DECATUR — A City Council study session to discuss the financial implications of COVID-19 on the municipal budget, originally scheduled for tonight, has been canceled to allow members more time to review the proposals.
Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said Sunday night a review of the council packet over the weekend was the first time she and other council members became aware of the many "out of the box" ideas being put forth by city staff to address ways of offset declining revenues.
Moore Wolfe said it was decided the council would be in a better position to fully consider the ideas if given more time to review them and weigh their pros and cons.
"It was too much information and too little time," she said, adding the council has many tough decision ahead.
In a memo to the council about the study session, City Manager Scot Wrighton and Deputy City Manger Jon Kindset wrote that the upcoming budget "is likely going to be one of the most distorted budgets the city has had for many years. As was previously discussed, there has already been and we anticipate a continued disappointing trend in revenue receipts through the end of this fiscal year."
The city has been apportioned about $9.8 million through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that President Donald Trump signed in March. That money is for transit capital and operations; COVID-related expenses; and the police and fire departments, among others. Money also is for census efforts.
"We anticipate these grants to offset some of the increased expenditures and soften the significant loss in budgeted revenue," the memo said.
The city estimates a General Fund revenue shortfall of between $5 million and $5.5 million by the end of the year. The council in May approved a nine-point plan for keeping the city budget stable without having to increase taxes or cut positions.
The memo said the council could take various steps to offset losses in fiscal year 2021. Among the 13 proposals offered is to "temporarily cease emergency response" from Fire Station No. 1, 1415 N. Water St., relocating "service territories to the remaining 6 fire stations until the end of the COVID crisis to reduce staffing costs."
Decatur Firefighters Local 505 in a social media post Sunday said the station is the busiest in the city and responded to 20% of calls in the city. It asked that resident contact city council members.
"Decatur cannot afford to lose any more firefighters, let alone busiest station," the post said.
Other items in the memo for council members to consider are to:
- Increase the use of community liaison officers and other non-sworn positions in the Police Department and use firefighters for fire inspections, rather than a separate fire inspection/prevention bureau
- Join an insurance pool for workers compensation, general liability and other coverage
- Reduce cash support to the Decatur Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Corp. of Decatur & Macon County and other agencies
- Combine information technology or human resources with other government entities
- Consider user fee adjustments in business, registration, rental inspections and registration or Lake Decatur use
- Spread out municipal vehicle purchases
Municipalities across the state are dealing with steep declines in revenue sources, including hotel taxes, motor fuel taxes and gaming revenue. Finances also took a hit during the state's stay-at-home order, which shuttered businesses.
At the state level, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has warned of spending cuts if Congress doesn't pass an economic relief package.
The discussion on Monday is part of a study session, where council members talk about city business but don't vote on action items. Decisions are made at future meetings.
A recommended city budget is expected to be introduced to the council in October.
The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. in the Civic Center Theater, 1 Gary K. Anderson Plaza.
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