Mercer County board hikes fees, declares “financial emergency”

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ALEDO, Ill. (KWQC) — The Mercer County Board says it must cut costs. After it says a 30 years chain of events has blown the budget out of control.

The County’s annual reports help paint the picture. In 2012 the County’s general fund raised $3.5 million but it spent $4.3 million. Leaving the fund $800,000 in the red. 2013, a similar story. The general fund raised $3.9 million, but it spent $5 million. That’s a $1.1 million dollar loss.

“Over the past four years we’ve given a hospital away, we sold a nursing home significantly undervalued, as well as an airport,” says Mercer County board chair Brian Anseeuw.

He says the county has reached its financial Rubicon. One that cannot be crossed.

“We will be out of money very soon, not next year, we’re probably looking within month, month or months, I mean when we will be completely financially destitute,” says Anseeuw.

The board agreed to raise fees in the Recorder’s and Sheriff’s offices, after hearing the fees were out of date and were supported by property taxes. That’s expected to raise $60,000. Anseeuw says more is needed.

“We’re going to seriously starting looking at each department consolidation, cutting costs, possible employee, personnel changes,” says Anseeuw.

The County’s financial consultant says savings are there, suggesting simply maintaining county vehicles differently can save money.

“Let’s get all of the vehicles owned by the County under a service contract with a single service provider,” says Bellwether consultant Matt Sorensen.

He says the County needs to see itself as a whole, rather than a collection of independent offices.

“When they make the transition to, we are county government, and we’ve got to find ways to share costs and share resources, that’s the counties that become successful,” says Sorensen.

Because Anseeuw says the crisis is now. Mercer County cannot grow without creating a more efficient government.

“Our County is dying, when we look at the population base it has dropped 1,700 since 1985,” says Anseeuw.

He believes rebuilding the tax base starts with gaining control of the budget.

The County is negotiation new agreements with its labor unions. Anseeuw says the County can’t afford health benefits that are currently 30 percent higher than similar counties. There is no timeline on when those negotiations will be complete.

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