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McLean County Government To Get $33 Million In COVID Relief

People sitting around conference tables
Eric Stock
The McLean County Board Finance Committee met in person on June 2.

McLean County is developing plans to use $33.3 million in federal COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan.

County Administrator Camille Rodriguez said the county delayed a number of capital projects last year because of budget uncertainty.

“While we didn’t necessarily save, we put off the inevitable of some of these projects, like replacing boilers at the (McLean County) Nursing Home and other major and very expensive projects that now we will be blessed to be able to compete because of these funds,” Rodriguez said.

Camille Rodriguez
Ryan Denham
County Administrator Camille Rodriguez.

That money can be spent over several years, but Rodriguez said it’s not clear yet how much time the county has to use the funding.

According to a memo Rodriguez presented to the County Board’s Finance Committee on Wednesday, the county can direct the money toward: public health response; public sector revenue loss; negative economic impacts; and broadband, water and sewer infrastructure.

Loan program

Rodriguez said the McLean County Board may wish to explore pumping more money into the private sector.

“It’s possible. Time will tell as we work in our strategic planning,” said Rodriguez, noting the county also is starting to plan for its 2022 budget.

The county implemented a targeted loan program last year to help struggling businesses. The county forgave repayments on most of the loans.

Despite the financial costs associated with the pandemic, McLean County finances emerged from the pandemic in solid shape. A financial report presented to the Finance Committee showed the county’s general fund balance improved by $2.2 million last year. Most other funds showed improvement, too, as lower expenses offset drops in revenue.

“The conservative nature of (the county board) has provided for our ability to maintain and persevere throughout a pandemic,” Rodriguez said.

Nursing home

The McLean County Nursing Home reportedly lost close to $650,000 in 2020, according to data County Auditor Michelle Anderson presented to the committee. Anderson noted the facility has lost money in 12 of the last 14 years.

The shortfall last year is an improvement over the nearly $2.3 million hit the facility in north Normal took in 2019.

Rodriguez said the pandemic likely limited its census count last year, but she said nursing home administrator Terri Edens has put new cost-control measures in places that have started to improve the facility’s finances.

“They have been very innovative in trimming costs. We have seen our expenses go down, for example, in dietary and food purchasing because we have been more careful and precise,” Rodriguez said.

The facility also received about $700,000 in COVID emergency relief.

Rodriguez said the nursing home also plans to open a hospice care wing at the facility.

“That would be unique to this county to have an entire wing dedicated to hospice,” she said.

Pay disparity

In another matter, the Finance Committee gave preliminary approval to adding two vacant jobs to its Impacted Positions List to enable department heads to offer higher pay.

Rodriguez noted the McLean County Regional Planning Commission has had trouble finding an associate planner with the appropriate level of experience, and the county has been unable to fill a vacancy for a building maintenance mechanic.

Committee member Laurie Wollrab, a Democrat, voted against the plan because she said the county needs to conduct a salary survey to avoid a stopgap approach and to help the county keep personnel from leaving for higher-paying jobs.

“It is whacking out our compensation system,” Wollrab said. “I’m sure of it without even knowing the numbers. There’s no way that that can’t happen.”

Several board members agreed, but suggested a survey was a long-term solution that wouldn’t help the county address these two positions.

Rodriguez said her office hasn’t had the time to craft a salary study, but added the county recently hired a human resources director who will be able to take on that task.

The addition of those two positions to the Impacted Positions List awaits final approval from the County Board at its June 10 meeting.

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