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.