Police, fire, library budgets under spotlight

Police, fire, library budgets under spotlight

CHAMPAIGN — It would cost the city as much as $1,734,576 annually to add staff at the Champaign Public Library and the police and fire departments, and city council members this week will begin talks on how much they're willing to add and how they might pay for it.

Council members will need to approve a budget next month, and they will spend the next few weeks composing a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. They are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St., to discuss the library, police and fire budgets in more detail.

Administrators say the city is in a "solid fiscal position" and the new budget would be balanced without new revenue, but they would need to find extra money if they want to start rolling back the spending cuts they made during the recession years.

In the police department, for example, city officials eliminated positions for six sworn officers between 2009 and 2011. City officials say the short staff has created workload problems — the department has relied more on overtime, and officers covering basic calls for service are unavailable to work on "proactive" enforcement in the community.

Adding six full-time officers to the force and allowing for more police overtime — which would only bring the department back to its 2008 staffing level — could cost as much as $712,426, according to city documents. Officials say they do not have enough money to pay that amount without some kind of new revenue, potentially a tax increase.

Fire department officials will also request funding to keep the overtime budget intact and ensure that an engine company does not need to reduce its service time. Staffing at fire station 4 on the city's west side would have been significantly cut last year had the fire union not agreed to reduce its pay to cover budget shortfalls.

That agreement is set to expire on June 30, and city administrators have said the union is not interested in continuing to cut its own pay to maintain staff. City council members would need to find new revenue to maintain fire staffing levels beginning July 1.

Overtime funding allows the fire department to maintain a minimum on-duty force when regularly scheduled firefighters are sick or on leave, and maintaining that overtime budget will cost the city $486,000 annually beginning July 1.

In a third budget request, library officials will ask the city council for $500,000 in extra funding this year to maintain its current operating schedule. Officials have said staff cuts throughout the years have brought the library to a point where it cannot maintain its current hours.

Without the money, the library would need to close for 31 extra hours during the week, officials say. Most of those hours would come out of weekday evenings.

As in the case of the police and fire budget requests, city officials need to find new revenue before they can pay for the library's operating costs.

Those sources of new revenue have yet to be clearly identified. City administrators say they will work on options for extra money based on what the city council is or is not willing to pay for, and those options would be presented to the council in coming weeks.

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787 wrote on May 13, 2013 at 11:05 am

What will the city council do?  They'll raise taxes.  Even though it is obvious that the challenges with the library budget is exactly what happens when you build a grand palace, and then the economy fails to meet your "expectations".

Watch for higher taxes.  It's not very difficult to figure out...

urbana1234 wrote on May 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm

City council meets tomorrow, go and voice your disapproval. Costs go up, cuts were implemented for the last few years and no additonal revenue stream, what do you want?

alumni90 wrote on May 14, 2013 at 9:05 am

The Champaign Police Department has made so many budget cuts over the years to the point that police officers are working the streets at bare minimum staffing and that makes it very unsafe for the officers. I would rather have my officers to be safe and respond to my 911 call in a timely manner when I need them.  If the staffing is at bare minimum my officer cannot respond in a safe and timely manner because I may not have an officer assigned to my area of town.  If the residents of Champaign only knew that there are only a hand full of officers working each day/ten hour shifts to cover the whole city.  Please support the Champaign Police Officers and keep them safe!


GeneralLeePeeved wrote on May 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

From what's in the story, they seem to be taking an all or nothing approach to these problems.  Why couldn't they just add 2 or 3 new police officers? ....could they absorb that much in additional cost?  The same with the Library......an increase of $500,000....really?  Couldn't different parts of the Library be shut off from the rest...so that the lighting could be turned off and staff reduced for certain sections and then rotate what section is closed from night to night?  ....maybe that idea isn't feasible, but it seems to me that they should explore a few more creative possibilities.

RAM wrote on May 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Yes, the city will need to raise taxes.  If we want services we have to pay for them.

alumni90 wrote on May 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Why does the library require $500,000? 

WOW wrote on May 14, 2013 at 12:05 am

They built too much library for what they could truly afford. It cost $40 million to build the new library, and it was only twice the size of the old library that they bulldozed. It doesn't have twice the amount of materials though, only about 25% more. If they hadn't bulldozed the old library building, they could have sold it to easily meet their shortfall for many years.

In real estate terms, it's called being "House Poor", or being a "penthouse pauper". They can't afford to heat and maintain their lavish property to their standards based on their means.

A couple of years ago, the Champaign Library board blamed it on other library districts "draining" their resources, but they never fessed up to how much resources their patrons drained from other districts. They selectively banned other library patrons from using their services, but didn't recipricate and ban their users from draining other libaries' resources. When they were told to couldn't do that, they paid tens of thousands of dollars to install their "new" software system that wasn't Lincoln Trail Library compatible, as an intragovernmental temper tantrum.

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, even if they give you the $500,000.00, will it ever be enough? How about cross the board pay cuts, starting with yours. The news stories never mention your salary or the huge budget that the library does have. If you look at the cost per loaned item, for each item loaned out, it would actually be cheaper to purchase each item for each patron and give it to them than to "loan" the item out.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Well, she got her money last night.  Tax hike coming.......  The library is a good afternoon daycare facility though.