Federal COVID Relief Boosts McLean County's $129M Budget Plan
McLean County government is looking at a budget increase of about 25% next year as the county uses federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, and additional revenues from retail and cannabis sales and other sources to fuel more pandemic relief and a major boost in highway work.
McLean County interim administrator Cassy Taylor presented a $129.1 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 to the county board at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday.
“(ARP funding) has made the difference in what could have been a very difficult budget to a budget that was a pleasure to be a part of,” Taylor said.
The budget uses $10.3 million to fund various COVID-related health and safety improvements, along with additional contact tracers and a new mobile clinic vehicle for the McLean County Health Department (MCHD). ARP funding also includes $6 million to replace the county's electronic justice information system to better identify people with behavioral health needs. The funding also includes $1.2 million for updated election equipment for the county clerk’s office.
The 2022 budget outlines a major boost for the county highway department, nearly doubling its funding from $14.6 million to $26.5 million.
Taylor said the highway department saw some cost increases, including for equipment purchases, but noted the county needs to do more road repair work, including at Comlara Park.
“Residents and park enthusiasts have given us feedback that out roads at the park are in bad shape with lots of potholes,” Taylor said. “Some of the parking lots and roads that we haven’t been able to prioritize before, will now see some attention.”
The county is proposing a tax levy of $38.2 million, an increase of about $1.3 million, or 3.5%. The county projects the tax rate will increase slightly at 0.027%. The county figures growth in the county’s tax base will bring in the additional revenue.
“I don’t think it’s overly ambitious,” Taylor said.
The county projects it will get about $1.5 million in additional retail tax revenue from online retailers. The county also projects additional money to come in from cannabis dispensary tax money. Taylor indicated the two dispensaries in Bloomington-Normal generated about $316,000 for county government through the end of August.
The budget calls for non-union staff to get annual pay raises of 1.5% and merit raises would be restored. County staffing levels would grow by two, factoring in the loss of five pre-trial officers because the state of Illinois redirected funding elsewhere.
The county is in negotiations with three collective bargaining units whose contracts are set to expire — for emergency dispatchers at MetCom, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers at the McLean County Jail.
Taylor indicated the county also plans to conduct a salary study to determine if staff wages should be increased.
“We had feedback from county board members that perhaps we need to say how we look to see how we were sitting in relation to market norms,” said Taylor, adding there have been multiple instances in recent years where the county has to adjust salary ranges and budgets to make critical hires.
The $10.3 million in COVID relief is less than one-third of the ARP funding the county will allocate over the next three years. Taylor said the county has received the first of its two payments totaling $33.6 million. Taylor indicated the county lost close to $7 million in revenue due to the pandemic.
The budget plan will be received by the board’s various committees. A vote is expected in November.
In other business, the board:
- Approved using $1.5 million in coronavirus relief funds for the McLean County Nursing Home. The long-term care facility also has received a $113,000 grant from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan. The funding will be used for a COVID vaccine incentive program for nursing home staff. Taylor said the county hasn’t determined how much money each staff member may receive if they get the COVID vaccine. One-third of that money must be spent by the end of September.
- Signed off on a financial advisory agreement with Naperville-based PMA securities to advise the county on its plans to sell general obligation bonds to pay for building renovations and improvements to county properties. The county plans to have fully repaid $11 million in bonds the county approved in 2003 to pay for the purchase and renovate the McLean County Government Center and to add two levels to the Lincoln parking garage next door. Taylor said in a memo to the board the county plans to issue bonds “in an amount consistent with the expiring debt service."
- Approved a series of higher fees for McLean County Animal Control, Including a $25 increase for dog adoptions and a $5 raise for cat adoptions. Both fees are $10 currently, but total over $100 when adding registration, and vaccination, neuter and microchipping deposits.
- Adopted a new three-year lease agreement with Livingston County for the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) and CASA programs to move to 308 E. Torrance Ave., Pontiac. The Livingston County branch of the CAC has been housed at the HOPE Pregnancy Center.
- Heard a presentation from the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCPRC) regarding its Go: Safe McLean County action plan that aims to eliminate serious traffic crashes and deaths by 2030.
- Accepted a $5,000 polling place accessibility grant from the Illinois State Board of Elections for the McLean County Clerk’s Office to buy "van accessible" signs and add striping and signage to handicapped parking spaces until June 30, 2022.