Spending cuts proposed in Champaign

Spending cuts proposed in Champaign

CHAMPAIGN – How deep the slashes to the city's budget will cut has yet to be determined, but officials have released detailed proposals to reduce spending by up to $2 million to offset a projected shortfall in Champaign's $68.4 million operating budget.

Some employees inside the police department could go, firefighter training and prevention education could be reduced, and economic development incentives could take a hit if the cuts are made to their most extreme.

Staff reductions throughout the City Building could be right around the corner, but budgeters are hoping those positions can be eliminated if need be through attrition, voluntary separation programs, furloughs or voluntary hour reductions.

"We would like to avoid layoffs, but we've always said that was a goal and not a pledge," said finance director Richard Schnuer.

This summer, city administrators called on individual departments to identify areas where costs could be cut – up to $6 million if Illinois officials withhold money from local governments to address the state's financial situation – to balance a gloomy budget. The plan for spending cuts details dozens of proposals, but city officials are not yet clear on how deep they will have to go.

It will be up to the city council in late November to guide city administrators on where and how to reduce spending.

Schnuer did not speculate Thursday on how short this year's budget will fall – a number of factors could still cause fluctuations in revenues and expenses, he said – but earlier this year estimated that it was "very likely" that at least $1 million worth of adjustments will need to be made.

"It's hard to know what the solution is until we know the extent of the problem," he said Thursday.

Some of the proposed reductions are one-time cuts and others could stick for years to come.

On the more extreme end, for example, would be reducing the number of school resource officers, who work exclusively with school children and address cases like fights and runaways, from five to four. That would force two middle schools to share one officer, though that proposal is further down the list of the police department's potential cuts.

The contingency plan itself is the product of several months of budget examination, but the overall budget outlook has become increasingly grim for the past three years. Key revenue sources like sales and property taxes have been down or flat while expenses like employee health insurance and police and fire pensions continue to rise.

Hoping the unions that represent city employees would agree to one-year contracts without pay raises, budgeters did not plan for wage and salary increases at the onset of the fiscal year that began in July. Negotiators representing the city thus far have been unsuccessful in denying pay raises to unionized employees.

City officials have been cutting expenses during the last three years of economic recession, and Schnuer said efforts have been made to not affect the services that residents perceive. But another round of significant cuts might not go that way.

"After three years of cutting, any additional cuts are going to be felt and noticeable," Schnuer said. He added that there is "no question it's going to impact services."

City officials are only months away from beginning the process of planning next year's budget, too, and Schnuer said he does not expect the outlook to be much better.

City budgeters made significant cuts at the beginning of the 2000s, Schnuer said, another time the country was hurt by a painfully slow economy. Coming out of that slowdown, the economy grew very quickly, "but even then, sales tax (revenue) was flat after three years."

Between this round of spending reductions and those of the early 2000s, Schnuer said, "the difference is the extent of the cuts (now) are much greater."

The proposal in its entirety is available for public review on the city's website.

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Janet wrote on October 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

I'm guess I'm a simpleton because we sure pay higher taxes here than most of the rest of the state of Illinois. I have a family member with a condo in Hinsdale who pays less tax than I do for mine here, which is below average assessed value. Is it that we haven't recived funds due from state sources, or could our government just be too big?

EdRyan wrote on October 23, 2010 at 9:10 am

Most of your real estate taxes are levied by the school district.