City fine-tunes budget for three hours

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

City officials worked for three hours on a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes cuts in most departments.

And, at least for the time being, that new budget includes wage freezes for city employees for six months.

It also does not include remediation work that would get the city’s new raw water intake on the Kaskaskia River operable.

Monday’s meeting, which was attended by about 20 city employees, kicked off with City Administrator Jimmy Morani explaining the proposed cuts, department by department.

Morani’s budget summary includes the following numbers:

• City clerk – $274,119 below the original budget total from last year, and $132,722.38 below the revised budget figure when the city made cuts last last year.

The lower figures represents, among other things, moving the construction of a new cemetery maintenance facility to the cemetery department.

• Water administration – $72,000 below last year’s budget figure and $71,587 below the revised budget figure.

• Administration – $27,550 above the 2010 budget figure and $37,300 above the revised budget figure. Reasons for the increases include the establishment of the emergency management coordinator position and the reallocation of the Government Consulting Services contract ($16,000) to this department.

• Economic development – $59,098 above last year’s budget figure and $82,127 below the revised budget figure.

• Tourism – $33,970 below both last year’s budget figure and the revised budget figure.

• Police – $7,793 below last year’s budget figure and $8,828 below the revised budget figure.

• Public works-garage – $59,072 below last year’s budget figure and $16,033 above the revised budget figure.

• Public works-streets – $1794,534 below last year’s budget figure and $1,683,704 below the revised budget figure. The decrease represents reductions in capital improvements and purchases of equipment.

• Public works-water – $168,047 below last year’s budget total and $532,090 below the revised budget. The reduction includes the elimination of a water main replacement at Seventh and Orchard streets.

• Public works-sewer – $525,367 from last year’s budget total and $349,410 below the revised budet. Again, reductions include scaling back capital improvements and equipment purchases.

• Water plant – $155,600 below last year’s budget total and $107,700 below the revised budget total.

• Sewer plant – $64,950 below last year’s budget total and $41,950 below the revised budget total. That includes the elimination of a lift station replacement on West Main Street.

• Fire – $29,000 below last year’s budget total and $2,500 above the revised budget total.

• Cemetery – $94,550 above last year’s budget total and $90,300 above the revised budget total.

• Lake – $65,275 below last year’s budget total and $50,001 below the revised budget total.

Morani explained that the city is faced with making considerable cuts due to, among other things, declining state tax revenues.

In fiscal year 2009, the city received $3,036,961, and in the current year, the projected total is $2,788,154. The projected total for the new fiscal year is $2,733,000, Morani said.

More than 50 percent of the city’s general fund, he said, comes from the state sales tax, and that figure is on a declining trend. The same is true for state income tax, which had dropped from $605,787 in the last fiscal year to about $420,000 this year.

He said the city’s general fund “has been dwindling the last six years,” with the ending balance becoming “dangerously low.”

Under the proposed budget, general fund revenues will total $2.989 million, while expenditures total just over $3.4 million.

The general fund increases include pay increases for employees, with Morani saying that salary and benefits accounting for about 61 percent of the total expenditures.

The city has asked unions representing city employees to approve a six-month wage freeze, and Mayor Rick Gottman said the city would implement wage freezes “across-the-board” if the unions make that concession.

In the water and sewer fund, Morani projects that the city’s expenses will exceed its revenues by $67,472.

“All of the years of deficit spending have caught up with us,” he said, noting that a major issue with that fund is the state’s failure to pay its bills for service to Vandalia Correctional Center. The state currently owes the city about $160,000.

“When they’re late on our payments, it does affect our financial situation,” Morani said.

The budget does not include construction funds to get the river intake operable, with that work currently estimated at $400,000. It does include funds for preliminary work on that project.

“We just don’t have the money (to fix the intake), unless we do a bond issue,” Morani said.

About two hours into the meeting, the city’s newest alderman, Andy Lester, said he had gone through the budget and came up with some possible cuts in various departments below those proposed by Morani.

He got a consensus from other city officials, including department heads, on cuts totaling about $30,000. Those cuts will again be reviewed as the council moves toward approval of the budget and its new appropriations ordinance.

The council voted to return to the proposed budget $16,500 of $24,000 in cuts proposed by Morani.

Gottman and the alderman agreed not to take out $9,000 allotted for crossing guards.

Morani suggested that the city both seek funds from the Old Capitol Foundation and search for volunteers to replace the funding provided by the city in past years.

But the mayor he is “totally opposed to removing (the funds for) the crossing guards. It’s too important.”

Morani also recommended that the city eliminate its funding for Vandalia Main Street for the upcoming fiscal year, saving the city $15,000.

After lengthy discussion, the council agreed to include $7,500 in the budget for Main Street.

Alderman Bret Brosman was among those campaigning for Main Street funds.

“That is money to rejuvenate our downtown,” Brosman said. “I see Main Street providing a vital service for our central business district … and for the entire community.

“I’d hate to think how much more economically depressed (our downtown would be) if we didn’t have Main Street,” Brosman said.

Brosman and Alderman Larry Cable also noted that if the city pulls all of its funding for Vandalia Main Street, the organization – and city – would no longer be eligible for free services provided through Illinois Main Street.

“We get some high-dollar services for nothing,” Brosman said.

Lisa McNutt, the only alderman voting against the $7,500 allotment said, “I think Main Street is important, but we need all of our employees.

“We have money in there for Main Street and brochures, but we’re talking about freezing wages,” she said.

Main Street Executive Director Dana Whiteman said that through projects like “Paint the Town,” the organization has worked to improve property values in the downtown business district.

Also, she said, Main Street sponsors community festivals that bring people to Vandalia and help boost the city’s sales tax dollars.

The timetable calls for Morani to make recommended changes to the budget and submit it to the city’s auditors this week, then finalize the proposed budget by April 14.

The final proposed document would be included in packets distributed to alderman on April 16, and the council would review the budget and new appropriations ordinance at its April 19 meeting.

On Monday, May 3, the city will hold a public hearing on the appropriations ordinance at 7 p.m., and the council will vote on that document at its meeting that evening.