Will County Executive Walsh expresses concerns about budget cuts
Popular recycling programs, Highway Truck drivers cut without discussion
With a final vote on Will County’s FY 2016 budget anticipated at tomorrow’s county board meeting, Will County Executive Larry Walsh expressed his concerns about cuts to several critical areas of county services. Two of particular concern are the removal of four Division of Transportation truck driver positions and a significant cut to the county’s successful recycling programs.
“At the end of a very long budgetary process it is very disturbing to me that the Board may pass a budget that removes funding for four truck drivers from our county highway department just before snow fall begins in our area,” said Walsh. “Our residents’ safety is my primary concern in keeping our roads passable in the winter months.”
Walsh noted that there has been limited discussion by the County Board about greater efficiencies in the county highway department and questioned why this action is happening so late in the budget process. With snow predicted in the near future, Walsh said now is not the time to limit the county’s response to weather related services.
“I welcome a formal discussion on how we might be able to improve the efficiencies of any of our county departments, but why now?” asked Walsh. “My budget director has been working with the elected officials and department heads since the middle of summer to craft the FY 16 budget. There has been ample time to have these discussions before now.”
Walsh said the four positions in the highway department have been vacant for many months, despite attempts to fill them by his office. The positions were posted and offers were made to the applicants. However these positions are not funded in the FY 2016 budget and the County Board has yet to take a formal yes or no vote, which is required.
With this failure to act, Walsh has sought a formal opinion from the Will County States Attorney on whether these hires can be held up indefinitely.
“I have a clear responsibility to the residents of Will County for the day-to-day operations of county government,” said Walsh. “Years ago the voters approved a referendum creating the elected office of County Executive who is responsible to every resident in all parts of the county. I am hoping the County Board will take action on these positions in the very near future so that we have a fully staffed highway department to handle snow storms in the coming months.”
The second issue involves a significant reduction in the appropriations for the popular recycling programs in the Will County Land Use department. Walsh said Will County has become the leader in Illinois with its recycling efforts. The County is averaging over four million pounds of electronics, along with many other items, are collected at county sponsored events each year.
“Will County has been recognized as the leader in Illinois for our efforts in recycling,” said Walsh. “We have overwhelming participation by our residents and we are hoping to keep this progress going with additional events throughout the county to make it more convenient for our residents. With these cuts to the proposed budget, we will not be able to hold as many events and thus serve less residents.”
Walsh said the residents are paying to fund these programs through a portion of their garbage collection fees. These dollars come to Will County Land Use Department and are specifically allocated to pay for waste services and related recycling efforts. Thus, they cannot be reallocated to fund other unrelated county purposes.
“Will County residents are already paying for these services and expect the county to provide these services, as evidenced by the growing popularity of our recycling programs each year,” said Walsh. “These funds should be used for their intended purposes and that is to provide these services to our residents.”
Walsh said he is hopeful amendments to the budget will be proposed at Thursday’s County Board meeting to restore the funding for the truck driver positions. He said he is also optimistic when all the board members hear about the proposed recycling work in 2016, they will agree to restore funding for these critical programs as well.
“There is still a chance to correct these issues,” said Walsh. “My hope is that the County Board will work with my administration to solve these problems before they negatively impact our residents.”