“Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” This apt quote from Benjamin Franklin is very relevant today in the operation of healthy local governments. The precarious financial situation of the State of Illinois, coupled with layoffs at Caterpillar, make our oversight function as a board ever more important today.
Being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars entrusted to us, both large and small, is our most important responsibility, and the Tazewell County Board has taken steps in recent years to ensure that your money is being spent responsibly. To that end, the board created a finance department to provide budget and financial analysis, forecast revenues, assist with budget creation, oversee accounts payable and purchasing, and provide recommendations to the county administrator and the board.
Overseeing the finance department is our very talented and capable administrator, Wendy Ferrill. Wendy has an accounting degree from Bradley University, and her ability to see the “whole picture” has enabled the board to make wise decisions moving forward. Not only has she helped the county find efficiencies and savings, she recently found language in the ACA that potentially could have led to large fines related to noncompliance.
We were fortunate to hire Craig Peters, an accountant formerly with Caterpillar, to fill the finance director position and assume its important responsibilities. Although fairly new to Tazewell County, Craig has been able to hit the ground running. He recently developed a forecasting model that will aid us in more accurately predicting revenues, which will in turn help us make more accurate budgeting decisions. Thus far, our sales and property taxes, while not growing, have not started to decline.
Despite one of the lowest tax rates in the state, we still have a general fund budget of more than $28.5 million and an overall budget of $59.6 million. These funds come from over 104 different sources, which include primary sources such as sales taxes, property taxes and income taxes, all the way down to vending machine profits and income from the county farm.
As we were developing our 2017 budget, we asked all elected officials and department heads to make 10-percent, across-the-board cuts. We understood this may not be possible for every department, but the cooperation we received was nothing less than phenomenal. The board was able to make this request—and get the buy-in—because of the trust we have developed with each other over the years.
Moving forward, we have established an ad hoc committee to meet monthly for the purpose of reviewing incoming revenues as they relate to expenses. This committee will allow us to make decisions more quickly, including adjustments if we see problems arising. By standing on the shoulders of previous boards, which have given us a strong financial foundation, we endeavor to give future boards the same advantage.
I would like to finish with a quote from nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. In 2012, he stated: “We the people grant power to political leaders. Along with that power goes—or ought to go—a presumption that the men and women we elect are stewards, or caretakers of America; that they will behave as responsible overseers of what has been entrusted to them.” As stewards of Tazewell County, we take this responsibility seriously. iBi