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County board looks to reduce deficit

How does a county board whittle down a $416,776 budget deficit?

On Monday night, Effingham County Board members showed how it is not easy to slice into a budget that covers 146 employees, more than $10 million in the general fund and provides many vital services.

One cutback seemed easy. The County Treasurer’s office was requesting adding an employee. That is a $34,382 line item.

The question was whether it was an absolutely vital addition to that office. Tax and Finance Committee Chairman Rob Arnold said there was some leeway on that request so board members are agreeable to cutting out that expense.

But the County Health Department has made a request for $75,000 in additional funds to cover some revamping of the department as its shares its duties with Clay County. The health administrator has a dual role for both Effingham and Clay counties.

Arnold explained that is not an easy answer for now. On Monday night, it was suggested board members sit down with the health department administrator and get a full presentation on his vision for the department. Budget cuts and other issues have cut into the health department in recent years. One idea might have the county stagger those costs over three years to reduce the financial sting somewhat.

Additional cuts of $80,000 on contingencies and fewer expenses related to departments with recent retirements also pared down the deficit.

Ending the county’s participation in the Effingham County Economic Development Alliance was discussed. The county last paid $15,000, however it has an informal agreement to continue with the organization.

By the end of Monday’s gathering, the board had the deficit at $227,058. There was discussion of using part of the $2 million in reserves to cover that deficit. (See related story on the county board.) But that only concerns the next fiscal year, and there are still vexing questions on state funding as well as increasing insurance costs.

The board also fielded questions on county finances.

Alan Shumaker, of Mason, asked if the county had any buildings to sell, especially the health department office by the hospital. Board chairman Jim Niemann said county government does not own that building due to the mix of funding and regulation of the health department.

Adam Huston, of Altamont, asked about health insurance options offered to county board members. Lloyd Foster said he is not taking out health insurance through the county. Arnold offered to provide more information to Huston on the health insurance question.

There were also questions on why the county can’t cut back on salaries or positions. It was noted the county’s last round of union contracts went to arbitration, which requires a settlement on contract matters.

After the questions, board members noted Effingham County has levied the third lowest property taxes on the general fund for Illinois, based on the 2014 totals.

“I don’t think this county has been loose on spending the money it has. I think we’re very frugal,” Arnold said.

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