Two days after Rock Island County voters shot down a half-cent public safety sales tax referendum, County Administrator Dave Ross began advising the county board’s budget committee Thursday on what will need to be done to keep the county functioning according to statute.
Layoffs, starting with non-union employees, are imminent, but Ross said he will to determine the number based on what the budget committee ultimately decides. On the low end, the number of layoffs could be about 35 people, but it could be as high as 80 employees.
Meeting at the County Office Building in Rock Island, budget committee members and many of the county’s elected officials and department heads listened as Ross laid out the initial cuts he is recommending.
“You’ll be making a lot of tough decisions,” Ross told the budget panel. For the moment, the IT and human resources departments cannot have any cuts because they are so low on personnel now that there would be no way the county could function, he said.
Ross recommended that the proposed capital improvement plans for 2017 and 2018 — both of which included numerous projects for the Sheriff’s Department and public safety — be scrapped. “The sheriff agrees,” Ross said, adding that he had talked to Sheriff Gerry Bustos before making the announcement.
The county had a goal of directing some of its revenue over the next five years toward building a fund reserve balance. But Ross said that is now in jeopardy because the county likely will have to borrow to ensure that bills get paid.
“It’s not good financial management and it does cost the taxpayer more in the long run,” Ross said.
Ross also recommended that annual contributions of $17,000 to the Youth Services Board and $25,000 to the Soil and Water Conservation District be eliminated.
He thanked the department heads, county board members and the union and non-union employees for the work and sacrifices they made over the past 18 months to give the county a chance at financial solvency.
“We’ve done everything I can think of at this point,” Ross said.
County leaders had pinned their hopes on passage of the half-cent sales tax. But voters shot down that down Tuesday by a vote of 36,631 against to 26,552 for.
Late last month, the budget committee placed a proposed 2017 budget before the entire county board that included $29 million in the general fund and $78.8 million for all funds. It also included a host of capital improvements, many for the Sheriff’s Department. It also would have meant a lowering of the county portion of property taxes.
County board member Kai Swanson, Rock Island, a member of the budget committee, asked Ross if cutting some of the capital improvement projects could open the county to liability lawsuits.
Ross answered that depending on the project and the problem at hand, the county could be vulnerable to a liability lawsuit.
“There are issues in the jail that need to be addressed, such as there is only one oven working,” Ross said.
Ross added that the capital improvement projects would have meant jobs created and revenue to businesses.
County board member Virginia Shelton, of Moline, who also is on the budget committee, asked Ross for advice if people ask her about selling the county-owned Niabi Zoo or Hope Creek Care Center.
Ross said the county would likely end up with $5 million for Hope Creek, which would be spent quickly on capital projects.
“Hope Creek puts $481,000 into the general fund every year so if we sold it we’d lose that revenue stream,” Ross added.
Speaking after the meeting, board member Mia Mayberry, of Rock Island, who also is on the budget committee, said that everyone on the budget committee and everyone on the county board “has skin in the game.”
“We are all taxpayers in Rock Island County,” Mayberry said, adding that she is concerned about the effect layoffs will have on people’s lives.
“We gave this option to the voters,” Mayberry said. “We have been transparent throughout this whole process. We told the voters the situation. I believe in our system and the voters have spoken.”