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Little progress on financial plan in Lee County

No effort toward hiring administrator

DIXON – Nearly 2 years ago, the Lee County Board approved a long-range financial plan that called for hiring a county administrator and conducting an outside review of staffing levels.

Since then, the board has made little, if any, progress toward achieving the plan's goals.

The plan was inspired by the expected loss of about $1 million in annual revenue as the result of an expiring clause in the county's contract with Phoenix-based Republic Services. That clause, which expired at the end of 2013, guaranteed the county income of $1.8 million a year – regardless of the amount of waste deposited.

Now, the fees are based on how much waste the landfill accepts, resulting in the projected loss of $1 million a year in that revenue.

One of the plan's goals was to hire a professional labor negotiator, but that wasn't done. Although many County Board members had vowed they would enact a wage freeze to control spending, they, instead, raised workers' pay in contract after contract.

Probably the most controversial point in the plan was the hiring of a county administrator. An administrator, proponents say, would keep spending in line and find grants to grow county revenue, while opponents argue the county has managed without one, which they say would cost taxpayers more than $100,000 a year.

How do you pay for administrator?

County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said he has become more convinced of the need for an administrator since becoming chairman in December 2012. But he predicted an administrator would cost the county $120,000 to $140,000.

"I don't know how you pay for one," he said.

As for the outside staffing and salary review, Ketchum said, the county for now is undertaking the process internally. The county is having department heads do their own investigative work and then giving their information to Arlan McClain, R-Dixon, chairman of the County Board's finance committee, Ketchum said.

Ketchum said he was open to having an outside staff review, but said the board would have to figure out how it could "feasibly" pay for it.

'You have to have the expertise'

County Board member Dick Binder, R-Compton, was on the three-member panel that proposed the plan. He acknowledged it would take a process to achieve the goals, saying his colleagues, for instance, would have to weigh the county's needs in defining the administrator's duties.

A few days before the plan came before the board in July 2012, Ketchum warned the trio that they would "fall flat" on their faces if they sought a vote that week on the plan.

Nonetheless, the board voted unanimously for it, with some members expressing reservations. The committee assured members that the plan would be a part of a three-step procedure. The next step would be to develop a strategy to carry it out, then to vote later on the merits of each goal. None of that has happened.

Despite the board's unanimous vote, Binder said: "There didn't appear to be much support at that time. To do some of this, you have to get outside counsel, and that costs money."

Still, he said, the county needs the help of experts.

"You can have 24 well-intentioned and hard-working board members, but we have to recognize that for some things, we need to get outside counsel and recognize that costs money," Binder said.

The board, he said, seemed to have lost enthusiasm for hiring a consultant for the outside review after it agreed to hire one of the two additional deputies sought by the sheriff.

Binder said he still supported hiring a labor negotiator.

"Again, you have 24 well-meaning people," he said, "but you have to have the expertise."

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