Wayne's Words: City Budget

Wayne Horne | 9/8/2017, 9:28 a.m.
One of the easiest complaints to make about government is that it spends too much money. “My taxes are too ...

One of the easiest complaints to make about government is that it spends too much money. “My taxes are too high” is the refrain heard from almost everyone. Belt tightening at all levels is what’s needed according to most people.

One step towards “belt tightening” has been taken by the City of Joliet. When the State of Illinois finally passed its budget, effective retroactive to July 1, one of the provisions reduced the amount of tax revenue that comes to municipalities. The impact on Joliet’s revenue will be approximately $2.6 million less per year than was anticipated in the city’s coffers. The city’s immediate response has been to eliminate all “non-emergency overtime.”

The current city budget shows almost $6 million is allocated to overtime for all city employees. The most current status report for overtime shows city employees have used almost half of the budgeted overtime. The report reflects just under six months of the current budget year. All city departments, except two, have used less than 40 percent of the OT budget. The Finance Department is over budget, but it accounts for only $7,300 out of the total six million dollars.

The Fire Department, with more than six months to go in the current budget year, has exceeded its OT budgeted amount by $189,000. At the current pace of overtime the fire department will exceed its OT budget by over $1 million. Much of the overtime is a result of collective bargaining restrictions. A certain number of personnel are required per each piece of equipment according to union agreements.

If the required number of personnel are not available for a fire department vehicle, it is taken out of service. That’s where the overtime budget comes into play. The City Council has addressed this issue several times in the past but it has yet to be resolved. According to the most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the year 2016, the city has 784 full-time employees. The Fire Department has 205 full-time personnel.

According to a staffing report presented to the City Council in May of this year, one factor impacting the efficiency of staffing fire department field personnel was the “lack of flexibility to adapt to variances because of collective bargaining restrictions.” Seems there is some work yet to be done to resolve the issue.

It is possible that restricting overtime will not be enough to overcome the large budget hole the State of Illinois is creating for Joliet. There is no word yet if other steps will be taken to reduce expenses. Other revenues seem to be improving the city’s financial picture. Gaming revenues have leveled off after years of decline. Based on the most recent reports, gaming revenue may actually be higher than last year. Gaming revenues peaked at $36 million in 2007 and have steadily declined to $18.47 million in 2016.City sales tax revenue is also increasing.

One last thing… for those who might think all the hype over the eclipse was overdone, I beg to differ. I traveled to the St. Louis area to observe the totality of the event. It was spectacular. As the eclipse evolved it looked like various stages of an orange moon. When it was totally dark, a cheer went up around the area. The street lights went on and you could see the stars.

It made me think about how predictable and precisely accurate the universe is. By the way, the same scientists that predicted the exact time and place the eclipse would manifest itself many years in advance are the same ones who are predicting climate change. Give that some thought.

The next total eclipse that will occur in Illinois is April 8, 2024. It will be visible downstate in the Shawnee National Forest area. I tried making room reservations in the area but they’re already booked. Just kidding. whorne@thetimeweekly.com

Stay tuned…