By Adam Poulisse
Posted Oct. 22, 2015 at 9:22 PM
Updated at 10:12 PMBELVIDERE — Boone County will use revenue from the public safety sales tax to balance its 2016 budget, a move some County Board members and residents say violates the trust of voters who were told the money would be used only for jail expansion.The board passed the measure Wednesday, 9-3. It allows the county to transfer $900,000 from public safety sales tax reserves to eliminate a deficit in the general fund. The transfer includes $100,000 for financial flexibility in 2016."I believe this is a very necessary action the board took," Chairman Bob Walberg said. "It's been very a confusing issue ... (and) people have tried to portray it other than what it really was intended to be, as far as the use of the money."County Board members Sherry Branson, Ken Freeman and Cathy Ward cast the dissenting votes.The vote came after a lengthy, sometimes contentious, discussion involving board members and residents. Those in favor of the transfer said it is the only way to avoid a deficit; those opposed said the move violates the trust of voters who approved a referendum in 1999 authorizing a sales tax for jail expansion.The expansion was complete in 2002; bonds will be paid off by 2018, even with a 2016 transfer to the general fund."It's not the most desirable thing to do, but it's something we have to do," board Vice Chairman Paul Larson said. "If this ordinance gets a 'no' vote, we're in serious trouble as far as where we are for the budget in (fiscal) '16."Freeman urged the board to explore other options."Everyone I've talked to has not been in favor of this," he said before the vote.Freeman also opposes using the additional $100,000 because that issue was not on the board's agenda."You publish something on the agenda and then at the last minute you're going to add $100,000 to it without any public input?" he asked the board. "I don't think I want any part in that."Board member Karl Johnson said not using the reserves would result in at least 20 county employees losing their jobs."There is nothing else you can do," he said. "We don't have the reserve funds in the general fund to cover it. We can talk $20 million in many multiple funds, but we're talking about the general fund. The general fund is the one that has the deficit."Johnson also noted that the tax won't necessarily expire in 2018. That will be the board's decision at that time.Ward, one of the most vocal opponents of the transfer, said using public safety tax revenue to balance the budget will make it difficult to gain the trust of voters when more referendums are sought.
"I've heard from many of them ... that they're very disappointed that people are not willing to stand by the promises that they made," she said.Belvidere resident Marion Thornberry, a former board member, opposes the transfer because the original referendum said the money was to be used for "finance payments only.""Whether you're on this board today or 20 years ago, you're obligated by law (to) follow the same procedures, unless you change them legally, and that has not been done," he said. "You're still operating under the same referendum that brought this out back when you passed it. You're still operating on the same promises that you made then."