As the La Salle County Board continues to cut fat wherever it can be found, they’ve turned their attention to public safety.
Financial and Fees Committee Chairman Brian Dose, D-Ottawa, said the county has been cutting for a few years and have gotten to the point where they can’t cut anything but payroll.
The committee is considering cutting into departments such as the Coroner’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and State’s Attorney’s office, but Dose said they want to leave it up to the public whether the cuts there should occur or they should raise the public safety tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent.
“I don’t think anyone wanted a tax increase from the county and I think everyone can agree but we’re a rural county with urban issues,” Dose said at a county meeting Thursday. “I don’t believe it’s the will of the finance committee to go after public safety. If the public wants us to cut public safety, they’ll let us know.”
The county approved the referendum, 22-2, to place a question on the April 2 election ballots stating, “Shall La Salle County be authorized to impose a public safety tax at an additional rate of 0.25 percent upon all persons engaged in a business of selling tangible personal property at retail in the county on gross receipts from the sales made in the course of their business?”
The increase would not apply to vehicles, groceries, prescription or non-prescription medicines, medical devices and medical materials.
Cuts in public safety, which also include money to help substance abuse and mental health, will be halted until the election. These funds are separate from the ones received through grants to fund State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly's drug court.
Dose said the finance committee has met with both elected and appointed department heads and hasn’t found any outrageous spending.
“I don’t know any of them that just blow money,” Dose said. “I think anyone that runs for office tries to do the opposite.”
Freeman: County is ‘boxed in’ by unfunded mandates
Dose said surrounding counties have increased public safety taxes ranging from $7.25 for Bureau County, $7 for Kane County, $7.75 for Lee County, $7 for Will County.
Board member Randy Freeman, R-Lostant, described himself as “anti-tax as you can get” but the county is being forced to cut services or payroll do due unfunded mandates from the state.
“And every year that goes up. Every time our wonderful legislators meet down in Springfield they put more and more mandates on us and take more and more money away,” Freeman said. “So we are boxed into a corner and have to look at alternative measures.”
Freeman said the increase shouldn’t deter voters as many of them make purchases outside of county lines not looking at receipts and not worrying about higher taxes.
Mike Kasap, D-La Salle, asked if a limited time frame could be put on the tax increase but Chairman Jerry Hicks noted the issue is a “continuing problem” that requires regular revenue flow.
Faber: ‘We have a serious spending issue,’ tax won’t solve problem
The recommendation from the Finance and Fees committee was marked with “ayes” down the board with the exception of Curtis Faber, R-Mendota.
Faber said the county has been raising revenues over the last three years in addition to increasing property taxes and taking in $6 million from the current public safety tax.
“We have a serious spending problem and we’re not addressing it. We’re just trying to raise revenue, raise revenue, raise revenue and until we come clean on where this money is going it’s probably a hard push and the $2 million we’re trying to raise isn’t going to cover the hole.
“We have not done one bit of investigation on how we’re burning through all this money and I don’t think it’s fair for the public to go out and take more without a plan.”
Faber and Kindra Pottinger, R-Sheridan, were the sole dissenters for the vote which was approved.
County to conduct ‘marketing’
Hicks said he recalls three attempts to raise the public safety tax that failed since last being raise in 1998 for the county jail, which originally failed in 1997, but noted an increase in support every vote.
He said the county would need to conduct some “marketing,” which includes having department heads such as Coroner William Wujek, Sheriff Tom Templeton and State’s Attorney Donnelly meet with the public and explain how the potential cuts could affect them.
The trio attended the meeting and Templeton supported the increase but recalled previous attempts to “market” the vote, noting he often did so alone.
“When we go out to talk about this, we should be in your district with you,” Templeton said. “If we’re going to talk to the public about it then we need you there to answer the questions they’re going to have of you.”
“We have to do it together. And if that’s not going to happen then it’ll fail. Just as it did the prior three times,” he added.