Peoria County prides itself as being central Illinois’ best value in local government. The 2008 budget is another one that decreases the property tax rate while expanding services, including a significant financial reorganization.
The County Board approved our $122.2 million budget for 2008 on November 15th. Great work was done by the county administrator, elected officials and department heads to present the board with a sound budget. Just six years ago, the county issued debt backed by anticipated property taxes to meet our payroll obligations. After strict adherence to our financial policies and cooperation among all parts of the county organization, we expect to finish 2007 with a fund balance of $53 million. For the fourth consecutive year, we have lowered our property tax rate. In 2008, our rate will decrease by 1.36 cents to 83.08 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation (EAV). Next year, the owner of a $100,000 home can expect to pay $11.97 more than they did this year. Property taxes are 21 percent of the county’s revenues and about 12 percent of your tax bill, depending on where in the county you live.
Financial sustainability is one of the five strategic goals of Peoria County. Just like business, Peoria County is always looking for ways to improve service delivery (our product) and our ending fund balance. Doing so decreases our reliance upon property taxes, makes the county more nimble in predicting and addressing changes in the economy and ensures we have sufficient funds for that “rainy day,” when it comes.
This fall, the County Board executed another significant step in our financial sustainability plan by reorganizing our financial operations into a centralized finance department. Such an action may seem obvious in the business community. However, the structure of county government in Illinois makes managing the county’s finances much more cumbersome than one might expect. The elected county treasurer and county auditor have specific duties under state law, and the County Board sets the budget and authorized headcount while having the authority to hire an administrator to manage daily operations. With the support of the county treasurer and county auditor, operations are being streamlined under a chief financial officer who is accountable to the county administrator and board. The new CFO, whom we expect to have on board in early January, will continue our transformation. At the same time, the treasurer will focus on the property tax functions of the office and investments, and the auditor will focus on internal auditing.
Much is being said about the state of our economy. The revenues and expenses in our 2008 budget confirm what most Peorians already know—our local economy grows at a moderate pace, rarely seeing the volatility experienced in other places. The steps Peoria County has taken over the last couple years, and will continue to make going forward, will enable the county to weather any downturn, should it come. IBI