|Accusations from unionized AFSCME Nursing Home employees against the Knox County government have been plentiful in recent months.
The AFSCME union has been demanding new contracts for nearly a year, and has protested several times in front of the County Courthouse and Annex buildings to voice their frustrations. AFSCME representatives agree the union employees questions fall into four categories:
Where did the IMRF contributions being represented on their budget come from?
Will the County live up to their promises to pay the retirement costs?
Why did the County wait to change the accounting until this year?
Why has the County spent so much on legal fees battling AFSCME demands?
AFSCME members began protesting frequently when the County moved money to fund the employees IMRF obligations onto the nursing home's budget.
Many of the employees that spoke to WGIL suggested the costs have never been there before and will put the nursing home out of business. Nursing Home employee Lawrence Taylor told WGIL during the picket - which took place on November 15th - the employees didn't know where that money came from.
"We've been negotiating for over a year to get a contract," said Taylor. "They don't want to negotiate, they keep trying to take everything away from us, and then we see this 935-thousand going on the budget they say has always been there, but why are they voting on it. They brought it up to vote on it this month (November), but obviously it hasn't been there if they're going to vote on it."
Representatives of the County, including County Board Chair Greg Bacon and Treasurer Robin Davis; meanwhile, have said the funds have always been there, but are simply accounted for differently.
With the approval of the fiscal year 2013 budget, WGIL looked through the line items and independently verified a transfer out of the tax referendum, IMRF, and Social Security funds into the Nursing Home's budget in the amount of 935-thousand dollars.
"The nursing home is technically an enterprise fund," says Davis. "They are supposed to be responsible for all obligations. That money is not supposed to come from the taxpayers directly. For about the past 10 years the County has paid for the Nursing Home Pension and Social Security obligation, but there is no, per say, law that the taxpayers have to fund that."
AFSCME Staff Representative Randy Lynch has told WGIL, the union is uncertain whether or not the County will even fund that amount this year, going as far as to say the County is only putting those funds on the Nursing Home's books for political leverage.
"It still stands to be proven if they're going to finance a part of that," says Lynch. "The taxpayers have a right to know the exact cost of the Nursing Home so if you're going to show a number, it should reflect your true costs for the operation of the nursing home."
Davis and County Board Chair Greg Bacon tell WGIL there's no take back on the funding planned.
"They're just blowing smoke, that's what that is," says Bacon. "They keep telling us in negotiations they're making all this money, in actuality the Nursing Home is not making all this money they claim they're making. Closing the Nursing Home has never been brought up by any County Board member."
The nursing home budget says the home plans to bring in $2,709 more than they plan to spend in the fiscal year 2013 budget. Among the questions and concerns AFSCME has brought up is why the County decided to change it's accounting this year. Lynch tells WGIL that to him, changing the accounting is equal to manipulating the budget.
"That's not being true and honest with your budget process or with the taxpayers. They need to know what the financial condition is of the Nursing Home," says Lynch.
Davis tells WGIL that representatives of IMRF suggested additional transparency in the reporting of retirement funds. She was referencing a trip IMRF representatives made to Knox County last year to complete an audit of the budget.
WGIL found the item Davis was referencing in a Powerpoint presentation given by IMRF and indeed this was the case. Davis tells WGIL she feels the union is making an improper accusation.
"Every department head goes through their line items line by line and submit a budget to their authoritative committees and then those committees review those budgets before the full board approves a final budget," says Davis. "There is no inflating. If anything, we're really tight on our expenditures and as I've stated before, the revenues are things we really don't have a lot of control over."
To date, Knox County has spent $16,079.39 being legally represented in negotiations between the AFSCME nursing home and the County by Davis & Campbell, LLC out of Peoria.
Lynch was unable to provide details on what the Nursing Home employees are demanding after repeated requests for knowledge of the situation - which can be verified in the audio interview below the story.
"What we're demanding is a fair contract," says Lynch. "The County proposal would virtually eliminate a lot of the benefits that have been negotiated over the years. We're trying to maintain what they have and make sure the members don't lose everything that they've fought for over the last 20 years."
Both Lynch and Bacon said the negotiations weren't necessarily in shambles. Bacon went on to say they need the Nursing home to be making money in order to pay the bills.
Further negotiations are scheduled with a federal mediator for later this month.
Randy Lynch Interview
Robin Davis Interview
Greg Bacon Interview