The Will County Board passed its fiscal year 2021 budget Thursday largely along party lines.
Board members approved the balanced budget by a 13-12 margin with Democrats voting in the affirmative.
The $567 million budget includes no new taxes and a lower property tax rate for the sixth year in a row, according to a news release. It includes about $216 million in the corporate fund, which covers the county’s daily operations, about a 1.7% increase from the previous year.
Will County Board member Ken Harris, D-Bolingbrook, who chairs the Finance Committee, argued the budget allows county government to continue to meet the needs of residents.
“I am proud of the work that we’ve done in this year’s budget,” Harris said during the meeting.
Next year’s budget includes money for additional staff positions at the new county courthouse which recently opened for operation. These include five new court security officers in the Will County Sheriff’s budget, three more circuit clerks, three more public defenders, and three more assistant state’s attorneys, according to county documents.
Representatives from these departments asked board members to consider funding additional positions to adequately staff the bigger courthouse and to help address a backlog of cases which were delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
ReShawn Howard, the county’s budget director, said the county was able to use money it had saved thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act and grant funds to pay for the new positions.
The 2021 budget also includes more than $100,000 for a study to examine any potential disparities in the county’s hiring and contracting practices. Elected officials have said they want to ensure companies owned by people of color have equal opportunities to earn a contract for county business.
There is also funding for a storm water management study the county is conducting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Harris said the project aims to address major flooding problems along the DuPage River.
Howard said besides money for new positions and studies, the 2021 budget doesn’t include many major changes, even with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging.
Near the outset of the pandemic, officials predicted the county could lose between $9 million and $26 million in revenue this year due to the economic restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.
But in the months since then, the county has seen much smaller losses in revenue than originally feared.
Karen Hennessy, the county finance director, has said that’s because Will County government doesn’t rely as much on tax revenue from entertainment venues like casinos or hotels, which have been greatly affected by the crisis.
The 2021 budget shows the county projects it will take in nearly $87 million in property taxes, a little over $60 million in intergovernmental revenue, and about $31 million in service charges.
The county’s projected property tax revenue will increase a little over 5% with new property built and Democratic board members voting to increase the levy by the full amount allowed by state law.
Republican board members have argued the county should not take the full increase allowed. Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said county government should do more to reduce costs now to ensure balanced budgets in the future.
“If you project out over the next five to 10 years, the tax base will no longer support the costs being created on and on and on,” he said.