EAST PEORIA — A newly approved half-cent sales tax increase will allow the city to eliminate a budget deficit, begin to rebuild a depleted general reserve fund and add some money to the street maintenance program. The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $60 million operating budget with all those additions, and a few more, for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

It doesn't, however, mean the era of austerity has passed.

"It's still a relatively tight budget," City Administrator Jeff Eder said Tuesday.

For months and at length, city officials have discussed how best to cope with declining revenues and increasing expenses without laying off city employees, cutting city services, or both. Two weeks ago, the council approved a half-cent sales tax increase on most purchases in East Peoria. The tax will be collected beginning July 1. On Tuesday night the council passed the budget covering May 1, 2018, through April 30, 2019, that included a $1.5 million revenue infusion from the increased sales tax.

A full year of the sales tax increase will bring in about $2.6 million.

"It was quite a process. The discussions were wide ranging," said Commissioner Gary Densberger. "I think we did a reasonable job of going through the budget and cutting as much as was prudent to do. I think the sales tax increase was the best available solution, if not the best solution."

The additional revenue closed a $500,000 budget deficit and contributed $250,000 to the general reserve fund, a contingency the council placed on its approval of the half-cent sales tax increase. It also made possible the purchase of a $300,000 garbage truck, to be paid off over two years, and a $180,000 refurbished ambulance for the Fire Department. None of those actions would have been possible without the increase to the sales tax, according to city officials.

Also added back into the budget were funds for attorney fees ($40,000), information technology hardware ($50,000) and repair and maintenance of storm sewers ($10,000), among a list of other smaller items. An additional $150,000 was budgeted for street repair, bringing the year's total to more than $700,000, where $450,000 was included in the original, non-tax-increase proposal.

The budget also includes the first funds earmarked for the $45 million multi-year sewer system improvement program, a program that will eventually be paid for through increased user fees, but will be paid up front with money from a low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. That project is expected to begin this summer, following approval of the city's plans by the IEPA.

"I'm pleased with the budget we have," said Commissioner Tim Jeffers before the 5-0 vote of approval. "(Even though) it does not meet every capital need we have this year."

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.