McHenry County committees split on 2.75 percent increase for nonunion employees

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee is split on whether it should recommend merit-based raises for nonunion employees of up to 2.75 percent in next year’s budget.

The Finance and Audit Committee on Tuesday declined to advance recommendation to authorize the raises for fiscal 2014, which starts Dec. 1.

It had passed the Human Resources Committee earlier in the day on a 4-3 vote.

Several factors kept a number of finance committee members from supporting the raise plan as presented, said member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.

Kurtz said 2.75 percent next year is higher than the 1.7 percent rate of inflation set by the Illinois Department of Revenue for tax purposes.

And some opponents, such as Kurtz, also said offering raises while keeping the levy flat – which the County Board also did last year – is not fiscally sound.

“I think there were two camps [Tuesday],” Kurtz said. “One was saying, how can we make this work and our people deserve to be compensated, and the other camp was saying, I don’t see how we can approve an increase when the situation dictates we don’t have the money to do this.”

The County Board last week approved guidelines for next year’s budget that include a second consecutive year of keeping the property-tax levy flat and rejecting the inflationary increase that governments are entitled to under the tax cap. 

But those guidelines also include setting a plan regarding compensation for nonunion workers by the end of June. County Administrator Peter Austin said a joint meeting between the finance and human resources committee might be needed to come up with a plan if there are differences.

County Board members have expressed concerns in recent years that low nonunion raises will prompt more workers to organize in hopes of getting larger salaries set by contract. One of the priorities in the past two fiscal years has been to try to achieve raise parity for both union and nonunion employees.

About 40 percent of the county government’s workforce is unionized, divided among nine bargaining units.

Another delicate part of the equation has been not angering taxpayers whose property-tax bills have increased despite falling home values. 

Only about 10 percent of the average property-tax bill goes to county government, according to county staff, with school districts by far making up the highest percentage.

The County Board last year embarked upon a plan to start making its main budgetary decisions for the next fiscal year with months to spare. The reason was a last-minute attempt the night of the vote to approve the 2012 budget to keep the levy flat, which would have required a significant reworking of a $250 million county budget with just two weeks in which to do it.

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