Spending Wisely

William Prather, Peoria County Board

As previously discussed here, Peoria County prides itself on being fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ dollar. Throughout this decade, the County Board made a series of decisions that implement our strategic plan. Some were difficult—like the decision to trim our workforce in the early part of the decade. Others were easier—like the decision to create a finance department. Within our framework, “Financially Sustainable County Government” has always been the top of our five goals.

As a testament to achieving that goal, I can report that again in 2007, Peoria County lowered its tax rate from 2006, but also improved the County’s financial condition. Our recently completed financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2007, show we increased our total net assets by $17.02 million, or 14.1 percent, during 2007. The County’s net assets now stand at $120.4 million. Our improved financial condition is a testament to the sensible spending habits of our elected officials, independent boards, agencies and commissions, and the departments under the direction of our County Administrator.

Our condition is also due to the strength of the local economy. Despite all the pessimism nationally, the Peoria economy has remained pretty well insulated during this downturn. Our analysis points to quite minor increases in unemployment compared to more sizeable increases at the state and national levels. Intergovernmental revenues received from the State, like income tax, personal property replacement tax and sales tax, continue to increase from prior years. However, these revenues are not keeping pace with inflation, so Peoria County continues to take a measured approach to projecting revenue and spending.

The County is implementing a fraud and abuse hotline as another tool in continued risk management. County Auditor Carol Van Winkle will administer the hotline. If an employee or citizen witnesses an act of what they believe to be fraud or abuse, they may call 866-614-2752. Managing our risk for the County means more resources are dedicated to direct services for the community.

Now is the time in our fiscal year that the County begins to prepare its budget for 2009. The County Board has again directed our County Administrator to present a budget that lowers our share of the tax bill and maintains or improves the level of service we provide to the community. There are challenges associated with this directive, including flattening of revenues and increased expenses. Just like other governments and business, Peoria County is feeling the pinch of higher fuel and food expenses. We will likely defer one or more road construction projects in 2008 to balance higher gas prices. Given the recent history of our employees, the County Board is confident that we can achieve better service with a lower tax rate. iBi

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