Council makes demand for services clear; revenue source uncertain

CHAMPAIGN — City council members on Tuesday night said they want to find new revenue to bring police and fire staffing back up and avoid a reduction of hours at the Champaign Public Library.

That will cost more than $1.7 million annually, and the source of that money is not yet clear, although it likely means some kind of increase in city taxes or fees. Council members on May 28 will decide exactly how they plan to raise that revenue before they approve a new budget in June.

Those three areas took hits as the city cut spending across every department during the recession. City officials say they are now in a "solid fiscal position" after several years of deep cuts, but it will take some new revenue if they want to bring core services back to their 2008 levels.

Police officials say they have struggled with manpower since they eliminated positions for six officers between 2009 and 2011. City council members will need to find $712,426 to bring staffing back to that 2008 level, and they voted 8-1 on Tuesday in favor of doing that.

Deputy Chief Joe Gallo said "proactive enforcement" has really taken a hit during the recession years.

"This is a significant problem for us because with intelligence-led policing we want to be smarter with our resources," Gallo said. "We want them to go out and work on problem areas, on hot spots."

City council members said they think the problem is significant enough to raise city revenues.

"I miss proactive policing, and I'd like us to start doing it again," said council member Marci Dodds. "It was just starting to get useful and effective and producing results; then the economy crashed."

City council members also voted 8-1 to find new revenue to keep a fire engine in full service on the city's west side. Staffing at fire station 4 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.

But as in the case of the police department, city council members on Tuesday said they are willing to find $486,000 annually in new revenue to cover that gap. The extra money for firefighter overtime allows the department to maintain a minimum on-duty force when regularly scheduled firefighters are sick or on leave.

In a third budget request, Champaign Public Library officials asked for an extra $500,000 annually to keep the library open on its current schedule through June 2014. Library Director Marsha Grove said personnel cuts would otherwise need to be made to balance the library budget as costs continue to rise to a point where they cannot be covered by property tax revenue.

"I looked everywhere," said Library Director Marsha Grove. "The library board looked at the budget, too, and the only place left to cut was personnel."

That would mean officials would have to close the library for an extra 31 hours per week, split between its main and Douglass branches, without extra revenue.

City council members, however, voted 8-1 to give an extra $500,000 to the library annually to avoid those cuts in hours. That funding solves the problem for only one year as city officials expect the funding gap will continue to grow during the next few years.

Library officials will need to come back to the city council in six months with a plan to address those future budget gaps.

"With the $500,000, our library will remain the community center that people have gotten used to," Grove said.

Deborah Frank Feinen was the only no vote in three separate polls Tuesday night. Each time, she said she was not willing to raise city revenues without first looking at cuts elsewhere.

"I feel like we need to do our due diligence first and figure out if there are cuts available," Feinen said.

She said she is not opposed to bringing police, fire and library staffing levels back up, but "it's a disagreement philosophically about how we ought to pay for that."

Council member Tom Bruno said he is convinced that deep spending and service reductions through the recession have left no viable options for further cuts.

"I come to a conclusion that the community would rather come up with some additional revenue to solve these problems than to have their city government eviscerated any more," Bruno said.

Mayor Don Gerard agreed that core services need more revenue. In the case of the police department, he thinks people coming from outside the city likely will end up paying a lot of the bill.

"To me, it's not so much a burden but an investment," Gerard said.

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787 wrote on May 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

"New revenue" and "more revenue" is code for TAX HIKES!!!

And, of course, the union isn't cooperating.  Of course not.  These are the same types that stoop so low as to picket the commencement activities at the Assembly Hall.  

Commencement should be about the graduates, and not some union agenda.  They always have their own agenda that benefits no one but themselves, at everyone else's expense.

The city built a library that they can't afford, now that the economy has been in the tank for several years now.  But it doesn't matter, just hand the bill to the property owners... like always.

spangwurfelt wrote on May 17, 2013 at 8:05 am

How dare those union people use their Constitutional rights to free expression! What the hell do they think they are, Americans or something? GRRRRRR!

jmb wrote on May 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Gotta love Mr. Bruno's statement. He has come to the conclusion that the community would rather come up with some additional revenue. Really! Did he take a poll? Did we have a referendum. Who is the community of which he speaks, the community of the wealthy? Please provide the facts to back up that statement Mr. Bruno. And I didn't know the cites government has been "eviscerated". I thought we just cut back on staffing levels to match our available funds. Suggesting the police and fire departments have been disembowled is hyperbole and overstatement of the highest order.

 

 

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

A public library isn't a new invention. We have always had them as an educational resource to be applied equally to anyone without regard to race, gender or economic standing. A library isn't a for-profit entity and they never were. I don't know why people are acting like it failed some Wall Street profit projection. Libraries are 1st to last dollar cost liabilities but we have them to enhance our community. They still are a part of our ever expanding dynamic educational system. The U of I students use them as well. I suppose you could put a turn-style in the front door like a subway so you would have to have a paying pass to get in but to the exclusion of many people who couldn't afford it, defeating the main idea of a PUBLIC library.

A lot of state and local public sector jobs have disappeared through attrition but the work of the fire and police department continues to increase. If you call 911 you expect someone to show up ASAP and that is going to cost money. I don't want our first responders distracted with worrying about making the mortgage payment while they are working to save lives by risking their own. 

When there is an emergency everyone praises the fire and police but when there is not much going on in the news they talk about them as if they are trying to "Shake down the taxpayer" because they belong to a union. Give me a break with that Foxsnooze nonsense.

Maybe the NASCAR crowd would like the police cars and fire trucks to be covered with sponsor stickers.

cretis16 wrote on May 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The Library can start by looking at the salary schedule. How can you pay someone $27/hr. for being a janitor? IT's the same old equation...we're going to tax you some more and spend it whether you like it or not...no way will we ever decrease of cut personnel or services. As for Mr. Bruno...I don't look for much concern out of him, he's a member of the $200,000++ a year club. I recall he once made the statement ...that.."...the comcast fees are reasonable, after all our family only spends about $200 a month on cable, which is really a bargain."

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Cretis... Is there a more updated salary grade schedule I don't know about?

According to this it looks like the starting wage for Library Janitor is $11.05 and the maximum is $18.91 http://www.champaign.org/resources/pdfs/cpl_salary_schedule.pdf

Where are you getting the $27.00 an hour figure?

thelowedown wrote on May 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm

"Where are you getting the $27.00 an hour figure?"

From a genre called fiction.

spangwurfelt wrote on May 17, 2013 at 8:05 am

Funny how much anti-union blabla comes from that same source.

cretis16 wrote on May 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

The $27 figure is compiled of base salary+generous benfits. Even at nearly $19.00 and hour, That's a good piece of change for emptying the waste can.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 16, 2013 at 8:05 am

Cretis,

You are assuming that ALL janitors there are full time/ benefits eligible and have worked there long enough to be at the top of the payscale. I regularly use the library and given the volume of traffic and the size of square footage of the building I would say they are earning every penny. It's pretty clean all the time. Emptying trash, cleaning toilets (yuck) vacuuming carpets, shampooing carpets, buffing and waxing hard floors, dusting, cleaning glass room dividers and on and on. Pretty labor intensive.

Isn't it curious you didn't complain about the director making 6 figures with benefits...

 

cretis16 wrote on May 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm

This is the perfect example of when outsourcing should be used. Hire a private company to clean via contract bid. Not so sure why our public sector people are so sheepish about being cost effective. As far as the director is concerned, I suspect she will pull the same old philosophy on wage increases as the U of I and other public positions..."...but look, over here in West Lafayette they pay X number of dollars more." All you have to do is Google search and find a comparable city paying more money and then the fish take the bait.

rsp wrote on May 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm

With $500,000 at $27 per hour they could hire over 8 janitors. Maybe they just have too many books. 

U of I Alum wrote on May 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm

It seems that the Champaign Fire Department wants to keep growing and growing even though they aren't doing as much as other area departments are and doing it for a much higher price. Their ISO Level (how fire departments are graded for providing protection based on insurance ratings) is a 2 and is the same as Urbana Fire Department but you don't get nearly as much bang for the buck. I've seen Urbana Fire Fighters going around home to home doing inspections for the citizens in the City of Urbana on weekends. Same time saw several of the Champaign Firefighters wash their personal vehicles behind the fire station which is obviously the same level of service. I'm not saying that they don't deserve down time at CFD but why is it that the neighboring department is actually getting out there trying to PREVENT fires before they happen and CFD isn't? Preventing a Citizen of Champaign from dying in a fire must not be as important as it is in Urbana. Champaign Firefighters only are certified to provide Basic Life Support and yet Urbana Firefighters provide higher levels where they can start IV's, give you lifesaving medications, put a breathing tube down your throat when you stop breathing. I know sometimes there is duplication of services but obviously it seems that UFD is doing minimally as much if not more than what CFD is doing! I know it is hard to compare things sometimes wanting to get apples to apples but look at how much a firefighter on each side of Wright Street makes in comparison to what they do and how often they do it. Oh... and when I hear the Fire Chief for Champaign say that their call volume is "going up by 10%" or more ask him if it is because he started sending MULTIPLE CFD Fire Trucks out into the county and not in the corporate city limits of Champaign on the interstate into area's that have always in the past been covered by the rural fire departments in the past. You can sit and listen to this on the scanner and just laugh and shake your head. Is this just a play to increase call volumes of the CFD trucks and guys that would just be washing their truck? Or is it too so that you can charge those unfortunate enough to be in an accident a bill for your services even though you shouldn't have even been responding there. I do give credit for the CFD Firefighters for giving up their OT in order to maintain the staffing levels they have had in the past but I find it more like in the Wizard of Oz where you see behind the curtain and see it isn't what you expected. Had that fire truck been shut down temporarily would it have been the fire and brimstone end of the earth that was predicted or would several of the other not as busy fire trucks and firefighters had to actually work to the level that other departments locally if not regionally and nationally are expected to work? But then I have heard that CFD has and/or had staff that not only don't live in the City and pay taxes that they want raised but even the State of Illinois! Don't cry me a river about you not getting paid better and better benefits when you can't even have the decency to live in the City that you are sworn to protect. Thankfully I moved from Champaign to Savoy and finally Urbana and my insurance costs didn't go up a dime (even though they said Savoy FD was an ISO 3 and not a 2) and paid less than or equal amounts of assessed taxes for fire protection and got more from it. Maybe they should do what they do up north and actually use the mutual aid system like it is intended and when you have the "big one" you call in your neighbors to help and when they have the "big one" you go help them otherwise my taxes are just paying for a really really expensive CFD Firefighters car wash! Just my 2 cents!

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

The Savoy Fire Department is a Volunteer Fire Department.  People volunteer in smaller communities to be firefighters.  That keeps costs down.  Your complaint regarding the fulltime firefighters in Champaign versus Savoy is an apples to oranges issue.  You may benefit from the difference between Urbana, and Champaign taxes for their fire departments.  How many tall buildings are there in Urbana compared to Champaign?  How many emergency calls for non-fire related matters are there in Champaign compared to Urbana?  What are the population differences between the two communities?  Does more of the University of Illinois campus exist in Champaign, or Urbana?  What is the big issue with professionals not living in the city where they work?  Do you live in the same community (Champaign, or Urbana) where you work?  There are several factors that exist beyond watching someone wash their car behind the fire station.  Glad that your doing well with your taxes in Urbana.