Proposed Urbana budget in black

Proposed Urbana budget in black

URBANA - Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite refers to it as a ?tread-water budget.?

The city's proposed fiscal 2003-04 budget, for the budget year beginning July 1, doesn't include money for any new big projects. It's expected to eke out a surplus of $21,900 in its general operating fund, compared with a robust surplus of $2.3 million just three years ago.

But the budget is balanced, property tax rates are projected to stay the same and city layoffs aren't necessary, he said.

Things could be worse, though Satterthwaite warns the city could face a deficit budget a year from now if the local economy doesn't turn around.

?I wish I could say I was truly happy to present the budget this year,? Satterthwaite said at a Tuesday morning news conference. ?Usually we have a lot of new projects to present. We don't this year. I do feel good because we're in a lot better shape than most other communities.

?We are able to have a balanced budget where we are not cutting any personnel or services to the citizens of Urbana,? he said.

In its main operating fund, the city expects income of $21.67 million and spending of $21.65 million. The overall budget projects income of $32 million and a $44,000 surplus over spending.

The budget represents a significant change for the city, however. For many years, Urbana has been able to have large annual surpluses, which the city has used to finance major capital expenditures.

That's how the city was able to contribute more than $5 million toward the Urbana Free Library expansion and to pay for the multimillion-dollar streetlight replacement program.

Property owners will be glad to learn the proposed budget expects to keep the city's property tax rate at $1.31 per $100 of assessed valuation, which is approximately the same rate as the city of Champaign. The city expects to ask for $4.9 million in property taxes, a 5.5 percent increase, on taxes payable next year.

Belt tightening during the current fiscal year was able to save the city $501,000, money that will be able to go into general reserves, which will likely decline during the upcoming year, or to help pay for fixing the leaking Urbana landfill, city officials said.

The city's two main reserve funds are the general reserve fund and the economic development reserve fund, and they are both expected to shrink this coming budget year.

The general reserve fund will start the fiscal year with $1.9 million, but is expected to decline to $1.2 million by the end of the fiscal year. The main reason for the decline is the city's final payment toward the Urbana Free Library expansion project, now under way, that will cost $807,000.

The economic development fund will decline by about $325,000, to $1.8 million by the end of the fiscal year. A $1 million project to improve Airport Road and North Cunningham Avenue will be the major expense.

The budget calls for $5.7 million in capital improvements, including improving the intersection at Washington and Vine streets and resurfacing part of Vine Street; Oakland Avenue reconstruction; continuation of the 10-year street lighting improvement project; resurfacing and lighting improvements at downtown parking lots; and other annual maintenance work.

Meanwhile, Satterthwaite said he was optimistic construction would start soon on a new regional auto mall that would move O'Brien's Auto Park from its current location on University Avenue to a site south of Farm & Fleet on the city's north side.

But Jim Turner, vice president and general manager of the auto park, sounded a more cautious note.

?I still believe we're in the same boat as two or three months ago,? Turner said. ?We have nine car manufacturers we have to make happy. We're still negotiating on the sizes of the dealerships. I don't envision (construction starting) this month. We hope to start this year.?

Bruce Walden, Urbana's chief administrative officer, said the city is ready to redevelop the Five Points area where O'Brien Auto Park is located once the car dealership is moved.

?We expect at least one development agreement for one half of that intersection during the next few months,? he said.

Walden said he was also optimistic the city would find another retailer for southeastern Urbana to replace Kmart, which closed recently.

The budget is available at local libraries and at the Urbana city building, 400 S. Vine St. The city council will consider the plan at a May 12 committee meeting. A May 19 public hearing on the budget will be held for public comment. Passage is expected June 2.

On another matter, Satterthwaite said the city is searching for a new economic development director to replace Reed Berger, who resigned last year to accept a similar position with the village of Rantoul.

You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or at mmonson@news-gazette.com.

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