New budget (slimmer than the old budget)

The public hearing on the city of Decatur's budget passed without comment Monday night (April 18), which should have come as no surprise to anybody who kept an eye on voter turnout for the April 5 election.

The council approved $150 million in spending for the next 12 months, about $5 million more than they spent over the course of this year due to money from bonds the city already secured.  Other than that, and the need to increase spending on salaries, benefits, and pensions, pretty much every department in city government had its budget cut.

The outlook for this upcoming year was better than the same process looked 12 months ago, but not by much: Nobody will be laid off this time around, but nine vacant positions have been eliminated, including two major management positions - a deputy police chief in the Decatur Police Department and an assistant city manager.

Both those positions were already empty, but eliminating them effectively means they'll never again be filled unless the city reorganizes itself.  Management personnel don't work any harder than do the seven front-line workers whose positions are now gone, I'm just saying that when management positions are eliminated, it affects the operations of an entire department.

Residents should be concerned if this means the city starts operating less efficiently just to save money.  The size of staff has shrunk in the last three years, and sooner or later, if cuts continue to be handed down, the likelihood is going to become high that an essential service somewhere won't get done.

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A concern brought up by council members this time around was the city manager's decision to again forgo major construction spending over the next year.  Lots of projects will break ground, but they'll all be paid for out of bonds already secured, state grants, and other such outside funding.  This effectively means that big ticket plans like the downtown improvement project will proceed while many side streets still look like they got hit by cluster bombs.

Despite the shortcomings that have come from tough economic times, it should be said that once again, the city manager has crafted and passed a budget that favors cuts and consolidations over tax hikes.  That's what citizens (those who speak up, anyway) have called for, and that's what they've gotten.  In that regard, at least, city government is taking its duties more seriously than Springfield seems to be.

A short run comes to an end

Monday was also City Councilman Jamie Duies' final council meeting.  His brief turn as a policymaker for the city was taken up mostly with his efforts at election, and the only major policy decision he was around to make was to consult on the budget.

Mayor Mike McElroy appointed Duies to the position state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, served in before his election to the Illinois House.  As I said earlier, the extremely poor turnout makes it hard to figure out if voters rejected Duies (another ADM employee, and a candidate who announced he was running only after being appointed), or if they came out in support of Pat McDaniel, the man who defeated him with 52 percent of the vote in a four-way race.

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