How DuPage County plans to use $40 million budget surplus

DuPage County is expected to amass a $40 million budget surplus by the end of the fiscal year.

Income tax revenues are trending up, but sales tax receipts in particular have surged past initial projections. Budget planners originally predicted the county would close the books with $109.4 million in sales tax. Updated revenue figures show the county should wind up reaping $130.8 million.

“We’re generating right now more than $11 million a month in sales tax returns from the state,” DuPage Chief Financial Officer Jeff Martynowicz said Aug. 30.

Internet sales tax collections have provided a “tremendous boost” to revenue, Martynowicz said. Because it’s a relatively new revenue stream, the county “couldn’t really pinpoint” what it would generate “until we had many months of historical returns,” Martynowicz said.

“Going forward, we’ll be more on track,” he said.

On the expense side, the county budgeted $154.5 million for salaries, health insurance benefits and other employee costs. According to the finance department, the county likely will pay closer to $148.5 million for personnel amid a labor crunch.

“We have over 100 positions that are open and that is definitely a function of having a really difficult time hiring people in each of our departments,” Martynowicz said.

All told, the revenue growth helps put the overall budget in the black and hands the county board the enviable task of how to spend the surplus.

Officials have proposed using the extra cash for a list of projects to take “tremendous pressure” off future budget years. County board members have voiced tentative support for setting aside millions to replace vehicles and fund building improvements on the government campus in Wheaton, but other initiatives are a tougher sell. Officials also cautioned that surplus dollars could be socked away in the event of another health crisis or emergency.

So far, board members have agreed to earmark $3 million of the surplus, plus $3 million in additional American Rescue Plan funds, to help cover inflationary increases in the estimated cost of a DuPage Care Center overhaul. Renovations of the county-owned nursing home could total $31.5 million, about $9 million more than planned.

Officials also have outlined a proposal to direct $393,800 in surplus money toward the installation of a 125-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar array on the county administration building.

“From a leadership perspective, I fully believe that this is the right thing to do for our county,” said Sheila Rutledge, chair of the board’s environmental committee. “We have got to get off fossil fuels.”

A private donor has offered $50,000 to help make the $443,800 solar panel project a reality. A ComEd rebate program and other “payback strategies” will allow the county to recoup the costs over time, officials said.

The county is looking to start the installation in spring 2023. The system could yield roughly $11,000 to $15,000 in savings per year.

Board members also are willing to allocate $3.25 million of the surplus for a vehicle replacement fund. In addition, the board will contribute $250,000 for a “Clean and Lien” program, which removes or demolishes abandoned and dilapidated buildings.

Some board members, however, were lukewarm about a sheriff department request to dedicate $10.5 million for a garage near the jail to house task force vehicles and storage space for the DuPage Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“I truly cannot stress enough how beneficial it would be to have all of our emergency vehicles in this one central location or one umbrella, making it that much easier for response to major incidents,” Sheriff James Mendrick said during a recent finance committee meeting.

Several board members balked at the price tag.

“That’s $10.5 million – 25% of this surplus,” Dawn DeSart said. “$10.5 million that’s not going to go to affordable housing. $10.5 million that’s not going to go to food pantries. $10.5 million that’s not going to go to jobs programs. $10.5 million that’s not going to go to people.”

Other board members said they wanted to do a preliminary engineering study of the garage, with options for a scaled-back design.