Creating a balanced budget and a reduced property tax levy in Madison County -- and passing it in committee -- was difficult, but both sides of the political divide made concessions, according to the chairman of the county board.
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said he is confident that the full board will ratify the unanimous vote by the Finance and Government Operations Committee.
The proposed budget achieves two goals: a cut in property taxes and more resources directed toward public safety, Prenzler told the Madison County Record.
"It was difficult, but both sides made concessions," Prenzler said. “It wasn’t easy, but in the end it was a cooperative effort by all. Plus, we were able to add personnel for public safety and building maintenance, along with making sure early voting was funded.”
The committee approved the total fiscal 2018 budget of just over $145 million, up approximately $18 million. Most of the new funding will be paid for through special revenue funds, or fees generated, rather than taxes.
A property tax levy of $30.7 million was approved, $1.8 million less than was approved last year. Prenzler said that means people with a house valued at $150,000 would pay over $10 less in taxes.
"The 'county government' portion of the real estate tax bill is about 9 percent," Prenzler said. "About two-thirds of the real estate taxes goes to both public schools and community colleges."
"The finance committee worked hard to balance the budget," he added. "Madison County will levy less in property taxes for the upcoming year. It is my priority, along with County Board members, to reduce the county's reliance on property taxes."
Prenzler, a Republican, was elected chairman a year ago after seven years as county treasurer. He said he reduced the cost of administering that office by 30 percent within 30 days.
Asked about his approach to budgets in the future, Prenzler said, "I will continue to look for ways to reduce wasteful spending."
The budget increases funding for public safety, including for a sheriff’s deputy, four jailers, one public defender, a deputy coroner, a probation officer working with those released pretrial and a full- and part-time assistant state attorneys.
Other positions were added in facilities management for maintenance, which includes the jail renovation project, according to a press release from the county.
The tax levy for the Veterans’ Assistance Commission sees an increase, and there is added funding for the Child Advocacy Center.
Prenzler said the county wants to reduce the jail population, which he described as a problem that needs to be addressed.
Concerns were raised over the possibility of substantial cuts in the number of early-voting sites, with critics claiming it could be more difficult for people to cast their ballots. Prenzler said the number will be reduced from 11 to 10, still more than mandated state minimum of four.
Previously, $500,000 was proposed to combat opioid abuse in the county, but funding for that program did not make the final budget.
Auditor Rick Faccin was quoted in a press release saying this budget process was the first time the county has held such a transparent budget process. He praised the committee and board members for their effort.
Faccin did not respond to requests asking him to elaborate, but the finance committee, as it was working on the budget, held several special public meetings in addition to regular meetings.
Members went through the budgets of each department one by one during six budget review meetings.
Board member Tom McRae, R-Bethalto, praised the amount of time and work his fellow committee members spent on the budget.
“We spent more than 30 hours working on the budget,” McRae said. “We hope the public understands the process. We worked hard to reduce taxes.”
This view was echoed by Michael Parkinson, D-Granite City, who said that this was an effort to balance the budget by Republicans and Democrats.
Prenzler said the general fund rate is staying the same. In 2016, Prenzler worked to bring down the maximum general fund tax rate from 0.25 to 0.20.
The full board meets Nov. 15 to vote on the budget approved by the committee.