DECATUR — Council members reluctantly endorsed a city budget proposal for next year that would run a $3.2 million deficit with the hopes that Illinois lawmakers would reverse recent cuts to local government funding in a new state budget agreement next year.
If not, come June or July, council members said, they will start to look at difficult cuts to city services.
"We're going to see real pain from our citizens if we have to go further into cuts," said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe.
City staff presented a number of items for which council members agreed funding might need to be reduced or eliminated: $70,000 for the security and clean-up of the Decatur Celebration, $71,000 to the Senior Center, and $7,000 to the Sister City Program, just to name a few.
"I know that some of these entities actually help generate some revenue for our city, but I don't think that we can in good conscience continue to fund these organizations fully when we know we're operating on a deficit budget, and (when) we can't continue to raise taxes to meet the deficit," said Councilwoman Dana Ray.
The council's next meeting Dec. 4 will include more discussion of the budget and a presentation of the city's proposed property tax levy, followed by a formal vote on Dec. 18. As the Herald & Review first reported Friday, the city's proposed property tax levy is mostly flat from 2017 at $13.87 million.
While the city has struggled for years with declining sales tax revenue and lagging economic activity, council members directed their blame and frustration at Springfield, where a July budget agreement between lawmakers included pinching from long-relied-upon dollars for local governments.
Officials have said Decatur is set to lose $1.4 million over last year from a decrease in shares of both the sales tax and state income tax.
The deficit budget, said City Manager Tim Gleason, comes from the idea that state officials may get rid of those cuts after this year.
"We won't know until late spring what the state is going to do," Gleason said.
The other deficit costs, according to city staff, include $1.25 million in estimated back pay owed to Decatur police, who have been working without a union contract for more than a year. Overall receipts from local revenue like the sales tax, cable tax, and the hotel tax have declined, while the cost for the city's existing services have increased by 1.5 percent. All that puts the city another $500,000 in the red, officials say.
In other business at Monday's council meeting:
- Members approved a $1 million donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, to be directed to the city's neighborhood revitalization project. Gleason said the money will go into the city's general operating fund, but will be used expressly for the neighborhood initiative, and will have basic conditions for use under the agreement.
- Gleason also announced the city has canceled a logging contract with Critchelow Logging, Inc. The contract called for the felling of 114 trees, which drew ire from local environmental groups, including the Decatur Audubon Society. Gleason said while other potential sites for logging have been discussed, city staff has no plans under current consideration.