As signs begin to indicate a recovery from the recent downturn in the economy, Tazewell County continues to look for ways to reduce costs and do things more efficiently going into the future. Difficult times are opportunities to rethink how things are done and to ask questions that in good times often go unanswered.

Recently, two things came together that allowed Tazewell to save over $100,000 in financing costs. First, after a thorough review of our budget, debt and reserves, Standard & Poors upgraded our credit rating from A+ to AA. This, combined with unprecedented low bond rates of approximately one percent, allowed us to refinance our jail debt and save significant dollars.

Another area where Tazewell County has done quite well over the past several years is in our Supervisor of Assessments office. A recent analysis of home sales in our county shows that the selling price and the assessed price of homes are nearly identical. This demonstrates two things. First, our township assessors and the Supervisor of Assessments staff are doing very good work, and second, homes in Tazewell County are retaining their value. This allows for a consistent, reliable and timely source of revenue for all of the taxing bodies.

Our county also recently instituted a management committee to search for areas of savings. This group will meet on a regular basis to look for areas of savings and efficiencies in what we currently do and buy. If this group succeeds, we hope to expand our committee to neighboring communities and counties to see if we can work together to achieve even greater cost reductions.

In the area of human resources, we have eliminated one position, suspended the hiring of newly created positions and deferred backfilling positions as they come open. We are also in the middle of several union contract negotiations and are very cognizant of what our economy is doing locally when considering financial offers. This year, our non-union employees and appointed department heads saw raises of zero to two percent.

Other areas of cost savings include reducing capital expenditures by 50 percent in the 2010 budget except in transportation, technology and any grant-funded projects. We have also put greater emphasis on energy conservation and have asked everyone to do their part. Lastly, we have re-bid or renegotiated several contracts with more favorable terms (i.e. telephone, long distance, cable contracts) in addition to canceling several contracts with cancellation provisions in order to take advantage of cost-saving opportunities.

Through all of this, we continue to work with our local legislators to defend against and promote appropriate solutions to the state’s financial crisis and its affect on counties.

Tazewell County is a “tax-capped” county, and yet we continue to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state. We are proud of our strong financial position that took years of discipline and frugal spending to achieve. Our goal through these difficult times is to remain financially strong while providing the taxpayers and citizens of our county exceptional service and value. iBi