Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boone County faces nearly $3 million deficit; low inmate numbers, health insurance costs blamed


By Susan Vela
Staff writer

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Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:51 PM
Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 8:05 PM

BELVIDERE — The Boone County Board is looking for ways to trim $2.7 million from next year's general fund budget, which takes effect Dec. 1.
County officials are trying to balance a proposed $17.4 million budget for day-to-day operations without noticeable cuts to services. But programs, positions and resources are once again on the line.
“It looks like to me we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” said board member Sherry Giesecke. “(But) it’s probably no different than any municipality or county in the state of Illinois.”
County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said there are two main challenges: The county is projected to pay about $600,000 in health costs for the 175 employees signed up for the county's health insurance plan, and the Boone County Jail is holding fewer inmates from outside the county, which accounts for at least a $58,000 loss in annual public safety revenue.
Typically, department heads make initial requests that add up to about $1.5 million more than projected revenue, which board members resolve before approving a balanced budget. No budget solutions have come out of committee meetings yet. In the past, the board has dealt with deficits by not replacing retirees and cutting services.
“No stone can be unturned to try to get this problem under control,” Terrinoni said.
Terrinoni pointed to several revenue challenges that persist in the wake of the Great Recession. Annual public safety sales tax revenue has declined since 2008 by at least $400,000 to $1.4 million. Regular sales tax revenue declined by about $330,000 to $1.5 million over the same period, and motor fuel tax revenue from the state has dropped by about $140,000 to $625,000.
Also, the county is projected to pay $661,000 in health care premiums during the next fiscal year, compared to $362,000 this year. Medical claims are likely to cost $2.9 million, compared to $2.6 million this year.
He said the county's older, less-healthy employees are being insured at a hefty cost.
The county pays an average of $23,800 per employee each year for insurance, with each worker kicking in about $3,570 per year.
But 11 employees have significant health issues — up from the average of two or three — that require the county’s maximum contribution of $75,000 per year.
Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest said revenue from housing nonresident inmates has waned over several years. County governments pay $60 per day to house inmates in the Boone County Jail. The U.S. Marshals Service pays $75 a day.
So far this year, the jail has received $125,790 — or about $14,000 a month — from the U.S. Marshals Service and various governments, compared to $592,208 — or $49,350 per month — in 2010.

“It’s an issue,” Ernest said. “If we have the space, we’re happy to take on the prisoners. (But) we can’t become dependent on it. We just really had the luxury over the last several years to make some revenue on that facility.”

The jail can house 150 inmates, and has 20 beds for work-release inmates, Ernest said. It had 118 inmates on Wednesday, 25 of whom were from outside Boone County.
“It’s going to be a very difficult process going through our budgets and just determining where we can reduce expenditures, and hopefully find a way to increase revenues,” said Karl Johnson, chairman of the board’s Finance, Taxation & Salaries Committee. “The facts of the recession are still definitely crimping our style, I guess, so to speak.”
Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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