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New Springfield Budget To Cut Fire Dept. Spending, Add Money For Paid Parental Leave

Credit Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

The Springfield City Council Tuesday night approved a $130 million budget for the fiscal year that starts next week.

To achieve a balanced budget, Springfield will dip into city reserves for $2.2 million and direct the fire department to reduce spending by $1.4 million.

Despite early projections that the city would see drastic decreases in sales and other major tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, next year’s budget plans on those revenues dropping only slightly, according to city budget data.

Mayor Jim Langfelder praised the work of his department directors for cutting costs and holding back on some initiatives as the pandemic took hold last year. He said that allowed the city to avoid layoffs.

“Post-pandemic, we have to change how we view things. It's not the same old, same old,” Langfelder said in justifying asking for money to relocate three fire stations while council members demanded cuts elsewhere in the fire department’s budget.

“We really have to take a look at what the future holds, and how can we be responsible to provide the services our residents expect and deserve,” he said.

City council members added a few more expenditures before OK’ing the spending plan. Topping that list is a $300,000 pot of money set aside to allow Springfield to offer a month of paid parental leave to all city employees, a new proposal from Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley.

The budget also includes funding to hire three new public works employees to address trash dumped in vacant lots and alleys. Springfield will also spend $100,000 more on snow removal next year and $40,000 to upgrade police body cameras.

Fire Department Cuts

Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath proposed the cuts to the Springfield Fire Department, citing concerns about projections of dwindling city reserves in coming years. He referenced city budget data that showed police and public works departments have slashed their budgets in recent years.

“We're in a situation where our trends and our project projections are going the wrong direction,” Redpath said. “We have not seen cuts in the fire department in years.”

Earlier in the meeting, the firefighters’ union president Vince Zummo called out “animosity” that had existed between the council and fire department, and said he’s willing to work with the council on solutions that are “fair and equitable.”

Redpath said the mayor, fire chief, and union need to work out what exactly to cut from the more than $40-million budget, noting that the union contract is up for negotiation soon.

The council voted down a proposal to increase budgeted overtime for the department, as overtime pay has skyrocketed in recent years.

The city spending plan does include money to begin relocating three firehouses, though drastically reduced from the $10 million originally proposed. City leaders said they’d attempt to secure federal or state grants to pay for the relocations and building of new stations first before resorting to money earmarked for capital improvements.

The stations in question are Station 6 on South Ninth Street, Station 4 on E. Converse Avenue, and Station 8 on W. Monroe Street.

Paid Leave And New Hires

Conley proposed the money for paid parental leave, which would cover overtime costs and other expenses associated with implementing the policy. Conely said she plans to bring an ordinance in the coming weeks outlining the leave benefits.

“This is actually an investment in building and maintaining our workforce, which is a value that we really can't underestimate,” Conley said.

Currently, employees are eligible for federal Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, which allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. City employees can use accrued sick or vacation days to get paid during that time.

The proposal drew criticism from Redpath and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer, who warned the city’s budget couldn’t handle the expense. They voted against it along with Ward 4 Ald. John Fulgenzi and Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin.

Still, others on the council argued it was fair, and could help keep city jobs competitive.

Meanwhile, Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory proposed hiring three more public works employees, at an annual cost of $260,000, to staff a crew responsible for picking up garbage left in alleys and vacants. Often called “fly dumping,” it’s a problem Gregory said he deals with frequently in his ward and other aging neighborhoods of the city.

The proposal also included $305,000 to buy equipment for the crew, which city council members agreed should come out of a capital improvements fund instead of general city revenues.

Also coming out of that fund is $200,000 to pay for houses affected by the 10th Street rail relocation project, proposed by Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso, who has been fielding angry complaints from constituents for months about the effects of the project.

On the revenue side of the ledger there was some good news Tuesday. Budget Director Bill McCart told city council revenue from recreational marijuana sales in the city totaled $350,000 this fiscal year, and are projected to bring in $45,000 a month next year.

State Sen. and Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner successfully lobbied when the council approved pot sales in the city to dedicate half the funds to police and fire pensions, and half to economic development projects on the east side of Springfield.

Police and fire pension payments rose by $2 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Citing his “usual reason” of the city not doing enough to address ballooning pension debt, McMenamin cast the only dissenting vote on the city’s budget.

Turner’s Last Meeting

Tuesday was Turner’s final Springfield City Council meeting as alderwoman. In brief farewell remarks, she said it was bittersweet leaving the council.

“We didn’t always agree on everything but we agreed we’d work together for the betterment for Springfield and we definitely did that,” she said.

She became emotional talking about serving with two other alderwomen – the most women who have sat on the council at once.

Turner was first elected to the city council in 2011, and was on the Sangamon County Board before that. She was recently appointed to former State Sen. Andy Manar’s seat, which he resigned in January.

“We appreciate what you've done on the county level, the city level and now on the state level, and we look forward to working with you in that avenue,” Langfelder said.

The mayor is expected to appoint Turner’s replacement to the city council next week.

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