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Increase in raises for employees

Despite financial worries, county could up spending

DIXON – The Lee County Board is poised to approve increased spending – more pay raises for employees and the hiring of another sheriff’s deputy.

But a top official said it’s “very possible” that the county will have to lay off employees in a couple of years if its revenue picture doesn’t change.

Today, the board will consider raises for nonunion employees and union highway workers, similar to those given in December to union employees in the county clerk’s and treasurer’s offices.

Under a proposal before the board, the nonunion employees would receive $1,000 the first year, $750 the second and $1,000 the third – exactly what was given to employees of the county clerk and treasurer.

The highway workers, represented by Operating Engineers Local 150, will receive the same amount in the first and third years, but a little more in the second year, board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said.

The contract for sheriff’s employees, represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, had been slated to go before the board today, but a “hang-up” will delay it by a month, Ketchum said.

As for the highway workers contract, he said, “it’s not what I wanted, but you don’t always get what you want.”

He said that if the county’s revenue stays the same in a couple of years, the county will have to look for cuts, including layoffs.

“I look about 2 years down the road, we may have to do layoffs,” Ketchum said. “We may have to lay off the deputy because we may not be able to afford the deputy.”

In August 2011, a split board voted for $1,000-a-year raises for nonunion employees. Supporters said it was only fair because union workers were getting similar pay hikes. At that meeting, board members said they would align all of the county’s union contracts so that they have the same expiration date. That way, they said, they could enact a wage freeze for all employees at the same time.

Such a wage freeze would have taken effect Dec. 1.

Staring next year, the county will have its own version of the fiscal cliff.

The county expects to lose $1 million a year in income from its contract with Phoenix-based Republic Services, which owns the Lee County Landfill.

Instead of cutting spending to prepare for that loss of income, the county has been increasing costs. For the last few years, the county has recorded deficits of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the general fund. The board has offset those deficits with landfill revenue.

“I’ve been sounding the warning bell for years,” board member Dick Binder, R-Compton, said. “You cannot sustain these deficits year after year.”

He said he didn’t know whether the board’s negotiating team had a strategy going into talks.

“Before you start, there has to be a strategy about how you’re going to handle the negotiations,” Binder said. “I’m a little confused on what they’re doing.”

Last week, the board’s Executive Committees voted to recommend against having a staffing study, which some members wanted before hiring more sheriff’s deputies.

Ketchum was among those against the study, which he called a luxury the county couldn’t afford.

Binder, however, said the county needed an independent look at its staffing. Such a study would cost about $50,000, he said.

“The Sheriff’s Department is 35 percent of the general fund expense budget,” he said. “We want all of our county officials to operate in an economical manner. Without an independent review, you don’t know where you are.”

Member Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon, said she had favored a staffing review, but once the board seemed poised to hire a deputy, that largely defeated the purpose of having a study. She voted against the review.

To attend

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

The board will consider raises for employees and the hiring of another sheriff's deputy.

Call 815-288-5676 for more information.

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