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No cuts expected despite revenue drop-off

Less money will go into projects fund

DIXON – For years, Lee County officials have talked about a sudden dropoff in revenue by the end of 2013.

That time is no longer distant. It's just 5 months away.

Starting with the new year, the county expects as much as $1 million a year less from the owner of the Lee County Landfill, Phoenix-based Republic Services. Under the current contract, the company is paying the county $1.8 million a year.

But the volume of trash – much of which comes from outside the county – has declined. So the company no longer sees it in its best interests to continue to pay the $1.8 million. It wants to base its fees on tonnage, which would mean the county would get $800,000 to $1 million a year, officials say.

This budget year, the county is transferring $600,000 from its landfill revenue to offset a shortfall in its $8.3 million general fund, which pays for the county's core functions, including the Sheriff's Department.

The general fund has been in the red for years, but the landfill money has filled in the gaps. The rest of the landfill revenue goes to the county's long-term capital projects fund, which is estimated to rise to $4.5 million by December.

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said he expects no cuts during the next budget year. The general fund, he said, will continue to depend on the landfill revenue to offset shortfalls, which will mean less money for capital projects.

Such projects include a new county jail and an animal control facility, Ketchum said.

"We're hoping whatever money is in the capital projects fund stays in there," he said.

The new jail will cost millions of dollars. The question is whether it will remain at its site next to the courthouse or move to the outskirts of town, Ketchum said.

He prefers keeping the jail where it is. Moving it away, he said, would mean higher costs to transport inmates.

"If there's not enough room [at the existing site], we'll have to go to the edge of town," Ketchum said. "That would be a last resort."

Sheriff John Varga said the ballpark estimate for a new jail would be $18 million to $20 million. The 43-year-old jail often has age-related problems such as leaks, he said, and it was not built for today's corrections standards.

The county would have to decide whether to build a larger facility that could take inmates from other counties, which would be a revenue generator, Varga said.

"It's something that needs to be discussed more," the sheriff said. "There needs to be a game plan."

County Board member Dick Binder, R-Compton, one of the board's deficit hawks, said the county needs to bring general fund expenses closer in line with revenues.

"What I'd like to see is a lessening of the deficit," he said. "We won't get there all at once. We have to have a sustained path in reducing the difference in revenue and expenses."

The county, Binder said, hasn't done much to reduce spending.

"We have cut out all of the materials we can – pencils, staples, things like that," he said. "Sixty percent of the budget is for personnel. We put a hiring freeze on, then we fill the next three positions. We have to see more action and less talk."

The board's Finance Committee will have budget hearings this week for the fiscal year starting Dec. 1.

To attend

The Lee County Board's Finance Committee will hold budget hearings at 8 a.m. today and Friday at the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

Today, the panel will hear presentations on the budgets for veterans, the health department, judges, emergency management, the coroner, the sheriff and the state's attorney. Thursday, the committee will consider the budgets for the circuit clerk, the County Board, zoning and planning, insurance and bonds, and group health.

Call 815-288-5676 for more information.

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