Months later, positions still unfilled
Struggling county gets requests for funding hikes
DIXON – Last fall, then-Lee County State's Attorney Henry Dixon asked for two more positions in his office. The County Board voted unanimously to grant that request.
Five months later, the positions remain unfilled.
When Dixon requested the positions, he said they would cost the county nearly $100,000 a year, including benefits.
In November, Dixon lost his bid for a second term to local attorney Anna Sacco-Miller.
County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said Sacco-Miller indicated she didn't need the positions, which are an assistant state's attorney and a clerical employee.
"My vote was right when Henry was in office," Ketchum said. "For whatever reason, he thought he needed the positions, and he convinced the board. If Anna can do without them, that's great."
If Sacco-Miller decides she needed the positions, Ketchum said, she would have to come before the board to request them. She couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
Since she took office Dec. 1, Sacco-Miller moved one position from part to full time, but Ketchum said that increase was offset by a reduction in wages overall in the state's attorney's office.
In making his case for the positions, Dixon cited an increase in work, specifically nine homicide cases. Before he took office in December 2008, he said, Lee County hadn't had a homicide case in a decade.
'Hiring new personnel not a good idea'
A month after Dixon got the positions, Sheriff John Varga asked for two more road deputies, which he had lost through budget cuts 4 years earlier.
But the board rejected Varga's request, saying he needed to provide a written justification. He did so the next month.
Now, some members say they want a study of the Sheriff's Department before considering Varga's request. That study is estimated to cost $45,000.
Ketchum is against the study, which he said would examine county departments and probably recommend hiring more employees.
He said the county could afford two more deputies now, but he worried whether it could in the long run.
The county has been tapping into the landfill fund to make up for the deficits in the general fund, which pays for day-to-day operations. It has been getting $1.8 million a year from the landfill operator, Phoenix-based Republic Services, but that amount is expected to drop by $1 million a year after the contract expires at year's end.
"Hiring new personnel is not a good idea," Ketchum said. "If we hire the deputies, we'll spend money to send them to training. A year or two from now, we'll have to cut the budget and we'll have to lay off the two deputies. We'll lose our [investment in training]."
It's unclear when the County Board again will vote on the request for two deputies, but Ketchum said the vote would be close. At least eight of the board's 24 members want to hire the deputies, he said.
'Their job is to look for revenue'
Board member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, a former police officer, is among the supporters.
"I think it's time we start putting more trust in our department heads, specifically with the sheriff," he said at last week's board meeting. "I think we need to listen to the sheriff."
In an interview, Varga said the county needs to start looking at ways to bring in more revenue, including tax increases.
"My job is public safety," he said. "Their job is to look for revenue."
Lee County has a lower tax rate than Whiteside County. In Lee County, the owner of a $100,000 house with a standard homestead exemption paid $218 in property taxes in 2011. In Whiteside County, the owner of a $100,000 house paid $297.
"No one talks about bringing revenue into the county," he said. "They know the contract with Republic will be up. The County Board needs to discuss revenue."
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