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Peoria County Budget Holds Taxes Steady, But ‘Wage Pressures’ Loom

210921 Peoria County board.jpg
Peoria County Government
Peoria County Board Chairman Andrew Rand, left, speaks during a Sept. 9 meeting as county clerk Rachael Parker and county administrator Scott Sorrel listen. The board is expected to vote on the 2022 proposed budget at its Oct. 14 meeting.

The Peoria County board is expected to vote on the 2022 budget at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Despite higher-than-normal staff vacancies and increasing payroll obligations, Peoria County Administrator Scott Sorrel contends the county is in good financial condition.

Sorrel said the recommended county budget for 2022 keeps the property tax rate unchanged at $0.8241 per $100 of equalized assessed value. That will produce about 25% of the $118.6 million in projected revenue.

“For the vast majority of property owners and taxpayers in Peoria County, we represent about 10-12% of the total property tax bill,” said Sorrel. “That will vary depending on whether you live in a municipality or you live in the unincorporated areas, and which school district you might live in.”

Sorrel said projected expenditures of $121.9 million still constitutes a balanced budget, with the roughly $3 million gap covered by a planned “spend-down” of reserves for some capital projects.

“A good example of that is: in our motor fuel tax fund, we accumulate dollars to do a road project,” he said. “Then once we have enough dollars in reserves saved up for that road project, then we go ahead and spend the money when we do the road project.”

Sorrel said the current budget figures do not take into account potential use of the county’s $34.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for 2022, should the board choose to appropriate any of that money.

But he also acknowledged the county will need to direct some of the 33% in general fund reserves toward addressing the employment dilemma.

“We’ve got about 655 or so positions budgeted, and 12% of those positions across the entire organization are vacant at this time,” he said. “That's above average for us; we don't typically see vacancy rate that high, and it's directly attributable to being able to recruit prospective employees into those vacant positions.”

Sorrel said the staffing issue is most glaring in the sheriff's department, particularly in corrections. He said recently approved collective bargaining agreements with deputies, lieutenants, and corrections officers included base wage increases.

“Another example that we've had to address is with some of our maintenance engineer positions in our facilities department,” said Sorrel. “We've just had some natural turnover due to retirements, and we've seen that we've had to increase the starting wage just to get qualified applicants so that we could fill those vacancies.”

Sorrel said he believes the forecasting of future county finances will allow the county to absorb increased employment expenses.

“We feel very comfortable recommending to the county board that the general fund is going to be financially solvent for the rest of the decade, based on our current projections,” he said.

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