Flush with unexpected revenue, DuPage County will start the new fiscal year with a budget that pays off debt early, holds property tax rates steady and adds new positions to the county workforce.
County board members Tuesday unanimously approved a $474.3 million spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1.
The financial picture looks far rosier than the budget cycle last year. Amid pandemic uncertainty, county officials steeled themselves for revenue losses.
“We took a conservative approach to our financial plan,” DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
The approach paid off. DuPage now expects to end the current budget year with sales tax revenues exceeding projections to the tune of more than $24 million.
The county plans to use the windfall for a long list of budget items in fiscal 2022, including roughly $3 million for replacing aging vehicles; $2.5 million on infrastructure projects around the county campus in Wheaton; $315,000 on a Bear Cat armored vehicle for the sheriff’s office; and $800,000 on a mobile command center for the sheriff’s office.
In addition, the county will earmark roughly $6.3 million to make the remaining principal and interest payments on debt issued for drainage projects. Paying down the debt frees up $2 million to put away for any “unseen needs” in 2022, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Martynowicz said.
“I can proudly report that the proposed budget meets our obligations, clears away debt and lays a solid fiscal foundation for budgets in future years,” Cronin told board members before the final vote.
Cronin and Liz Chaplin, the chair of the board’s finance committee, said the budgeting process was collaborative. This year, officials added a budget workshop, Chaplin said.
“It’s a really good, consensus-driven, responsible budget,” Chaplin, a Downers Grove Democrat, said.
On the revenue side, the county’s property tax levy will increase slightly to $69.5 million to account for new construction being added to the tax rolls. The county’s property tax rate will remain flat. The owner of a home valued at $250,000 pays about $132 a year in property taxes to the county.
“The county portion of the homeowners’ tax bills will generally stay the same or go down,” Cronin said.
The county’s budgeted head count also will increase by 38 full-time employees to 2,241. That includes 21 new public safety positions created to comply with the SAFE-T Act, a sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February.
The legislation requires law enforcement statewide to wear body cameras, overhauls the police certification process and abolishes cash bail, among other provisions.
“We understand that it’s our obligation to abide by this new law,” Cronin said. “But at the same time, we are going to redouble our commitment to effective law enforcement, and we’re going to do it the right way.”
Of the 21 positions, the sheriff’s office added a sergeant and administrative assistant to oversee the body camera program; the public defender’s office added 12 lawyers, one secretary and one investigator; and the state’s attorney’s office added five attorneys.
In addition, 12 county positions are being funded with American Rescue Plan dollars. Those are employees in community services, finance and other departments administering federal coronavirus relief dollars.
“But for these new state and federal requirements or support, we would probably only be adding six people to our head count,” Cronin said.
The county has received $89.6 million in American Rescue Plan funds, the first of two equal installments. The rest is expected to flow into the county’s coffers in May.
“We’ve allocated $10.6 million in grants for our nonprofits,” Chaplin said.
The balanced budget also earmarks federal coronavirus relief money to place social work case managers in eviction court and to assist small businesses as part of the “Reinvest DuPage” grant relief program.
The “spending plan does not box us in, does not limit us should we need to respond to a new wrinkle in public health, safety or economic recovery needs based on COVID or any other emerging issue,” Cronin said.
The budget raises the sheriff’s department annual spending by roughly $3 million to $50.7 million for fiscal 2022. Another $2 million set aside in the infrastructure fund will pay for the armored vehicle, command center and 18 squad cars, Martynowicz said.
“We are making some serious investments in public safety,” Cronin said.
As outlined in Cronin’s original spending proposal, the final budget doubles the funding for a county task force formed in response to the opioid crisis. The Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education Taskforce, or HOPE, will receive $200,000 in 2022. The group, a joint effort by the county board and county health department, provides grants to social service agencies.