SPRINGFIELD — If Decatur continues to see a cut in tax revenue in a new state budget, the city will have to lay off police and fire employees and reduce basic services like snow plowing, Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe told a state Senate committee Wednesday. 

"I can't go back to my community again and say 'I need more money,'" Moore Wolfe told the Senate Appropriations Committee, which conducts hearings related to the state's budget. "I'm going to have to cut the very vital services that we offer."

Cities across the state, including Decatur, get a small portion of state income tax to help pay for services. Last year, lawmakers passed a 10 percent cut to that money, known as the Local Government Distributive Fund. The measure was said to be a one-year reduction, but Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration would make it permanent in its most recent budget proposal. 

Officials in Decatur say the measure led to a loss of more than $1 million in the city's 2018 budget. 

While Republican budget negotiators introduced the idea last year to save the state money, Democrats and a handful of Republicans in the General Assembly approved the language last year over Rauner's veto of the budget deal.

"Just to be clear, anybody who is now worried about their mayors back home, should've been just as worried last year when they voted for it," said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who voted against the budget deal and the override of the governor's veto.

Rauner's budget director, Hans Zigmund, said the cut would save the state $131 million and agreed with Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, that it was a painful but necessary cut to make.

"Since it's already in the (current) law to some extent, it's already being taken into account by the various finance manager and mayors," Zigmund said. "That's not to suggest it's an easy thing to do, it is just a current continuation of the current state of affairs."

Moore Wolfe testified alongside two other local government executives, Springfield Mayor Brad Langfelder and Michael Lopez, president of the village board of Jerome, a community just outside Springfield. Communities across the state have protested the cuts. Officials for the town of Normal said the reduction could cost the town as much as $500,000 a year, and the city of Bloomington could lose an estimated $725,000. 

The proposed cut is a relatively small item in a state budget that will exceed $30 billion.

Cities affected by the loss were also hit by a 2 percent local sales tax collection fee imposed by the state and less money from the distribution of personal property replacement tax, a tax on the income of corporations and business partnerships. 

In November, the city council approved a $3.2 million deficit budget in the hopes that state officials would return the share of state income tax that Decatur gets to previous levels. The figure includes $1.2 million set aside for police backpay and about $500,000 in projected operations cost increases.

City Treasurer Gregg Zientara reported recently that primarily due to a delay in filling vacant 23 full-time staff positions, the city had managed to save $700,000 as of March.

City Manager Tim Gleason told council members last week that the city has not reduced its level of services with fewer employees, and has enlisted a consultant to interview department heads on potential staffing or cost cutting measures.

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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi


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