EAST PEORIA — City officials Tuesday heard firsthand about the deep cuts they asked for in every department budget in the first airing of the 2017-2018 city budget But, even with the proposed cuts that department heads warned tilted city services toward fiscal crisis, the budget was still $500,000 short of being balanced.
"This is a starting point," City Administrator Jeff Eder said Tuesday evening at a special meeting of the City Council. "We were directed to develop a balanced budget with no staff reductions and no revenue increases. That was a tall order. We've tried, but we are still in the negative."
One by one the city's eight department heads addressed the council with their individual contributions to cutting the budget's bottom line — $8,000 here, $29,000 there — but fell far short of balancing the budget. The budget was also more notable for what it didn't do — purchase capital equipment, vehicles and provide much street repair among the bigger ticket omissions — than what it did do.
"It's basically a keep-the-lights-on budget," said Matt Berger, coordinator of the city's Information Technologies.
That sentiment was echoed throughout the 3 1/2-hour meeting.
"This is painful for all of us," Eder said.
Public works is down three to four trucks. The Fire Department says it needs a new ambulance and repairs to its out-of-service ladder truck now, with other large capital expenses looming.
"Our equipment is aging," said Fire Chief Al Servis. "And our calls are increasing. We've got cracks in the dam and a lot of financial issues are going to be coming at you (on the council)."
Public works is considering a separate garbage pickup fee of upwards of $180 a year to help offset costs. In the past year, the council has already rejected any increase to the property tax rate or a half-cent increase in the city's sales tax rate.
"We have had to cut some things that staff doesn't even think we can," Eder said.
Not included in the budget are the two popular Clean Up Week programs a year that allow residents to drag large household items to the curb to be hauled away.
Police Chief Dick Ganschow said his budget was nearly impossible to predict as Tazewell County consolidates its communications dispatch systems at an unknown cost, which includes the closure of the East Peoria Dispatch Center.
"The city needs certainty in its budget," Ganschow said. "We can't provide any certainty."
The council gets back to work on the budget next week, making decisions, making cuts.
"The hard discussion starts coming next week," Eder said.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.