Joliet council approves big budget cuts for 2012
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org November 7, 2011 9:54PM
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:12AM
JOLIET — The Joliet City Council on Monday moved ahead with most of its planned 2012 budget cuts, showing no inclination to use up savings the city has been able to hold onto this year.
Funding was reduced for the Rialto Square Theatre, Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park and Joliet Area Historical Museum.
The council gave its nod Monday to most of the $17 million worth of 2012 budget savings in a plan put forth earlier this year by Mayor Thomas Giarrante.
What otherwise might have been a routine study session Monday turned into an action meeting when Giarrante asked the council to let him know what budget cuts they were willing to make.
The council took votes on the cuts for the Rialto, Bicentennial Park and the museum. The only no votes were from Larry Hug, who wanted Rialto funds to be cut more, and Robert O’Dekirk, who joined Hug in saying he wanted more reductions in museum funding.
Giarrante said he discussed the $100,000 in cuts to the Rialto with board members at the theater, who suggested the city consider a hike in its hotel/motel tax.
“I told them that was not appropriate,” Giarrante said.
Giarrante was part of a 5-4 majority that took heat for increasing sales and utility taxes in September.
Those tax hikes will bring in an estimated $6.5 million. The original $6.9 million estimate on the tax hike was brought down because a telecommunications tax won’t go into effect until mid-year.
Funding was reduced Monday at Bicentennial Park by $116,000 and at the museum by $50,000.
Still on the chopping block
One big budget item still on the agenda for future consideration is $2.6 in union contract cuts. City administration is still negotiating with unions to delay 4 percent pay raises scheduled to take effect next year.
The council also is waiting for more information before voting on a controversial proposal to save $150,000 by privatizing its corps of school crossing guards.
About 20 crossing guards showed up at the meeting in their work vests, sending a message that they wanted to stay city employees.
Reserve fund explained
Council members also did not show any interest in revisiting the tax hike, which was approved before they were aware of just how much better than budgeted the 2011 fiscal year is ending.
The 2012 budget proposal released Oct. 28 shows the city starting 2012 with $32 million in reserve funds, spending a fraction of the savings expected to be used up this year, and keeping $16.2 million more in the bank than what was forecast in the 2011 budget.
Budgetmakers made their case for putting most of the savings into a 60-day reserve fund and spending a portion on vehicles and other capital needs.
Rachel Mayer, the city’s finance director, showed a chart with towns from Aurora to Shorewood to Champaign with similar reserve funds.
“This isn’t something that’s new to the budgeting community or to the communities around us,” she told the council. “It’s part of good solid financial planning.”
A few council members suggested a week ago at their first budget meeting that they might want to use some of the reserve funds to offset budget cuts because the year-end outlook had improved so much.
The 2011 budget called for using nearly $16 million in reserve funds to cover deficit spending. No reserve funds have been used yet, although city budget makers still project using more than $2 million in savings to pay bills before the year is out.
The budget also calls for putting aside $3.5 million in reserve funds for Evergreen Terrace, the federally subsidized housing complex that the city has been trying to condemn so as to wrestle control from its private owners.
The budget does call for spending $3.2 million on city savings for vehicles and other capital needs.
“Let’s not think that we’re not dipping into reserves. We are,” Councilman John Gerl said.
Other budget savings given the OK on Monday were:
delayed pension payments worth $4.2 million
a continued hiring freeze estimated at $1.5 million
discretionary cuts by the city manager, including management layoffs, to save $1.4 million