later this month. "Department heads won't do it. I won't do it."

State's Attorney Julia Rietz, County Clerk Gordy Hulten and other department heads will argue — as they did in July — against cutting the county's general budget in order to maintain the nursing home. The facility continues to lose money, it owes the county general fund almost $2 million and its census remains around 140, about 57 percent of capacity.

"Should we get to a point where cuts need to be made, then choices need to be made, and those choices are going to come down to non-essential, nonstatutory services or personnel," said Rietz, who said she opposes cutting, for example, the re-entry program.

"The stark reality," said Hulten, "is that we cannot continue to increase a subsidy to the Champaign County Nursing Home without cutting core county services."

In his department's case, Hulten said, that would mean cutting election services and then cutting personnel.

If asked to cut $35,000 from his budget, Hulten said the first thing to go would be 14 of the county's 96 polling places. If another $35,000 is required, it would mean the loss of all early voting locations except his office at the Brookens Center. Anything beyond that would mean cutting staff.

"And we're already down about 10 percent from where we were when I took office," Hulten said.

But board members like Urbana Democrat Steve Summers contend that Republican board members would have undercut any chance for the nursing home to succeed with the six-month budget they supported, and that they made balancing the budget more difficult by setting the salary for the county executive (an office to be elected next November) at $117,269 rather than the $70,000 Democrats favored.

Fixing the budget, Fortado said, is going to require the collaboration of all county board members.

"I don't have a quick answer like, 'Here on line 17, there's something we've been looking for,'" she said. "I don't think it's going to be much of a simple process. It's going to have to be worked out when we all come together."

Blanks on Republican ballot?

We're now less than a month from the deadline for Republicans to fill two major positions on the statewide ballot — comptroller and treasurer — and the party apparently still doesn't have candidates.

A spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party said there's nothing new to report, and area GOP leaders said they're unaware of any movement toward finding candidates to run next year against Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza or Democratic Treasurer Mike Frerichs.

In order to get the names of candidates on the March 20 ballot, Republicans would have to collect between 5,000 and 10,000 signatures on petitions by Dec. 4, with the Thanksgiving holiday in there too.

Republicans have an out, if they don't mind being portrayed as the party of insiders that picks and chooses its candidates — a charge they used to hurl at Democrats.

According to the State Board of Elections, the party central committee could slate candidates after the primary. Each one of the candidates could get on the November ballot by collecting between 5,000 and 10,000 signatures on petitions and filing them by June 4.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter an columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-52321 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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Bystander wrote on November 05, 2017 at 7:11 am
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Board member Fortado should know there is a silver bullet to solve the budget problem: sell the nursing home. 

pattsi wrote on November 05, 2017 at 9:11 am

The best description of the nursing home issue is working through a terrible divorce where parties do not talk with each other and all caused by the tsumani of past CB "kicking the can down road." This CB is slammed against a brick wall with no doors or windows. The latter did not have to be the case had the referendum, which was on the Nov. 2016, to inrease the facility sales tax by a quarter cent had passed. By now had that passed there would be an additional 4.5 M in the general fund. And 40% of those monies would have been generated by people coming into CC, spending in CC, but not living in CC.

Unfortunately, the counter campaign to passage of that referendum, which I worked to get on that ballot with the vote of CB members, were two slogans--"don't put grandma out on the curb" and "money would be used to build a NEW jail." Well it is very clear had the referendum passed we would not be having conversations about the nursing home vs trimming back on statutory responsibilities along with discretionary fundings. Second, there has never been a conversation about building a NEW jail. There have been conversations as to the cost to repair/renovate the downtown jail and meet the DOJ mandates vs closing that jail and adding to the satellite jail to accommodate the downtown jail population along with behavorial health provisions in the jail and the community. The cost to the county to out source prisoners who are greater in number than the satellite jail can house is 1M annually.  I am looking forward to the final Racial Justice TF report to learn about the suggested means to reduce jail population that the county can effect.

Back to the downtown jail--if the sheriff's office is moved and a decision is made that it does not make sense to spend money on repairing that facility vs improving the satellite jail opens the possibility of the county repurposing that building and land. This would fit into the growing plans of the city of Urbana to redevelop the downtown area. Now  this will not happen yesterday, but is more like a 5 year plan. If this should happen, then there is money for the county to provide a venue for a centrally located behavioral health center that all entities agree is needed, but not one of the many entities is willing to step forward to push a plan;  The entities include 2 hospitals, MHB, CUPHD, cities of Champaign and Urbana, the county, police departments and judiciary, UIUC. All of these need to be involved via an IGA that states total support both in principle and financial for such a center. The need for a behavioral health has recently been chosen as the top goal for the updated CUPHD I-Plan.

Since the Unit 4 property tax bills will be in the mail come spring of 2018 that critical mass of county voters will be reminded what is the actual increase in property tax, respectively. This creates a sense that there might not be a wlllingness to increase property taxes once again, nor increase the sales tax (though this is the best approach to generate additional monies), vote to move the county to home rule, nor remove tax caps. So the bottomline is that the county has to figure out how to most effectively, efficiently, prudent, and ethically use the taxpayer monies.

787 wrote on November 05, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Surely these democrats wouldn't be stupid enough to suggest cutting polling places, would they?

Everytime that someone else mentions it, they throw a fit.   But of course, somehow it would be "different", when a democrat suggests that it be done.   

cjw61822@hotmail.com wrote on November 05, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Hey   I know................

 

how about a "beverage tax" like they did in Crook County.  The D could mark it to  "save grandman and grandpa from the streets"  It would bring in HUGE money.. add to it a plastic bag tax liike Tommy B  wanted.  That would bring in HUGE money and save the environment too...

 

oh wait................

 

crook county sales tax cratered and have cratererd since this stupid idea went into effect.

 

Remind me again how the ballot referendum went?  For the sale right?

 

But blame a 1.3 million dollar shortfall on a difference of 40 k in someone salary.

 

You guys just define stupid.

rsp wrote on November 05, 2017 at 1:11 pm

You would be surprised how fast a little here and a little there add up.

scott_tapley wrote on November 05, 2017 at 4:11 pm

RSP, after a little bailout here and another little gift there, and CCNH having dug an $8 million hole in the County general fund (not including about $7 million in deferred maintenance), we are all well aware of how "a little here and there" can add up over 15 years.

The solution is easy. Peel off the blinders and sell CCNH before it bankrupts our entire county government.

rsp wrote on November 05, 2017 at 1:11 pm

Gordy says it can't come out of his budget because it would hurt elections. Isn't he the one who wanted to reduce the number of places on campus? Maybe he's just against the nursing home. Other areas have reduced voting sites based on need for different elections. The county is in need of money and they need to get their heads out of their you-know-whats and grow up. Consolidating is not denying anyone they right to vote.

You don't need to give a big fat salary to a new position to get someone to apply. The whole idea was to save money, not an excuse to spend money. The median household income is less than half that.

Why the refusal to combine the records offices? They all store records? Marriage records, birth records, death records, land records. Election records. Business records. Business records are in both offices. Why two people to run them? I know, there's the help your friend get-promoted-to-the-next-electable-postion position, but it costs a lot of money to the taxpayers.

I've always wondered why there haven't been deals were Champaign and Urbana and County buy salt for the streets in bulk if they could get a better price that way. That's just an example.

There have to be ways to be cost efficient but if your only focus is on you don't like the nursing home or you don't like the person sitting across from you it will never work.

pattsi wrote on November 05, 2017 at 1:11 pm

The buying of road salt is done through the state salt program. The county does this as do the unicipalities. The state can leverage a much better price than the entities in CC.

bertstabler wrote on November 05, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Just a bit of clarification on Pattsi's claims. Having included a very expensive jail construction plan in a package with the funding to do necessary maintenance on county facilities and fund the nursing home was both cynical and unwise. 

I for one would be extremely happy to see the CB broker a deal to establish a behavioral health center, but I think many community members will resist predicating that center (once again) on jail construction-  which now explicity is set to include a number of solitary cells.

pattsi wrote on November 05, 2017 at 7:11 pm

Mr. Stabler how would you have packaged the ask to increase sales tax, keeping in mind that the voter has the tolenance for just one ask. The quarter cent generate sufficient monies to cover the project 10 years of "kick the can down the road" facility maintenance at en estimated 4M/year and would allow some rearranging within th general fund budget to support the nursing home. In addition having the quarter cent monies was very efficient because the plan was a pay as you go, but for the addition to the jail at 5-8M. In other words all of the quarter cent dollars went to work for the county not to pay interest on bonds. A very important point when one takes time to aggregate how much the county has spent over time on bond interest.

Next what is your suggestion to handle those individual who have to be in jail if the down town jail is closed and no additional spaces are costructed at the satellite jail? Further, how do you plan to handle those prisoners who need separation spaces if those are no included in the addition. Right now the county often times has to out source prisoners because there is not sufficient spaces for separation either in the downtown jail or the satellite jail. Doing this has costs as I mentioned at 1 M/annually. In 5 years, one has almost paid for the construction of additional spaces at the satellite jail.

Not once, so far, has there been a concrete plan to address the above been brought to the CB with the suggestion that several of the group along with CB members sit down and discuss how to implement what is so often mentioned during public presentation. I can assure you that the CB would find it refreshing if this every happened. It is very easy to sit bac and pontificate and much harder to come up with feasible, concrete alternative plans.

scott_tapley wrote on November 05, 2017 at 6:11 pm

When will the N-G editors stop portraying the dithering Democrats as tireless public servants just looking for budget fixes and grappling with choices that aren't easy?

Looking for solutions sounds admirable on the surface. But when that's all you can come up with after 15 years of $500,000+/year losses, and voters rejected 2 tax hikes and authorized a sale, it is evidence of dangerous denial.

Champaign County Democrats deserve to be held in the highest form of contempt for their refusal to carry out the wishes of county voters, and for their willful blindness toward their self-made budget crisis.

Saying you're working hard to prevent hurting people with budget cuts is hollow virtue signaling. It also demonstrates that County Board members apparently don't understand that the only thing left to cut from County finances due to years of being bled dry by the failing nursing home is more jobs.

It's time to stop pretending. And it's time for the N-G editors to stop enabling the charade. Republicans funded a County Health Dept they, and the voters in their districts, did not support. It's time for the Democrats to do the right thing and sell the bankrupt CCNH before it's too late.