County talks FY23 budget

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After department-level hearings last month, a special meeting Nov. 7 and a regular meeting Monday morning, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners is nearly ready to approve the county budget for Fiscal Year 2023.

Discussions at last Monday’s special meeting centered on options for two separate 5 percent increases.

The first debate was whether to increase the county tax levy 5 percent in keeping with the property tax extension limitation law, or to increase the levy 6.5 percent to include an allowable “new growth” additional tax.

Board chairman Dennis Knobloch said the additional 1.5 percent – which amounts to a little under $100,000 – would provide a “bigger base to build on” for the county during uncertain economic times.

Commissioners ultimately decided to keep the increase to only 5 percent, citing the county’s sound financial position, not wanting to overtax residents and a desire to avoid a “truth in taxation” hearing which would be required for any increase over 5 percent or the current PTELL level.

The other 5 percent commissioners pondered last week involved Monroe County employee salaries.

Commissioners debated for the amount of pay increase for all employees at the courthouse, ultimately favoring 5 percent raises. The increase is expected to increase county payroll expenditures between $125,000 and $150,000.

With the two areas of budget uncertainty cleared up,  Monroe County Treasurer Kevin Koenigstein gave an updated overview of the proposed FY23 budget during Monday’s meeting.

Koenigstein said FY22 was a “very good year” for the county financially. 

Using the trend from the current year, he anticipates $10.5 to $11 million in revenues to be collected in FY23 against slightly more than $10.4 million in projected expenses.

Koenigstein pointed out the revenue line on the FY23 budget will reflect revenue closer to $11.5 million. He explained the total revenue projected for the next fiscal year includes real estate tax payments for FY22 which are not due until Dec. 16.

Dec. 1 marks the beginning of FY23. 

At last week’s special meeting, Koenigstein reiterated inflation as one cause for the increase in sales tax revenue, with both the one quarter percent supplemental tax and one percent sales tax collections projected above recent fiscal years.

Another unexpected boon for county revenue is interest on deposits. The projection at the beginning of the year was $5,000, but as bank interest rates have risen dramatically during FY22, the reported interest collected for the current fiscal year is nearly $67,000. 

The FY23 budget projects $200,000 in investment interest to be collected. 

Commissioners are expected to pass the final FY23 budget at its next regular meeting on Dec. 5.

The proposed budget is available for viewing online at monroecountyil.gov/budgets.

The county will be earning interest beyond FY23 as the result of a vote Monday to deposit American Rescue Plan Act funds into several certificate of deposit accounts.

The action will take $4.5 million from the county’s allotment of a little more than $6.7 million of federal ARPA funds.

Since the ARPA funds are not allocated for immediate county use, the money will be used to gain interest which will then be entered into the county’s general fund upon account maturity. 

The money will be put in four short-term investment accounts: $500,000 in a CD bearing 3.5 percent interest; $1 million in a 12-month CD at 3.75 percent; another $1 million in an 18-month CD at 3.85 percent; and $2 million in a 24-month CD, also gaining 3.85 percent interest.

All the deposits will be made with Dieterich Bank in Waterloo.

In other action from Monday’s meeting, commissioners approved a revised plan to repair malfunctions with UHF and VHF radio communication equipment used by the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency and seven area fire departments.

At last Monday’s meeting, Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe reported an issue with one of the radios which prevented a page to be received by the Red Bud Fire Department.

Initially, Scheibe believed the problem could be solved by repairing existing equipment in an amount not to exceed $20,000. Upon further inspection, Scheibe told commissioners Monday it should consider purchasing digital pagers rather than complete an overhaul of the existing UHF/VHF equipment.

“We’re living on borrowed time with Red Bud” using the current system, Scheibe said, adding that much of the equipment is nearly 20 years old.

He estimated the cost to completely fix all radios and transmitters would be $230,000, with at least an 11-month lead time for order fulfillment.

Scheibe said the newer paging system, in addition to being more effective, would only cost $83,790 to provide 140 pagers to personnel at all fire departments within 90-120 days. 

The older system would be used as a backup. 

Commissioners passed a resolution to purchase the pagers pending a satisfactory meeting Tuesday during which Scheibe would discuss the matter with area fire chiefs.

Scheibe said he also wanted to ensure there were no significant coverage issues with the new system before completing the purchase.

Commissioners also approved a $2.8 million plan for “mitigation and revision” at the Monroe County Jail. 

Monroe County Maintenance Director Joe Lewis was also on hand to explain minor revisions to the previously reported jail expansion plan presented to the county board in early October.

Lewis explained the expansion of the jail will require a change to the original parking lot plan in which additional spaces would need to be created near the area of an existing parking lot at a cosmetology school across East Third Street just south of the jail.

He continued by saying the Monroe County Highway Department could potentially do “in-house” work on the new parking area if its use is approved by the City of Waterloo.

Lewis said a special use permit may be needed to create an area of “impervious ground” in the city, and he is currently in discussion with Waterloo Zoning Administrator Nathan Krebel about the situation.

Lewis said dirt work for the new parking area could begin early next year – although he would have to wait for warmer weather to  do any asphalt work.

Knobloch pointed out the jail project is being funded through ARPA.

The next regular county board meeting takes place at 8:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 5, at the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo.

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