SALINE COUNTY -- Saline County board members voted to support placing a referendum on the November ballot to increase its public safety tax Tuesday and voted to approve a budget with a potential shortfall of more than $1 million.
Increased health insurance costs is the most significant cost, budget committee chairman Joe Jackson said, and the county has to anticipate potential buyouts and severance payouts according to its contract with employees.
The county realized a potential savings when it switched health insurance plans in 2017, but recently it was notified the county's portion of its health insurance plan for employees will increase by about $500,000 this year.
Jackson said his committee has met frequently to hammer out a budget for 2017-2018.
He also suggested the county's public safety sales tax, which currently is 3/4 of one penny, should be increased. That sales tax provides extra dollars that may go toward departments within county government dedicated to public safety. Those departments include the sheriff's office, the state's attorney's office, the circuit clerk's office and the judges' office. Jackson said currently, the tax generates about $1.4-$1.5 million annually.
"The budget committee for Saline County has met probably 50 times since August to work on this budget," Jackson said. "What we found is pretty much a continuation of we found in the past. The public safety sales tax, just through a normal cost of living of 3 percent, has all been spent, or is being spent."
He told board members that while he does not normally favor tax increases in principal, he supports increasing the public safety tax to 1.5 cents.
The board approved a motion he made for the county to support putting that increase to a referendum for voters. He said if the question is put to a referendum and approved, based on current projections the public safety sales tax would generate about $2.8 million to $3 million.
The soonest such a referendum could be placed on a ballot would be for the November General Election, he said.
The budget will go on display in the lobby of the sheriff's office, the county clerk's office and the county board secretary's office. He said it is likely the board will have to call another special meeting to approve the budget once it's been on display for 30 days.
The budget also features these cuts: county clerk's office, $300,000; sheriff's office, $140,000; and Emergency Management Agency office, $30,000.
In addition, officeholders will have to pay severance pay and retirement buyouts out of their salary line items. New hiring will be prohibited until those buyouts are paid in full, Jackson said.
The board also approved to take an action on a recommendation by State's Attorney Jayson Clark to pursue litigation against drug manufacturers who produced opioid painkillers.
After a brief closed session to discuss the pending litigation, Clark explained what the action he recommended would do.
"What the board is doing is declaring opioid abuse a public nuisance in this county and allowing me to retain a group of attorneys to pursue litigation against the manufacturers," Clark said.
The board voted to approve the recommendation.
Following the meeting, Jackson reiterated his position that an increase in the public safety tax was a more fair option to help generate extra revenue.
"No one likes taxes, and I don't like taxes, but there are not a lot of good options," he said.
He said the other taxing option would be to hold truth in taxation hearings to increase the county's portion of property taxes, already considered high.
Another option, cutting services, probably is the least popular, he said. Saline County's financial circumstances leave few solutions.
"You either have to raise taxes or cut services," Jackson said.