Grafton township board approves tentative budget under deadline pressure

HUNTLEY – The new Grafton Township supervisor and an incumbent trustee worked all week crafting a $1.27 million township spending plan to ensure that the embattled township made a late June budget deadline.

New Supervisor Jim Kearns and Trustee Betty Zirk scoured a year’s worth of financial records since Kearns officially took office Monday to develop a balanced budget that Kearns said puts Grafton on the right track from its shaky financial situation.

He presented the budget to the Grafton Township Board during a meeting Thursday. The plan balances a budget that last year had a projected $224,000 deficit through legal fee cuts and staggered loan repayments to the road district.

“I thank Betty [Zirk] for sitting with me for quite a while and helping me and explaining what they’ve done in the past,” Kearns said.

Zirk, the only holdover trustee from April’s election, helped bring Kearns up to speed on Grafton’s finances, as the two worked together to have the board vote on it Thursday to guarantee that the township made the 30-day posting deadline before sending it to the county for final approval in late June.

The board tweaked certain line items to the assessor’s office before approving the budget, 5-0, in a vote that featured little contention among the newly sworn-in officials.

Grafton voters in April installed four new board members after three trustees opted not to seek another term and former Supervisor Linda Moore lost her re-election bid in the February Republican primary.

Moore frequently clashed with Zirk and the former trustees. The tension resulted in numerous lawsuits that helped drain Grafton finances and nearly forced the township to close until the former board approved a short-term loan from the road district in April.

The new spending plan, covering a budget year that began April 1, balances Grafton’s finances without the use of cuts to township programs. It contains only $87,000 in legal fees that Kearns said is meant to protect the township with numerous lawsuits against Grafton still unresolved. By comparison, Kearns said the previous years’ budget had more than $200,000 budgeted for legal fees.

“We can keep the township running without making cuts,” Kearns said. “We are not making any cuts to programs. I’m extremely pleased how it turned out.”

Kearns next week will turn his attention to Grafton’s short-term cash-flow problems that have nearly bankrupted the township. He expects the township to receive its first property tax installment next week, with larger payments expected to trickle in by mid-June.

Aside from the extra revenue, the township has enough operating money – $20,000 – to pay employees during its next payroll due at the end of May, Kearns said.

He said he will review the numerous monthly bills that the former board approved but weren’t paid under Moore, and present a list to the board in another special meeting next week.

Kearns couldn’t pinpoint how much the township owed in unpaid bills since he still was sorting through the list.

“The world is not going to come to an end,” Kearns said. “We are going to take care of this. We will all get along enough where this won’t be a problem. We are going to solve the problems here.”

Despite the monetary issues, the board hired, 5-0, Crystal Lake attorney and McHenry County Board member Joe Gottemoller to be the township’s attorney.

Gottemoller previously served as Grafton’s attorney, but resigned early in Moore’s tenure, leaving the township without any formal legal representation. Kearns recommended Gottemoller to the board. He did not disclose how Gottemoller would be compensated.

“I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances ... but it seemed to be appropriate at the time,” Gottemoller said. “I’m glad to be back in Grafton.”

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