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Financial plan gains support

Issue may be on the county board agenda

Published: Friday, July 13, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 13, 2012 11:42 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Vern Gottel, R-rural Sterling, has been on the Lee County Board for only 9 months. But he has been key in drafting a long-range financial plan that could change Lee County government as we know it.

For the past week, he has appeared before county board committees to make the case that county government needs to transform itself.

He has called for more transparency on the county’s website.

Other members, including Chairman Jim Seeberg, R-Ashton, and John Ferrone, R-Dixon, have resisted that idea. Ferrone said if residents want more information, they can go to the courthouse to get it.

Gottel, who retired as Sterling’s community services director in 2010, rejects that philosophy. He said that when he joined the board, he was advised he could get all the information he needed if he attended all committee meetings.

“I was told the information was there if you dig for it,” he told the board’s Executive Committee on Thursday. “Information should be made available to the public. I’m a clarity person. I want to discuss things in the open.”

Gottel has been the spokesman for a three-member ad hoc committee that drafted the financial plan. The main proposal is to hire a county administrator who, the committee said, would bring in grants and serve as a point person for information.

The plan also recommends hiring an outside firm to conduct a staffing review to determine how the county can cut costs. It also calls for developing a fund to take care of capital improvements such as replacing roofs and vehicles.

The board formed the committee because the county expects to lose $1 million in annual revenue from the landfill starting in late 2013.

This would be a big hit to the county. This year’s general fund budget is $8.3 million, with a deficit of $1.1 million, which is offset by landfill revenue.

The committee got an indication Thursday that Seeberg would place the long-range plan on the board’s agenda for Tuesday.

At the Executive Committee, though, Seeberg wondered how the county could go ahead with the plan because it didn’t know all of the costs.

Gottel conceded the point, but he said the ad hoc committee wanted a litmus test to see whether the board wants professional management and an outside review of staffing.

“Midterm, they’ll pay for themselves,” he said.

Seeberg questioned whether it was appropriate for the board to vote now on the plan because eight members will leave when their terms end Nov. 30.

Gottel replied that it was the right time, saying it was a chance for the departing members to contribute to the county’s future.

Ed Fritts, R-Dixon, another member of the ad hoc committee, agreed, saying the county shouldn’t “kick the can down the road” any longer.

The other ad hoc committee member, Dick Binder, R-Compton, said the plan was the first phase. The county would later have “implementation action plans” to make things happen.

“We’re not saying we’re hiring a county administrator,” Binder said. “We’re saying we’re looking into it.”

Seeberg said he liked Binder’s explanation.

Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, an Executive Committee member, said he liked the plan overall, including the part about hiring an administrator.

“We’re running a full-time government with a part-time board,” he said.

If the county hired an administrator, he warned, board members shouldn’t mingle their duties with the new official. Otherwise, he said, the administrator would likely “bail out.”

After the meeting, Seeberg said it was up to him to decide whether to put the plan on the agenda. But staff members were directed to include it as part of members’ agenda packet.

To attend

The Lee County Board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

The board is expected to vote on a proposed long-range financial plan for the county.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.

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