Approval of Piatt County's tax levy and budget for 2019-20 will wait for another day after both actions were tabled at the regular county board meeting this morning.
Several audience members at the crowded meeting – moved to the larger Monticello Community Building – spoke out against a proposed 9.4 percent increase in the levy amount, as well as a budget that cuts 38 percent from the state's attorney's line item.
“I feel targeted and betrayed,” said Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Dobson, saying the department had worked with County Board Chairman Ray Spencer closely in recent months regarding changes needed to the Emergency Management Agency as it approaches recertification.
The EMA budget also saw its request trimmed back to the current year's amount, something Dobson feels weakens its credibility.
“Until two weeks ago, I was absolutely convinced I was doing what I was doing because Mr. Spencer supported that particular department,” Dobson said, referring to the EMA. “When looking back on all the work I've done over the past six months, it's been an utter and complete waste of my time, and your money.”
State's Attorney Dana Rhoades said she found out about Wednesday's mandatory Truth-In-Taxation meeting “on Facebook,” but that after preliminary research feels an approved budget is needed prior to passing a tax levy. The levy preceded the budget on the agenda.
That prompted the board to table both actions, probably until a special meeting next week.
In the meantime, the outpouring of support for the state's attorney's office convinced at least one county board member to reconsider one of the final cuts made to the tentative budget, which eliminated one of the two assistant state's attorney's positions. A full-time post this year, it had already been reduced to part-time in Rhoades' submitted budget.
“I would like to re-visit that particular budget pertaining to the part-time state's attorney,” said board member Randy Shumard.
Speaking up for the state's attorney's office was Renee Fehr, the sister of Sheryl Houser, the Piatt County resident who was murdered in 1990 in her rural home between Mansfield and Mahomet. Her estranged husband, Gregory Houser, was convicted of that murder in 2017, with the current State's Attorney staff of Rhoades, Dobson and Tamara Waggoner conducting the trial.
“Until your county elected Dana Rhoades state's attorney, I didn't think that day would ever come,” Fehr said of a conviction in the 27-year-old cold case.
After receiving budget proposals from various departments in August, the county found itself about $1.1 million from being balanced. A 15-percent cut was considered to bring it in line, but the county felt 9 percent was more feasible. That led to a current budget proposal that is $387,000 in the red.
When asked why every department was not required to trim at least 9 percent off their original proposals, board member Dale Lattz explained, “we have three union contracts in the county for certain offices that you can't really go in and cut those salaries. Other departments, their operating budgets had been cut the year before and it varies by department.”
Audience members also spoke out against the levy increase at the Truth-in-Taxation hearing that preceded the county board session. County officials said most of the increase was needed to fund IMRF and Social Security contributions, and that it would add an estimated $33 to the tax bill of county residents owning a $100,000 home.