Joliet council set to vote Tuesday on 2013 city budget
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 10:48PM
Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante | File photo
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:24AM
The Joliet City Council votes Tuesday on a 2013 budget with few worries about next year but more concern about the years beyond, especially if the state allows more casinos and slot machines in the Chicago area.
The council will vote on a $274 million budget that includes no new taxes or fees, 10 more police officers and no big cuts in services. There was no public comment at a hearing Monday on the budget.
Council members, however, did question where city finances could be headed if the state allows more gambling in the Chicago area, a plan again before the Legislature. Some members raised the specter of a decline in casino tax income if the state expands gambling.
City officials have forecast that Joliet could lose a quarter of its casino revenue, or roughly $5 million, if a south suburban casino were to be placed in the Interstate 80 corridor.
Councilman Larry Hug said that even with a balanced budget this year, the city has not restaffed to levels he would like to see. Joliet, like other municipalities, has cut staff in recent years because of the economic downturn.
“We don’t have a balanced staff or balanced services yet,” Hug said. “We’re still way down.”
He questioned whether the city should fund the Joliet Area Historical Museum at $275,000 while it is down in police and public works staffing. No other council members backed Hug on the idea of reducing funding for the museum next year.
Joliet this year cut its money for the museum, the Rialto Square Theatre and Bicentennial Park to balance a budget that also was shored up by hikes in the sales and utility taxes. The museum previously received $350,000 in city funds.
“If I thought I could go down a little more I would,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said. “But last year was a substantial hit for (the museum).”
Mayor Thomas Giarrante, who sits on the museum board, said he has often told board members that a future drop in casino revenue could hurt museum funding.
Thanas said new casinos would arrive in late 2014 or 2015 at the earliest if the state approves gambling expansion in the coming weeks.
On another matter, the city is working out a $200,000 sales tax break for the Tony’s Finer Foods store that is expected to open Jan. 1 at Illinois 59 and Caton Farm Road. Before the council voted in favor of a liquor license for the store, Thanas said he will bring the sales tax incentive before the council at a future meeting.