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Wayne's Words: Joliet's proposed budget more like a 'what if' plan

Wayne Horne | 12/3/2015, 11:24 a.m.
There are so many unknown variables, especially in regards to what will happen with the state budget, that the Joliet ...

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Wayne Horne

The Joliet City Council got its first look at the city manager’s recommended 2016 budget at a special meeting held on Monday night.

The council has a small window of time to pass the budget and set the property tax levy, which funds about 20 percent of the general fund. The budget vetting process is much shorter than in the past because of the uncertainty of revenue sources that have been relied upon in past years. Color that uncertainty the Illinois budget crisis of 2015.

If you compare the 2016 proposed budget with past city budgets, this document doesn't rise to the level of a “bare bones” or “just the essentials” document. It’s more a “perhaps, maybe, possibly, conceivably” plan or the definite “I don’t know” proposed budget.

There are so many unknowns surrounding the proposed budget at this moment that Monday’s meeting seemed like an exercise in futility. The budget scenario presented with all the “ifs” will almost certainly require a property tax increase and /or reductions in service that includes the closure of one fire station.

Personnel costs make of the bulk of city expenditures. Almost 71 percent of the city payroll is for police and fire personnel. The average salary of fire department workers is over $113,000 with police department employees at almost $110,000. That includes overtime but not benefits which adds another $79,500 and $67,700 respectively. Both groups have contracts that will be expiring in 2016. The budget does not reflect any possibility of wage increases.

Councilman Larry Hug questioned the continuation of subsidies for other entities such as the Rialto Square Theatre and the impact payment of $15 million for the Evergreen Terrace complex will have going forward. Councilman John Gerl joined with Hug in asking if the city should go forward with the Evergreen Terrace purchase. None of the council voiced support for the property tax increase without additional information on cost reductions.

There is another budget meeting scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m. to further discuss the proposed budget. There is little time left for public input. If you want to be heard before it is passed, I suggest you contact your council person or show up Monday to provide input.

One capital project that was requested but not recommended by the city manager was the lighting of the city’s eight flag pavilions located around Joliet. Many years back, when the pavilions were put in place to enhance the image of Joliet, no one thought to provide electricity for illumination of the flag displays.

The U.S Flag Code requires the American flag be illuminated if it is to fly 24/7. The flags were displayed for several years without the required lighting. Former City Manager Tom Thanas had the flags removed due to the lack of illumination. A few years ago fire department personnel affixed solar lights to the flagpoles. The effort was well intentioned but the solar lamps soon failed and the flags have continued to fly without the necessary illumination.

During The Times Weekly candidate forums before last April’s election I requested and received assurances that the lighting issue would be addressed by all who were elected to council office including Mayor Bob O’Dekirk. He has been supportive on the issue over the last several months and that is why it is in the budget.

Two of the pavilions are located a substantial distance from a source of electricity. The cost to provide the needed hookup is probably not feasible at this time. However the cost to provide an electrical source for the other six comes to about $32,000.

Joliet is a major Illinois city with an increasing number of economic development opportunities coming to the area. The image of unlighted flag pavilions paints a poor image of our community. A solution needs to be found. Until the pavilions are lit it would be appropriate to only display the flags during daylight hours. Otherwise the city can assign the raising and lowering of the flags to appropriate city staff. Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne Horne at whorne@TheTimesWeekly.com.