Aldermen See Roadmap To Cut Deficit, But Will They Take It? | WGLT

Aldermen See Roadmap To Cut Deficit, But Will They Take It?

Dec 19, 2017

Bloomington aldermen wanted to see some concrete ideas for how the city could close next year’s $3 million budget deficit. Now they’ve got them.

The Bloomington City Council will meet at noon Wednesday for a discussion on the budget. They’ve been provided a new, detailed look at 13 parts of the city’s budget that aldermen wanted to explore for potential cuts or fee increases. The document is a roadmap to $3.1 million in savings.

If they were all enacted—an unlikely scenario, according to the interim city manager—residents and businesses would feel the impact in several ways. Bulk waste and brush pickup could be cut to three times a year, instead of every other week. Businesses would have to pay a $100 registration fee. Fines and inspection fees would increase for landlords. Motorists would have to pay to park in downtown Bloomington garages 24/7, and groups would have to pay to block off streets for community events. 

Wednesday’s session is designed to help aldermen discuss spending priorities now, so that deeper budget talks can proceed in January. The next budget year begins May 1, 2018.

“When we come back in January with a proposed budget, (aldermen) will have had a chance to think about it, talk about it with constituents, and decide what are the things that are important enough to find the revenue for it,” said Steve Rasmussen, Bloomington’s interim city manager.

Bloomington is not the only local government facing tight budgets, strained by flattening revenues and rising costs. The Town of Normal and McLean County have both offered early-retirement incentives to longtime employees to tackle their own deficits next year.

For Bloomington, the $3.1 million in potential savings come several areas of city government, including solid waste cuts ($1.3 million annually), a “soft” hiring freeze ($500,000), increased revenue from downtown parking ($400,000), and cuts to low-priority programs like parkway restoration and street sweeping ($371,000).

The $3.1 million in possible savings, spread across eight areas of the city:

Bloomington Budget Savings

Four of the 13 parts of the city’s budget examined “do not appear to have significant savings associated with them,” city staff wrote to aldermen. That includes changes to the city’s golf courses and Creativity Center. Those four items are not included in the $3.1 million savings roadmap.

The city’s total budget is around $214 million. Around half of the city’s general fund costs are salary and benefits. The soft hiring freeze would keep 10 positions unfilled, saving the $500,000. 

Sometimes staff cuts have unintended consequences. One example: the U.S. Cellular Coliseum. 

In 2009 the city’s external auditor, found six issues that needed to be fixed. One of them was that “there is no formal review or monitoring of Coliseum operations and record-keeping by the appropriate level of City personnel,” the auditor wrote to city leaders. The city’s Finance Department previously performed monthly reviews of the Coliseum, including specific events and accounting. 

But in 2009, those reviews were discontinued “as a result of staffing shortages” in the Finance Department, the auditor wrote. That lack of oversight could lead to “potential material misstatement of the financial statements” at the arena, they warned. The auditor recommended the city resume those regularly reviews to “comply” with the city’s contract with Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM), the company that was then running the city-owned downtown arena. 

Fast-forward seven years, and those who ran CIAM now face 111 criminal charges accusing them of theft, fraud, and money laundering related to their Coliseum management.

Rasmussen agreed that was a cautionary tale on how deep to cut. 

“You want police, you want fire, you want trash collection. And there some administrative services that you don’t see. What are those people doing in the backroom with the door closed? Well, they’re doing some valuable work that you may not see today, the cost of (losing) them, but you may well see that in the future,” he said.

Wednesday's budget meeting will be held at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

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