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County Commission Communications
A Periodic Column Written by Ed Douglas, Presiding Commissioner

January, 2021

This is my seventh year as Presiding Commissioner; and I can say with confidence that I feel better about our budget than in any prior year.

When I first came into office, I recognized almost immediately that our county was severely under funded. We had basically no reserves and were unable to fund what needed to be done in the county. Our Commission (the previous Commission and the current Commission) worked together for a couple of years to explain to the public our needs, and we were able to pass a much-needed sales tax increase in 2017. Now, nearly four years later, we have accomplished a great deal from the sales tax increase with this funding.

We were able to do a much- needed $1 million dollar remodeling of the county courthouse which included a new roof, new windows and doors (many that were original windows over 100 years old), tuck pointing, and a complete power washing and cleaning of the outside of the courthouse, as well as some needed electrical work inside the courthouse. With this new funding and a vote of the people (but no additional tax increase), we were able to expand the service of our prosecutor from part time to full time which was much needed by a county our size.

We were also able to increase funding to improve county roads by an innovative program that increased funding to our townships by a total of $200,000 per year, an increase in funding of 65%. Additionally, we have been able to add people and resources to our Sheriff's department (additional officers and needed equipment) to maintain strong law enforcement in our county. Most importantly over the last several years, with a boost this year, we have been able to gradually raise the compensation of our courthouse staff, bridge crew and laws enforcement staff to where we are competitive with these positions with other similar employers. This is important because it allows us to keep good people and hire quality staff when necessary.

Finally, we have gone from no reserves prior to 2017 to approximately 20% of our 2021 budget in reserves (nearly $2,000,000). Having a meaningful reserve like this is extremely important as this year made evident. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states, counties, and cities across the nation had significant drops in revenue. When something like that happens, without reserves a county could be in the position of shutting down services and laying off staff. By building a reserve, we are now in a position that a scenario like this is unlikely.

It should be noted that unlike other city, county, and state governments that had significant decreases in revenue, our county sales tax actually increased in 2020 rather significantly (about 8%). I believe there were several reasons for this: 1) Other than the mandatory shutdown required by the Governor in March and April, we did not shut down the business community like many other counties and states did; 2) We distributed rather quickly $1,786,000 of Cares Act funds that came into the county. Some of the uses of these funds were to businesses that were effectively shut down in the Spring ($800,000 approximately), to schools, ($240,000) and additional funds for health care needs including testing, masks, nursing home needs and other health needs; 3) Finally, because of the pandemic I believe some of the shopping that might normally have gone out of town stayed local which was also a significant benefit.

The county budget revenue for 2021 is $8,440,359. The budgeted expense is $9,491,966. The difference is made up by carry over balances from the previous year which is standard. The budget includes the Sheriff's department, jail expense at the Davis-DeKalb jail which is budgeted at $655,000, the County Commission, the County Clerk and Elections, the County Treasurer, the County Assessor, the Recorder of Deeds, the Public Administrator, the Prosecuting Attorney, the Coroner, Court Administration, Circuit Clerk and the Juvenile Office and the Road and Bridge Crew.

It should be noted that both the revenue and expense budget could be considered to be inflated by 1) $921,000 of transfers from various funds to other departments that require an entry on the revenue side that is offset by an equal entry on the expense side, and, 2) $1,000,000 budgeted for potential flood damage and repairs that is also listed as an income and an offsetting expense with money coming from the Federal Government if this occurs. Most likely this won't occur, but it should be noted that in 2020 we disbursed and administered nearly $2,000,000 of federal government funds for levy repairs. This was again an income and expense item so it can and does happen.

Our County Clerk will print the entire budget in the paper that may be reviewed in detail. My thanks to our County Commission, Dave Mapel, and Alvin Thompson for their work on the budget and to each individual office that met with us, and especially our County Clerk, Sherry Parks, who brings this all together into the final budget.

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