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Decatur council discusses $179.6 million spending plan, goals

Decatur council discusses $179.6 million spending plan, goals


DECATUR — City council members on Monday heard the basics of a $179.6 million spending plan for 2020 that includes a focus on neighborhood revitalization and several other major strategic goals. 

The budget includes $70 million in spending for the general fund, which covers much of the city’s operating expenses. The review came during a wide-ranging, three-hour-plus council meeting and study session, the first time the 2020 budget plan was discussed in open session.

Five of six city council members and Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said they endorsed planned spending for neighborhood revitalization efforts, long a major goal of city leaders. Councilman David Horn was the only member to say he wasn’t satisfied with the proposal, raising concerns it was directed by the council, not the community.

“The public has had less than a week to review these initiatives and offer feedback,” he said.

City Manager Scot Wrighton in a memo said the city anticipates "no increase in taxes for individual property owners who have made no improvements in their real estate since last year.”

Under the proposal, the city's property tax levy would go up by about $309,000, for a total proposed levy of roughly $14.2 million. Growing public safety pension costs are driving a 2.2% increase in the proposed tax levy, according to the document.

The meeting Monday also included a discussion of creating community liaison officer positions, a plan opposed by the police union. It calls for having a civilian position handle certain non-emergency issues. Those employees also would have pension benefits through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which requires a lower city contribution.

Police Chief Jim Getz said the city has received over 80 applicants so far, but the department will be selective in deciding who will fill the open positions.

The proposed budget includes funding for 138 sworn police officers, eight administrative positions and 12 civilians positions, four of which would be community liaison officers.

Wrighton pointed to concerns about the approach, but said it will help sworn law enforcement officers concentrate on serious crimes, rather than fender-bender and other issues.

“I am very mindful this is a significant change,” he said.

Council members also talked about the implementation of various technologies to enhance public safety, such as surveillance cameras and police-worn body cameras, both of which were discussed during an August study session.

Here's how Decatur city leaders plan to spend money in 2020

“We have to think about different strategies and different ways to keep our citizens safe rather than say we have to add more to the pension cost,” Wrighton said.

Council members and city staff have been working for months to develop the document, which includes seven major strategic goals with short- and long-range components. The goals are:

  • Neighborhood revitalization
  • Grow, enhance and better prepare the local workforce to meet current and future demands
  • Take downtown Decatur to the next level
  • Implement selected new technologies that will improve municipal service delivery and create operational efficiencies
  • Implement new revenue initiatives and cost reduction measures designed to make Decatur more financially secure and its operation more sustainable
  • Collaborate with other stakeholders so that the management of Lake Decatur and adjoining public open spaces is integrated into a coordinated plan
  • Create an inspirational vision for Decatur and chart a pathway that ensures current and existing strategic plans are linked so that future visions are implemented and realized

Moore Wolfe on Monday said citizen input is important. More meetings are planned in the coming weeks before the budget is voted on.

Earlier Monday, the council also voted to sign an agreement with Shaner’s Towing to providing towing services to the Decatur Police Department. The department tows about 2,000-2,500 vehicles a year and motorists have to pay the fee. ​

Springfield-based Shaner’s, which operates a site at 3696 Greenswitch Road, submitted the lowest bid of $70 per tow.

Prairieland Towing at 2902 N. Woodford St​. offered a bid of $75. The company has been under contract with the city since 1995.

Getz suggested the council sign an agreement with Prairieland ​because of the longtime connection with the city, despite the higher costs.

“We’ve had a great working relationship with Prairieland Towing in the past,” he said. “They have been available any time of day and night and they have what we need to continue doing business with them.” ​

Gregory before the vote said that while she respected what Getz was saying, she was mindful of the ongoing budget talks and needed to stay with the lowest bidder.

Council members Gregory, Horn, Chuck Kuhle, Pat McDaniel and Rodney Walker voted in favor of the low bidder and Moore Wolfe and Councilman Bill Faber voted against Shaner’s Towing.

The council Monday also approved buying a 32,000-square-foot parcel at 855 N. Fairview Ave. for a new fire station. The sale price, with Fairview Park Plaza LLC​, was $1.

The site previously housed the gas station for Kroger, which closed in summer 2018. The gas tanks have been removed and testing will be done, officials said.

The new station will replace a firehouse at 1308 W. Eldorado St. near Fairview Park.

Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro


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