Dunstan touts financial health in state of county address

Ann Knef Apr. 19, 2006, 12:07pm

In his annual state of the county address, Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan credits low taxes and windfall interest payments from one of the county's most famous lawsuits for achieving a balanced 2006 budget.

Dunstan, who is scheduled to address the Madison County Board late Wednesday afternoon, states that income from bonds in the Price v. Philip Morris $10 billion tobacco case, contribute to a financially healthy county.

"While Madison County government had no role whatsoever in that trial and the resulting decision, the end result was a financial windfall for the county," Dunstan states in his address. "As of December 31, 2005 Madison County has received $13.6 million dollars."

A copy of his speech was provided in advance of his address.

Dunstan said he is proud to be on of the few counties in Illinois to be "virtually" debt free.

A complete transcript of his speech follows:

Members of the Madison County Board, county officials, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I thank you for attending this State of the County address, an important presentation where we can briefly reflect on accomplishments of the past year but more importantly, where we can address the many responsibilities and goals of the current year, goals we must achieve to ensure Madison County remains financially healthy and a great place to live and work.

Looking back to 2005, I am proud of the many accomplishments of Madison County government. Working together board members, elected and appointed officials, the county's excellent employees and the people of our county, we made a difference.

One of the key objectives I identified for 2005 was fiscal responsibility. And I am proud to report that Madison County is in sound financial shape, one of the few counties in Illinois -- and probably the United States -- that is virtually debt free.

There are two primary reasons for that significant accomplishment. First, county elected officials and department heads have made sound financial decisions and have effectively operated within established operational budgets. And once again, Madison County has passed a balanced budget. And the budget for 2006 is based -- in part -- on the lowest tax rate in 23 years.

Importantly, we continue to manage the people's money in a sound manner while providing services the people of Madison County expect and, rightfully so, demand. In fact, we could accurately say that we are very conservative in our financial management.

The second reason for Madison County's financial health is the incremental revenue the county receives from the interest generated by the bonds in the Philip Morris tobacco case tried in the Third Judicial Circuit Court.

While Madison County government had no role whatsoever in that trial and the resulting decision, the end result was a financial windfall for the county. As of December 31, 2005 Madison County has received $13.6 million dollars.

That significant amount, combined with the county's sound financial decisions, has enabled us to pay off bonds issued for important capital projects and reduce other financial obligations. Using those dollars, the Madison County Board eliminated the debt on the Criminal Justice Building, retired the remaining construction bonds on the Administration Building, retired the IMRF Early Retirement Obligation and also financed our much needed capital outlay projects.

The bottom line: Madison County is virtually debt free.

Although the tobacco case is preceding through the appeals process the courts still could release the escrow funds at any time, effectively ending this incremental revenue source. But until it does, one of the most important decisions this board will make this year is determining the best use for the remaining dollars the county will receive.

Later this year I will put forward four important capital projects that I recommend be funded with tobacco revenue. The first project will be a much-needed, new radio system for the Sheriff's department. The second project is a Computer Aided Dispatch system that will make the Sheriffs office -- along with our 911 emergency telephone system -- even more efficient. The third project is a global positioning system for the Probation and Court Services Department. With a GPS system, the department will be able to monitor its probation officers' movements throughout the county ensuring enhanced safety and better communications. Finally, to meet our obligations on future road projects, we need additional funds and the tobacco revenue could be used for that purpose.

After these much needed capital projects are financed the county board may for the first time be in position to consider a tax refund for county taxpayers, and I will be asking the board to explore what might be an opportunity to give our county taxpayers some relief.

The efforts of Madison County government are centered on continually achieving our number one priority -- taking care of and serving the people who live in Madison County.

It is for our citizens that last year we spent more than $15.1 million dollars toward building and maintaining county roads that make getting around easier and safer. Those funds went to needed road projects in Alton and Granite City, Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, Troy and virtually every areas of Madison County.

It is for our citizens that the County Board earmarked more than $10.5 million dollars for the Sheriff's Department. The safety of our citizens is paramount and thanks to the efforts of Sheriff Bob Hertz and the men and women of the Sheriff's Department, Madison County is a safe place to live and raise our families.

The list goes on, every department in Madison County government working to provide services -- and support -- for the people of Madison County.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the outstanding efforts in the past year of the elected officials who are responsible for the operation of Madison County. I am sincerely proud to work with this group of officials, men who run their respective offices beyond reproach, dedicated public servants whose commitment to Madison County is only exceeded by their commitment to the people of our great county.

Last September, a situation occurred that demonstrated the emergency preparedness of Madison County and the compassion of our workers. In early September, days after Louisiana and Mississippi were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Madison County, under the direction of Jack Quigley, director of the Emergency Management Agency, mobilized to provide medical assistance, counselors and temporary housing at the Alton Mental Health Center to more than 160 people -- and three dogs -- left homeless by Katrina.

In a very short period of time our county workers and several volunteers created and implemented an excellent plan and helped relieve the burden on those unfortunate victims.

I cannot recognize every person who helped make this emergency program come together … but I would like to recognize the Madison County Health department, the Mental Health department, Community Development, the Probation department, Buildings and Lands, Madison County Transit and everyone who helped -- including many county board members -- for their outstanding efforts. Thank you.

Before I address the challenges and goals of Madison County for this year and beyond, I want to recognize the men and women who really make Madison County work -- our employees.

In late 2005, the county went through a brief work stoppage while a new contract with AFSCME was negotiated. Fortunately, we were able to reach an agreement that was financially responsible for the county while at the same time meeting the needs of our employees. Without the exceptional work of the county employees we could not effectively serve the people. And to each employee, thank you for a job well done.

For decades, Madison County has been managed in a sound, professional manner. But that is not enough. The people of Madison County have the right to expect their elected officials to continually run our county better, to be responsive to the public's needs. This is an ongoing challenge we -- the people here today -- must continually strive to achieve.

Responding to the public's needs we fought to address medical malpractice reform. The Madison County board passed a resolution supporting reform. I, and several others in this room, met frequently with Senator Bill Haine, Representative Jay Hoffman and other members of the state legislature so they clearly understood the need for medical malpractice reform and Madison County's position.

We took our county resolution to Springfield and our voice counted. The result was the legislature passed medical malpractice reform. We made sure our voice was heard, we met the challenge and we made a difference.

Another issue that confronts Madison County is the image of its court system. Because the people generally associate Madison County government and the Third Judicial Court to be one and the same it benefits everyone for some changes to be made.

Chief Judge Ed Ferguson guided the courts with professionalism and honor during his term as chief judge, and I know that Judge Ann Callis, who will become chief judge of the third judicial circuit on May 1, will also demonstrate a high level of professionalism -- and most importantly -- respect for the people who must appear in court.

After meeting with Judge Callis on several occasions I know she has plans for reform, for restoring the public's faith in our court system, and I know the members of the county board join me in pledging to work with Chief Judge Ann Callis to support her efforts as we all work to improve our county's image.

One urgent need we must address for our citizens is property tax reform. It is my opinion that property tax reform is the single most important issue facing Madison County government and its citizens.

The rapidly escalating assessment of homes and property in Madison County and throughout the state, and the subsequent property tax, threatens the county's growth and our citizens' prosperity.

Madison County government cannot pass property tax reform legislation, that responsibility rests with the state legislature. But we can work persistently with the Governor and with our state senators and representatives to press for property tax reform, just like we did with medical malpractice reform, and we can establish a greater presence in Springfield to ensure our voice is heard.

I ask every member of the County Board to work with me to press the issue of property tax reform in Springfield, to work to give the citizens of Madison County some much needed relief.

At the same time we must realize that we cannot seek property tax reform from the state legislature without ensuring adequate funding for our schools. We need property tax reform for our citizens -- and we need adequate funding for our schools -- and we are going to use the voice of Madison County to help make it so.

To that end, I will be establishing a committee consisting of representatives of the county board, school officials, and community leaders to help me -- and the county board -- become a visible force to clearly convey this message to our representatives in Springfield.

Madison County is experiencing moderate residential and commercial growth, primarily concentrated in the adjoining communities of Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Troy and Maryville, along with Bethalto and Highland. With the expansion of I-255 we expect similar growth in Alton, Godfrey and Foster Townships. This anticipated growth will present several challenges over the next five years. By planning now, by working with the leadership in those areas, we can guide and shape that development.

In recent years we have seen a modest resurgence in commercial and industrial development along the Mississippi River corridor. However, this key area remains under-utilized. In order to increase the county's tax base -- and to provide needed jobs for Madison County residents -- the county needs to take the lead in the continuing development of this key area. Under the leadership of Madison County we need to work to attract companies and private developers to the large tracts along the river.

Currently, Conoco Phillips is making a huge investment in rebuilding its Wood River refining facility. While we are pleased and proud to support that effort that alone is not enough. The county must work to aid the effort to redevelop the old Amoco and Clark Oil refineries. And if we are successful, the economic impact to the county and surrounding communities -- not to mention the number of new jobs -- would be immense.

An ongoing problem that requires continued attention from Madison County government is the drainage problems in the American Bottoms from the diversion canal south of Hartford to the southern county line, an important area in the central part of the county. In addition to the volume of water, run-off from the bluffs brings silt to the bottoms. In turn this causes issues for residents, farmers and businesses.

For the past year I have chaired meetings to address solutions to the storm-water drainage problems. Along with Nameoki and Chouteau Townships, Granite City, the Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Metro East Levy District and the Madison County Highway and Planning departments, we have addressed some problems and identified others.

Madison County has donated materials to Nameoki and Chouteau Townships to aid in improving water flow. We have utilized the Sheriff Department's SWAP program to help remove debris … and utilized the expertise of County Engineer Gary Stalhut.

But perhaps the biggest problem related to storm-water runoff we are faced with is Horseshoe Lake, the largest storm water holding area in the bottoms. To temporarily increase its capacity the lake is occasionally lowered to accommodate the heavy spring rains. The long-term solution is to dredge Horseshoe Lake, a multi-million dollar project that would require significant state -- and possibly federal -- assistance.

In November, Madison County contributed $15,000 to a study that will address funding to rebuild the Wood River Levee which protects all or parts of five communities, thousands of county residents and vital industrial districts. It is our responsibility to spearhead the effort to rebuild the Wood River levee.

There are several other issues facing Madison County, including the effort to build a Mississippi River bridge. Not only will it make commuting safer and more convenient for our citizens but it can have a major impact on the continued economic development of Madison County and Southern Illinois.

There is some good news regarding Mississippi River bridges. The rebuilding process of the McKinley Bridge is proceeding according to schedule and should be completed in 2007.

In the near future, the county board will be faced with some important decisions regarding the future of Metro Link in Madison County. Specifically, it will be up to us to decide whether to proceed with the expansion of Metro Link into Madison County and, if the board believes like I do that Metro Link is important to the long-term viability of the county, where it will initially go and how we will pay for it.

In the coming months and years, the county will face many projects and problems. Each one will be addressed at the proper time. But the final issue I would like to address today is the goal for each of us to do a better job of planning for the future of Madison County.

As we plan for the future of Madison County we, the members of the Madison County Board, must be willing to change courses when necessary. To go from old ideas to new ideas, from old technology to new technology, to be willing to adapt and to change.

To the members of the Madison County Board, I thank you for your service and I look forward to working with you as we make Madison County an even better place to live and work.

Thank you.

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Madison County Government
157 N Main St
Edwardsville, IL 62025

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