EAST PEORIA — The City Council approved an austerity budget Tuesday night for 2017-18 that will mean a lot less money for road repairs, the cancellation of almost all capital expenditures and no plan in place to solve a worsening problem next year.
"Garbage will get picked up. Fire and police and ambulance will respond to calls. Government will continue to function," City Administrator Jeff Eder said after the meeting. "Where citizens are probably going to see the consequences of this budget is in the area of road repairs."
While city officials agree they need more than $2 million a year to keep up with road repair, next year's budget contains just $340,000 for street work.
The vote was 3 to 2 in support of the $60 million budget, the first non-unanimous budget vote by a council that Commissioner Tim Jeffers, who voted against it, could remember.
"Never happened in my 10 years (on the council)," Jeffers said Tuesday.
Commissioner Dan Decker joined Jeffers in voting no. Voting in support of the budget were commissioners Gary Densberger and John Kahl and Mayor Dave Mingus.
Jeffers and Decker both gave lengthy explanations of why they thought the city needed to address alternative revenue sources, not stand pat and create escalating problems for the next 10 years. The city is faced with the twin difficulties of declining revenues — gaming revenue from the Par-A-Dice Riverboat Casino is down millions of dollars from past years, for instance — and unexpected expenditures. A state mandated deposit of $700,000 into police and fire pension funds tops the list of unexpected expenditures.
It's a long list.
So is the list of capital expenditures left out of the budget. Jeffers tallied up $30 million worth of unfunded public works projects over the next 10 years. In the budget are five new squad cars for the Police Department. It asked for eight.
"That's really it (for capital expenditures for the year), Eder told the council. "And every department has needs."
Anticipating the problem late last year, the council briefly considered a small increase in property taxes, then voted 5 to 0 to keep the tax rate the same. That left Eder to produce a budget that kept the lights on in the city, and debts paid, but with less money to spend and with a growing list of needs.
"It was not the easiest to put together," Eder said. "No director is truly happy with this budget. But it's something everybody can live with," Eder said.
Eder first asked department heads to submit, as an exercise, a budget with a cut of 20 percent from the last year.
"We knew that was unrealistic, but we wanted to use it as a starting point," Eder said after the vote.
It became clear that 20 percent cuts, even 10 percent, would result in layoffs of large numbers of employees and deep cuts to city services. Eder said the finished product saw department cuts between 2 and 5 percent, with the Fire Department staying about the same.
Decker and Jeffers supported a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent to help abate the budget shortfalls. The increase would bring in more than $2 million a year and cost East Peoria consumers about $25 a year for every $5,000 spent in city stores. Groceries, prescription drugs and other items are exempted from the sales tax.
Mingus and Kahl said they would not support a tax increase.
"I did not support new revenue streams," Kahl said. "Nor will I into the future."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.