'Imminent Shutdown' of Alexander County, Illinois

Cairo, IL – Commissioner Angela Greenwell says Alexander County has been running on a deficit budget for nearly a decade. She took office almost five years ago.

Greenwell-- There was a deficit budget well over $300,000 and it's been increasing exponentially since I've been in office.

This year, the county is working through a half-million dollar budget shortfall. Greenwell says she's been privately critical of how the board, on which she serves, has put the budget together in the past. Now she is going public.

Greenwell-- This disclosure has been in the works, it's been coming out for many years and now it's here. Now we are addressing it because it's basically the shutdown of Alexander County.

Commissioner Greenwell points to a lack of financial expertise as one reason the county is now forced to take drastic measures.

Greenwell-- The two commissioners that I sit with have never operated even a small business of their own. How can they operate and control a multi-million dollar business that's been belly-up in the hole for going on a decade or longer? And I know that we should be doing things in a different fashion, but we continue on with the same mechanism we've been using for years.

Alexander County's financial woes are coming to a head. Earlier this month, the County Board mandated the Sheriff's Office to lay off 11 employees; that's three quarters of its usual staff. Five of its cruisers are sitting in front of the Cairo National Bank after the county defaulted on the loans. Sheriff David Barkett met with state officials in Springfield on Tuesday, where Governor Pat Quinn provided him an additional police vehicle. That now makes three available. According to Sheriff Spokesman Charlie Richey, the law enforcement agency has basically been reduced to running on a skeleton crew and now relies heavily on Illinois State Police for emergency response efforts.

Richey-- The Sheriff's Office simply is doing what it's always done but on a very scaled back basis Illinois State Police has been of considerable assistance.

Richey says the Sheriff is currently working out how to move forward being so short-staffed.

Richey-- The Illinois Law Enforcement Support Office of Central Management Services has been reaching out and coordinating some of the offers of assistance which we've gotten from across the nation.

As the Sheriff's Office is currently coping with the change, Commissioner Greenwell warns of other problems.

Greenwell-- The shutdown of the county courthouse is imminent We are unable to even think about having an election in February when the primary comes up and furthermore the one computer data operator: she's been cut. The County Clerk's Office is operating with the Clerk and one deputy and you see a great volume of work in this office.

Besides a lack of financial expertise in governance, Greenwell blames other factors like high utility rates, job scarcity, and population decline.

Greenwell-- People have to pay a greater amount for their utility usage. It's gotten to the point where you have such a low employment rate; no jobs available to the people, they're therefore forced to move.

Estimates from the US Census Bureau show a 15 percent drop in population since 2000. Furthermore, the county's unemployment rate this month is almost 12 percent. And, as Commissioner Greenwell put it, the mountainous debt, decreasing population, and dismal employment numbers will make it quite difficult for the county to rebound. For WKMS News, I'm Chris Taylor.