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Daily Journal
     May 19, 2020      #42-140 KDJ

County's budget surplus erodes 

By Lee Provost

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler made it his personal mission to help bring the county government out of its financial abyss.

After spending years with fund deficits, the county had a positive general fund balance of about $1.5 million on Dec. 1, 2019. However, like every other governmental body here and nationwide, revenue streams are drying up and hard questions are being faced as to how long the budget can withstand this fiscal onslaught.

At the recent Kankakee County Board meeting, Wheeler, R-Kankakee, informed board members the budget year — which began Dec. 1 — had a positive balance of $1.5 million with projections of that figure growing to $3 million by Nov. 30, 2020. The fund’s balance, however, is coming up short of those projections — particularly in the past two months — and the $36.4 million general fund budget now has a $1.9 million surplus.

While that figure is higher than where it began the budget year, officials know the financial world they are now living in is far different from the one which existed as little as three months or so ago. The reality is when sales tax reports and other taxing revenues from these difficult past few months are calculated, the county will be facing a far different reality.

Due to COVID-19 and the negative direction sales taxes and other income sources are traveling, the fiscal picture is becoming clear: Income will shrink.

“By June, we will be down to $1 million of general fund surplus. Sooner or later we will run out of room to navigate,” the chairman explained.

Wheeler and most likely the remaining 27 county board members are not interested in returning to the days of depleted budget so the time has come to place everything on the table, the chairman said.

He said if the county doesn’t act swiftly they may back themselves into a corner where the only way out is personnel cuts. That alternative, however, is not being discussed at this point and Wheeler noted that is a subject he is willing to acknowledge.

“The last resort is laying off employees,” Wheeler said.

Like most governmental bodies, personnel wages and benefits makes up about 70 percent of the county’s budget. The county employs 450 full-time workers and another 47 part-timers, noted finance director Steve McCarty.

“There are only so many other things that can be cut. We have a little cushion right now, but not much. Everyone understands this is a fluid situation.”

Wheeler agrees.

“We just don’t know how far we are going to go,” he said. “We will tighten our belts as much as we can. No one has seen anything like this before. There’s no playbook on this.”

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