The hiring freeze recently enacted by the Ogle County Board paved the way Tuesday evening for approval of a staffing needs study.
The board voted 17-7 to spend up to $27,500 to hire Sikich LLP, of Naperville, to determine how many employees the county needs in several of its departments and how many it can afford.
Finance Committee Chairman Greg Sparrow, of Rochelle, recommended the move as a follow-up to implementing a hiring freeze at its Sept. 19 meeting.
Board member Lee Meyers, of Byron, was opposed to spending the money for an outside firm to do the study.
“Our department heads know their staffing needs,” he said. “If they don’t know, they shouldn’t be department heads.”
Board member Ron Colson, of Mt. Morris, asked why certain departments — Animal Control, Solid Waste, the Health Department, and the Highway Department — were excluded from the study.
Sparrow said only the departments whose budgets come from the cash-strapped General Fund will be studied.
He told the board last month that the General Fund is facing a projected deficit of $854,000 next year unless it takes steps to reduce expenses and bolster revenues.
The hiring freeze went into effect immediately.
Sparrow said 25 to 40 percent of county employees will be eligible for retirement in the next couple of years, and not refilling those positions will save the county a substantial amount of money.
The county employs more than 200 people.
Sparrow also recommended freezing wages, but no decision has been made on that.
The new fiscal year begins Dec. 1. A budget hearing is set for Oct. 30.
In a related matter, the board hiked two county fees in an effort to increase revenue for the coming year.
They increased the circuit clerk’s document storage fee and clerk’s automation fee from $10 to $25
Board member Pat Saunders voted no to both increases.
She said Judge Robert Hanson voiced his opposition at a Finance Committee meeting.
Sparrow said the other four counties in the 15th Judicial Circuit are already charging the $25 fees.
“The circuit clerk [Kim Stahl] endorses it,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to raise revenue. This is one of them.”