EDWARDSVILLE — Madison County’s chief political rivals faced off over the county’s budget on Tuesday.
Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, who is running for County Board chairman in next year’s election, issued a press release criticizing county officials for taking credit for a $2.15 million reduction in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a state and federal program to help low-income residents pay utility bills.
“They are taking credit for something they don’t have control over,” Prenzler said in the release. “Cheering these budget cuts as savings is wrong. It doesn’t make any sense to cheer cuts that will put families out in the cold.”
Prenzler argues the county should reduce its surplus funding, which he describes as excessive.
But County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said Prenzler’s statements are off the mark.
“LIHEAP is funded by grants from the state of Illinois and the federal government,” Dunstan said in a prepared statement. “Madison County does not control the amount of funds in those budgets.
“Once again, Mr. Prenzler is simply pandering over an issue that does not exist,” Dunstan said.
Dunstan also pointed out that the budget process is still under way; the full County Board will vote on the document at the Nov. 18 meeting. He said the budget will reduce the county’s tax levy, the portion of taxpayers’ property tax bills that funds county operations.
“We are going to reduce our levy this year for the second year in a row,” Dunstan said in an interview. “People are going to be paying less in property taxes to Madison County than they did before.”
Dunstan said the county has approximately 300 fewer employees than when he took office.
“We had to make a lot of tough decisions,” he said. “I give credit to Republican board members and Democratic board members working together.”
Dunstan dismissed Prenzler’s argument that the county’s surplus is unusual.
“We don’t have any more surpluses than any other county does,” Dunstan said.
Dunstan’s release also stated Prenzler is attempting to deflect questions about the treasurer’s budget brought up by County Board members at the Oct. 16 Finance Committee meeting. The statement said Prenzler’s office gave “excessive” pay increases totaling $79,332 over a two-year period.
Prenzler, in an interview, said he has reduced his office’s budget from more than $1 million per year under his predecessor to approximately $700,000. He said his budget for the upcoming fiscal year is about $720,000 because of costs related to an employee’s retirement.
“They cannot argue with the fact that I’ve reduced my budget by 30 percent,” Prenzler said.
“We are a very cost-conscious office,” he said. “That’s one of my goals.”
He pointed out that his chief deputy treasurer, Doug Hulme, makes about $70,000 per year and cited salaries of other county employees in a similar position who make $10,000 more. Like most of Prenzler’s employees, Hulme has a private-sector employment background.
“I’ve brought people in, I see how they work out, I see if I can add duties, and if they really work out I’ll promote them, and they’ll make more money,” Prenzler said. “I do believe that’s the way it works in the private sector.”
Hulme said the treasurer’s office will continue efforts to educate the public about the budget process.
“I think it’s important for people to have facts on the budget,” Hulme said. “As we go forward we’re going to try to help people understand.”