McLean County approves a new budget, new maps and a COVID vaccine requirement for county staff
Some old office furniture nearly held up McLean County’s $129.1 million budget.
At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the McLean County Board decided to keep upgraded furniture in the 2022 annual spending plan, despite an attempt to remove the $18,000 to keep the county’s tax rate flat.
The board also approved new district maps, adopted plans to follow OSHA guidelines for a COVID vaccine requirement for county staff if they are upheld by the courts, agreed to buy green energy, halted a contract for tablets for McLean County Jail inmates and learned of the resignation of the longest-serving Democrat on the board.
Republican Chuck Erickson proposed the county remove the furniture improvements for the Law and Justice Center to avoid raising the property tax rate 0.027%. That equates to 24 cents for the owner of a $165,000 home.
Democrat Laurie Wollrab said board members who went on a tour of county facilities and saw property “falling apart” from under funding. “We saw a lot of other things that are from years of neglect,” Wollrab said. “Every year we go through this dance.”
Erickson noted the county’s annual budgets have generally increased, while the additional revenue comes from increases in taxable land values. “To sit there and say we’ve just been a bunch of stingy people who won’t pay anything, it just isn’t an accurate reflection of the facts,” Erickson said.
Erickson’s amendment failed in a 12-8 vote. The budget then passed by a vote of 14-6.
The county’s property tax levy was set at $38.2 million. The 2022 spending plan marks a 25% increase over the current budget, due largely to federal American Rescue Plan funding.
The county plans to significantly increase spending on roadwork and give county employees 1.5% pay raises.
Two Republicans sided with the board's nine Democrats to adopt a new map that will set county board districts for the next decade. The board needed a second vote after the first vote failed to produce a majority vote for any of the three maps that a so-called Red, White & Blue citizen advisory committee drafted over a series of meeting this fall.
After the map the white team crafted picked up 10 votes (all Republicans minus Josh Barnett) and the red team map got nine votes (all Democrats minus Hannah Beer), Republicans Barnett and Randall Martin voted with the Democrats in approving the red team map.
The three maps were similar and more compact than the current maps crafted in 2010. It largely separates the urban and rural districts. Seven of the county’s 10 district are comprised mostly of Bloomington-Normal residents.
Board members Erickson and George Wendt voted not to accept the red team maps. Erickson said he felt the board made the wrong choice. “You can still look at the maps and say, ‘I think this is the most fair map out of the three.’ I thought the white (team) map was the most fair map to everybody.”
The new maps will be in effect for the 2022 elections.
COVID vaccine requirement
Erickson and Wendt were the only board members who voted against accepting new OSHA rules that require all county employees get the COVID vaccine or submit to regular testing. The requirement, which President Joe Biden introduced, applies to employers of 100 or more people. The vote was conditional on its federal implementation, however the mandate has been struck down by the courts.
“I really have questions whether OSHA can actually even enforce this even if they wanted to because of their manpower,” Erickson said. “I have questions about that, but regardless I understand the lay of the land.”
The county would have to have the requirement in place by Jan. 4, 2022.
In another matter, the board voted 12-7 to authorize board chair John McIntyre to sign an agreement to add wind and solar to the county's energy portfolio. It is estimated to cost the county $57,000 per year more than had the county gone with a traditional generation supply.
The higher cost already was included in the 2022 budget, but several board members objected to the expense.
“If we are going to make additional expenditures for our county, I think we need to prioritize where our staff have told us they need it, especially when you take the time to go out and meet with them,” said Republican Gerald Thompson. “Then you do this. To me it’s a slap in the face and I’m 100% against this.”
Democrat Val Laymon said the county should be willing to buy green energy given the renewable energy that’s generated here. “This is an opportunity to for us to perhaps be a leader in the state of Illinois and ultimately do the right thing, to show the rest of the folks in the state that we are proud of our product in green energy,” Laymon said.
The new rates will be locked in on Wednesday when the county selects from one of three suppliers: Dynegy, MidAmerican Energy and MP2 Energy.
Jail tablet contract
The board voted 10-10 to effectively kill a contract change that would have enabled McLean County Jail inmates to have access to computer tables for electronic communication with family and for education.
The board in October voted to have the county renegotiate the contract with IC Solutions amid concerns inmates would have to pay to use the devices and the county stood to profit from it. Sheriff Jon Sandage removed the tablets from the jail the following day.
Democrat Lea Cline said she wants the sheriff to explain the “kickbacks” the county would get for using the tablets. “There have been efforts from some of the members to communicate with the sheriff, to ask budget-driven questions and nothing has happened, nothing has changed,” Cline said.
County administrator Cassy Taylor said Sandage would have to reintroduce the contract change in the future if he wants the board to consider it.
Sandage did not attend the meeting.
Laurie Wollrab, the only Democrat serving in leadership on any county board committee, submitted her resignation, effective at the end of the year. “I just feel like it’s time for someone else to take my reins for my district,” Wollrab said. "I think fresh blood is good.”
Wollrab, who began her second stint on the board in 2016, has served close to a decade on the board in District 6. That includes much of the Illinois State University campus and Uptown Normal.
McIntyre set Feb. 10 as the date for appointing a replacement, and a noon Feb. 3 deadline for people to apply for the vacancy. Applicants will be interviewed by the board's executive committee.
The county must replace Wollrab with someone from the same party.