EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board on Wednesday passed a slimmed-down budget and lower tax levy its chairman praised as models of bipartisan cooperation, even as his political opponent said further reductions are possible.
The board passed a $129 million budget for the next fiscal year, Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, 2016, 1 percent less than the current fiscal year’s budget. The board also approved an ordinance setting the county’s tax levy at $33.4 million, a 2.3 percent reduction over the previous year that County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said will reduce the county’s portion of property tax bills. According to a press release, the budget includes $6 million, funded with past savings, for heating, cooling and ventilation systems at county facilities and work to fix deficiencies at the Madison County Jail.
“This is probably one of the best budgets we’ve had,” Dunstan said, praising the board for working together to develop the budget.
“I give credit to Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
“They’re not extreme,” he said of the Republicans who voted for the budget. “They’re looking at the issue and trying to do the best they can.”
Two Republicans, Lisa Ciampoli of Collinsville and Michael “Mick” Madison of Bethalto, voted against the budget. After the board meeting, Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, Dunstan’s likely opponent in next year’s election, issued a statement criticizing the county for maintaining an excessive surplus.
“For years, the County Board chairman has padded the general fund budget by $3 to $4 million, and later the money is moved,” Prenzler said. “The projected expenditures are not a true reflection of the county’s costs.”
Prenzler said the county has enough money to cut the tax levy by 10 percent.
“What the chairman fails to understand is the budget is not for him, it’s for the citizens,” he said. “These annual surpluses are unnecessary and if the county doesn’t need the money, then it should give it back.”
Dunstan said the county’s surplus is not excessive and may become critical to funding townships’ need for road salt should the state’s budget impasse continue.
“I’m proud of where we stand right now because I don’t know what the state of Illinois is going to do tomorrow,” he said.
Dunstan also cited a policy that allows departments to not spend their entire budget and to later get half of the unspent money back for special projects, which he said has deterred questionable expenditures.
“In years past, if they didn’t spend it, they lost it,” he said. “We encourage them to save money.”
The budget is posted on the county’s website at http://advnews.link/1PC3IeP.
In other business, Andy Economy resigned his position as president of the Metro East Sanitary District Boad of Commissioners. The Belleville News-Democrat reported in October that Economy’s Madison auto repair shop was paid $33,150 over a three-year period for work on district vehicles. The paper also reported that Economy failed to report the payments to his shop on economic interest documents he’s required to file with the county.
“I have done my best to serve the public interest in my position as Commissioner,” Economy wrote in a Nov. 18 letter to Dunstan. “I am proud of my two decades of public service with the District.”
The resignation pre-empted a County Board vote to remove Economy from his position at the levee district.
“I don’t think he wanted to put the board members through that — I think he did the right thing and resigned this morning,” Dunstan said. “I wish him luck.”
In a prepared statement, Dunstan said he has requested a full review of conflict of interest policies of the approximately 40 other boards and commissions whose members are appointed by the County Board.
“Mr. Economy’s resignation eliminates any appearance of impropriety and allows the Metro East Sanitary District to continue its critical operations without further interruption,” Dunstan said.
In a press release, Prenzler called Dunstan’s request to remove Economy “grandstanding.” The release states Dunstan received $30,000 in campaign donations from Economy.
“County appointees should never profit from their position of authority, and that money should never make its way back to the person who made the appointment,” Prenzler said.
In another resignation, County Board member Terry Davis, a Granite City Democrat, announced his departure for personal reasons. Dunstan presented Davis with a plaque recognizing his four years of service.
“I think he’s been a very good asset,” Dunstan said.
“This has been an honor here to serve with the board and an honor to serve the people of Madison County,” Davis said.
Dunstan said the board will vote on replacements for Davis and Economy at next month’s meeting.