Letter: County cuts hinder mandated services

By on July 23, 2009

I recognize that Kane County is experiencing significant drops in revenue. At the same time, I have had concerns on delivering services mandated by law. Every individual County Board member received my concerns.

Asking for counsel was portrayed as a desire to sue the County.

Rather, it was an attempt to have a serious discussion with the board as my efforts to do so without representation have not resulted in meaningful discussions.

County government should be open and transparent, and those in charge of budget appropriation decisions should talk to those in charge of performing the county’s business. With regard to the proposed budget cuts, there were no budget hearings and no budget process involving the officials, appointed or elected. My concern is that there has been no consideration of what services are mandated by law and what services in the county are discretionary, and whether a 5.5 percent cut was appropriate for any given office in light of the type of service being performed.

The board announced that development revenue was down over 80 percent; it would therefore seem to be a logical conclusion that there would be a workload reduction in that entire segment of services in a correlating percentage. In contrast, the workload for the court system and the Circuit Clerk’s office, among other departments, has risen in response to the current economic situation, with increased demand for services. It does not seem to be a good business decision to dictate an equal cut across all offices and departments when non-mandated service demands are down and mandated services are up.

Transparency demonstrates confidence that one is governing fairly. My office’s transactions are open to the county. Even though I have no requirement to submit a line-item budget, I choose to do so for all five budgets.

There are no discretionary programs in my office; county funds are for mandated services. As an elected official I have statutory duties that have time mandates for performance imposed by either Illinois statutes or the Illinois Supreme Court. Every action taken by my office affects the lives or livelihood of our customer citizens.

For example, a disposition on a criminal case affects the criminal history records used by law enforcement nationwide or for job verifications. A time delay could potentially allow a criminal to obtain a prohibited position, such as with a school, or affect the severity of charges that should be filed upon a later arrest. A delay in correcting an error could keep a person from getting a job. A traffic ticket not reported to the Secretary of State could allow a driver that should be suspended to continue to drive, putting others at risk. A delay in correcting a ticket reported inaccurately could cause a suspension of a driver’s license or cause increased insurance costs.

The Circuit Clerk’s Office is central to the judicial system and critical to the workings of public safety. Our entry of filings, sentencing, process papers (warrants, summons, attachments), and so on is relied upon by Court Services, the Judiciary, and the State’s Attorney to perform their own duties; delays in my office will increase costs throughout the judicial system. Arresting agencies rely on our records, rely on our ability to get the warrants and warrant recalls to them. Daily research requests with short deadlines are received from Homeland Security, FBI, Immigration, Department of Corrections and others. Accuracy is critical. Timeliness is mandated.

In 2006, the County Board spent thousands of dollars on a consultant to compile the revenue sources and match them to the services performed. Called the Service Inventory Matrix, the survey included identifying which services were mandated, and while it failed to identify which fund covered the mandated services, it would have been a good place to have started budget hearings.

For the 2009 budget year (starting Dec. 1, 2008) there was an across-the-board budget cut of 1.5 percent from the amount funded in the previous 2008 fiscal year budget. That 1.5-percent budget cut was actually a 16.88-percent cut for our office in order to meet union contractual obligations. As a result we experienced a reduction in staff by eight people. For the mid-year cut of 5.5 percent, we cut another 3.5 percent, including dropping two more people, which is the maximum reduction that I believe we are capable of providing.

Staff was at 108 people when I took office in 1996. Thirteen years later, with caseloads that have grown significantly, we are now at 112, only 82 of which are funded by the county’s general fund. The mid-year figures for court cases filed overall is up 17 percent from June of last year, and we have dropped 8 percent of our staff in an effort to meet the county’s budget cuts.

There is an assumption that the county funds the entire budget of the Clerk’s Office. In fact, there are four other funds, called Special Funds, which are funded by user fees and reduce the burden on the county. The funds are established by law for a special purpose, and expenditures are limited to the purpose for which the funds were established. For the expenditures to be for personnel, the staff must be performing functions established under the specified purpose.

Another example is the assumption that my office receives funding from the county to cover the projects that help bring technology to the courts. Instead, those projects are funded from the Court Automation and the Document Storage funds. The resulting financial savings from these projects can show direct benefits in costs to the county’s General Fund as there is then need for less staff to perform mandated services despite increased workloads. We continue to work toward implementing more technology that will have the same results.

The board’s stated top goal is to “reduce balances in special funds.” In working with the board this year and in previous years, I have pushed the limits of what is qualified to be funded by the Special Funds to the point of vulnerability.

There are non-mandated services and expenditures currently being made by the county. Even though these discretionary expenditures may be desirable for various reasons, the county’s financial situation may require the county to cut those optional or discretionary costs by more than 5.5 percent in order to make sure statutorily required services in other offices are continued.

I look forward to a constructive dialog with representatives of the county in order to reach a solution that achieves both the delivery of legally mandated services and lowers the county’s overall costs.

Deborah Seyller
Kane County Circuit Court Clerk