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County budget offers good news

The county's proposed budget for 2013 offers good news in several areas.


Members of the Ogle County Board voiced no objections when Finance Committee Chairman Kim Gouker, Byron, presented the $44.7 million document at a hearing Monday evening.


The board is expected to vote on the budget at its Nov. 20 meeting.


The total appropriations exceeds the 2012 appropriations of $36.2 million by $8.5 million but includes paying off $10.3 million in debt still owed for the construction of the $15 million judicial center, completed in 2005.


The budget allows for paying off the outstanding bonds on the building in February, approximately 10 years early.


Gouker said the early pay-off will save the county $2.7 million in interest. 


Payments on the bonds are approximately $1.2 million per year, with a portion of that going toward interest.


The proposed budget resolves several sticking points from the last two years, Gouker told the board.


The biggest controversy in the last two budgets has been borrowing money from a protected fund to make ends meet, a practice he said has been eliminated.


"After two years of work, we have eliminated the extra funding of the General Fund from the Long Range Planning Fund," he said. "We're keeping Long Range intact for the purpose it was intended."


Several years ago, Long Range was designated by the county board for major, one-time only expenses that will benefit multiple departments, for land purchases, and for building projects, such as the judicial center, and the $7.5 million courthouse renovation finished in 2010.


However, for each of the last two years, money from Long Range was transferred to the General Fund to cover departmental expenses such as utility bills and service contracts.


Revenues in Long Range come from the host fees paid to the county by garbage companies to dump refuse in the county's landfills. 


The fund currently is expected to begin the fiscal year with a balance of $8.9 million and is budgeted to gain an additional $2.8 million from host fees in 2013 as well as 35,000 in interest.


The money to pay off the judicial center bonds will come from Long Range.


Salaries for each department are also "fully funded including raises," Gouker said, eliminating the need for layoffs.


Wages were frozen for many employees for the last two years, and employees were laid off in some departments.


Gouker said the Finance Committee worked with department heads over the last several months to cut out over-budgeting in some areas.


"We didn't plan for the '100-year flood'," he said.


Instead each department has a contingency line item, proportionate to its total budget, he said. The contingencies total $100,000.


In addition, a contingency of $175,000 is budgeted for the Finance Committee to cover unexpected legal fees, insurance costs, and other expenses, Gouker said.


The total projected revenues for the General Fund, the county's largest fund, are estimated at $13.2 million with appropriations of $13.1 million, an increase of $1.5 million from 2012 in both areas.


Departments that fall under the General Fund include the Sheriff's Department; Corrections; Building & Grounds; Emergency Communications; Ogle County Emergency Management Agency; County Clerk & Recorder; County Clerk Elections; Treasurer; Health, Education & Welfare; Regional Office of Education; Judiciary; Circuit Clerk; Probation; Focus House; Assessment; Zoning; Coroner; State's Attorney; Administrator; Information Technology; Insurance; and Finance.


Board chairman Jim Barnes, Oregon, commended Gouker, the Finance Committee, and the department heads.


"You've done a good job. I thank you," he said.

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