The McLean County Fiscal Court on Wednesday approved the first reading of its $6.6 million 2019-20 budget, which includes a resolution to pay $516,111 toward the county's $2.5 million deficit.

During the regular court session, which ran well into three hours long, discussions became heated between magistrates and audience members, with Judge-Executive Edward West allowing for public comment more than half-way through the agenda.

Most of the crowd's concerns stemmed from the court opting to not reappointment of current county treasurer, Sarah Hawkins, with Sheriff Ken Frizzell telling magistrates he thought they were turning Hawkins into a scapegoat for the financial issues the county is facing.

Magistrates voted instead of appoint a selection committee to determine a new county treasurer by July 1, when Hawkins' tenure will officially end.

Hawkins, who has been in the position since 2013, said after the meeting she is thankful for the opportunity she has had to work with the county officials, but that her not being re-appointed is far from the biggest issue the court is facing at this time.

"I love McLean County and I will certainly be in prayer for the officials and all they do in decisions moving forward," she said. "They are wonderful people. It has been wonderful to work with them. This is very hard right now."

Tom Dodson, with the Department of Local Government, has been working with Hawkins and the judge-executive to hammer out the budget that would appropriately address the pitfalls in revenues and spending. He urged magistrates to consider the proposed budget because it will be "an opportunity for you on the court to change the direction of the county."

"As you are all aware of, the county has been in pretty difficult circumstances financial wise for awhile," Dobson said. "It's born out of the situation where the county had homogenized; they had put all their funds in a single checking account over the course of many years."

The court also hired Dave Roberts with Alexander Thompson Arnold CPA to "clean up" the financial books for 2016-current years. He said the company has cleaned up 2016-17, 2017-18, and is still in the process of working on 2018-19. So far, he said, the firm has determined a lot of the discrepancies in numbers have been a result of the system the county uses to input and manage funds.

"I think you're dealing with a system that is old and outdated," he said, adding that a data crash within the system also caused problems for the county's financials.

Roberts said the firm has had problems finding some items, mainly on the revenue side, and that once they looked further they could "definitely tell a number of things haven't been reported, but on the bank statement side the ins and outs are correct."

West asked for a clarification that, in short, Roberts was saying there were no signs of missing appropriations, and Roberts told him that is correct.

The fiscal court has scheduled a special-called meeting for Friday, June 28, to continue working with the budget, and to hear the second reading of the budget ordinance, which is required by state law. At that time, they will also discuss the findings of the county treasurer selection committee.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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