Budget week: More cuts in Champaign, but not in Urbana

The majority of my time this week is going to be spent reading budgets, hearing presentations and suggestions about budgets and writing about budgets. And I do it so you don't have to.

But just in case you want to...

Urbana

The city of Urbana posted Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget proposal on its website this morning when it was officially released. My story appeared in today's newspaper. Comptroller Ron Eldridge may have put it best -- he said it might as well have been a copy-and-paste job from last year with the dates changed.

There are a few key changes for Urbana, though: The 2-cent motor fuels tax that went into effect last year is helping to pay for some capital projects, and there were a few other revenue additions (a new towing fee and natural gas use tax, for example).

Urbana has been able to fend off drastic cuts like those we saw in Champaign a few months ago, but they have done so by drawing down reserve funds (you might call it dipping into the "rainy day" account) and delaying a few capital projects. If the economy continues the way it is, Eldridge said the city can only operate that way for a couple more years.

The biggest questions about Urbana's budget have yet to be answered. Officials have imposed a wage freeze, but the city is awaiting the results from a new police union contract. If the police get a raise, that could have a ripple effect on some other city wages, and budgeters are going to have to find a way to make up that money.

And the state continues to threaten a diminution of the amount of income tax it shares with local governments. Eldridge said today that as much as $3.2 million could be lost if the state withholds that money. That's roughly 10 percent of the general operating budget.

"I don't think we could afford cutting our services that much," Prussing said today. Instead, she believes the city would look to raise revenues.

Champaign

The city council this week will see a budget proposal for the first time. My story about that also appeared in today's newspaper.

More cuts are expected, but not nearly as dramatic as we saw earlier this year.

Here's the budget message the city council will receive. If you don't mind reading through the technicalities of how and why the cuts are needed, then the first 16 pages are very informative. Like they have in the past, budgeters are saving direct services by borrowing money from some other city funds. I won't go into the details here of how this works, but I will give you an hypothetical example: A few road projects might not get done to save the jobs of, say, a few police officers or firefighters.

But if you want the nitty-gritty of the Champaign budget cuts, jump to page 17. There starts a list of everything city officials are proposing to cut in the next budget cycle. Items listed as "Rank 1" or "Rank 2" are proposed to be cut out of the budget for an indefinite amount of time (probably years, if not forever). Items listed as "Rank 3" would be gone for, they hope, only one year.

And items listed "Rank 4" are the contingencies. If budgeters realize halfway through the year that costs are running higher and revenues are lower (like what happened this year) those "Rank 4" items are on the chopping block. Those are the cuts that also seem the most extreme: three firefighters, a police officer and a school resource officer are on that list, among some other cuts.

I definitely did not cover everything there is to know about the two cities' budgets in this post, so if you have any questions, please feel encouraged to post them in the comments below, email me or send me a message on Twitter.

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