KANKAKEE — Kankakee County government is entering unfamiliar territory — in a good way. On Wednesday, the county projected its first positive general fund balance in six years.

It is estimated to be $685,000 this budget year, a big change from even a year ago, when the general fund recorded a $1 million negative balance.

Steve McCarty

Steve McCarty, Kankakee County finance director

"We have a long way to go, but we're well on our way.''

From 2014 to 2016, the general fund’s negative balances exceeded $4 million.

Steve McCarty, the county’s finance director, told the county board’s finance committee Wednesday that he had been waiting a long time to report a positive fund balance.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said.

At the same time, McCarty said a $685,000 positive balance is “not a perfect position to be in.”

“We have a long way to go, but we’re well on our way,” he said.

When all of the county’s funds are combined, the projected fund balance is $3.5 million this year, far lower than the negative $4 million in 2016. That’s a swing of $7.5 million in three years.

With the better financial picture, the county is paying its bills sooner — within 30 to 45 days as opposed to more than 130 days previously, according to county documents.

A number of factors have led to the county’s improved situation. Among them are budget cuts, the sale of the county’s portion of a juvenile detention center in Will County and increased revenue for housing out-of-county inmates at the jail.

County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, praised the county’s labor unions as playing a role in helping the county bring its budget under control.

“The employees realized we were in a spot. I don’t know if that would have happened somewhere else,” he said.

The county jail’s contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement generated $2 million last year for other county functions, said Carmen Huizenga, the county’s external auditor.

Wheeler noted later that the county is seeing more local inmates in recent months. Unlike federal detainees, the county won’t be able to recoup those costs, he said.

“With added locals, there is added cost,” Wheeler said.

He said he hoped the local number would go down “when people realize we’re actually prosecuting crimes these days.”

Sheriff Mike Downey said he and other officials thought the local numbers would drop when the state enacted bond reform, but that didn’t happen.

“We try to work with the state’s attorney to get people who don’t belong in jail out of jail,” the sheriff said. “We don’t want people to stay in jail if they don’t have to be. If you look at some of the people we house, they are right where they belong.”

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