New plan for Danville budget proposes expanding EMS fee
Early retirement incentive also on table for certain city employees
DANVILLE — For the last three years, the city of Danville has charged non-residents for emergency medical-service calls to which the fire department has responded.
City administrators' latest version of a proposed spending plan for the 2014-15 fiscal year recommends expanding that fee to include city residents, offering a one-year early retirement incentive plan to city employees and eliminating some positions.
What's not included: establishing a fire-safety fee, eliminating firefighter positions or closing one of the four fire stations, all of which have drawn vehement opposition from firefighters and community members.
"I believe it will be a very attainable budget," Mayor Scott Eisenhauer told aldermen at Tuesday's city council meeting. But, it's not a plan for "the long haul," he added.
"After we pass it, our work has just begun," he said. "We must continue to look for ways to make Danville sustainable, not just year to year but for years to come."
Aldermen will continue to discuss the proposed budget this month. They will vote on whether to adopt it in April.
While city officials want to create a long-term fiscal plan, they are looking more immediately at closing a $500,000 revenue/expenses gap for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins May 1.
Eisenhauer said this third budget draft reflects feedback from aldermen and the public on previous suggestions including the fire-safety fee, which some residents saw as another tax. Unlike that fee — introduced as a flat tax on all structures, then revised as a tiered-fee based on roof-top square footage — the EMS response fee is a user fee, Eisenhauer pointed out.
When the city established the fee for medical calls involving non-residents, aldermen discussed including residents but decided against it at that time. But the mayor believes now is the time to expand it.
If the city charged $300 for each call — $150 for the wear and tear on the vehicle, the rest for personnel for a one-hour response time — he estimates that could raise about $252,000 a year. That's based on the 1,200 medical calls the fire department was dispatched to in 2013 and a 70 percent collection rate.
Ward 7 Alderman Steve Foster called the proposed rate "a good deal.
"If I'm having a heart attack, I'll pay the $300 because I know that's what it costs to send out the unit and the guys," Foster said. He said private ambulance services charge $600 for a call, and more if the person is taken to Champaign or Indianapolis.
Even with the fee, Eisenhauer said the city must continue looking for a long-term solution for funding the fire department.
"If it continues to generate sufficient revenue, then perhaps, no other remedies are required," he said.
Eisenhauer said he's now happy to propose an early retirement incentive, something officials initially didn't think would create a savings because of a miscalculation. They now estimate it could save $240,000.
The plan would be offered to all Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund employees from June 2014 through June 2015, Comptroller Gayle Mason said. Eisenhauer said 30 employees would be eligible to participate, although he doesn't know how many will.
He added officials plan to take a close look at which positions could be eliminated or merged. The savings would come from those cuts and hiring new employees at a lower salary than the current employees.
Eisenhauer cautioned that the budget proposal would work only with the cooperation of its employee groups. The city will be bargaining with five of its six unions this coming year.
"It's our hope they want to be partners in working through these budget challenges, and are willing to recognize we can no longer do things the way they've always been done," he said, adding they must be open to considering not filling vacancies and changing contract language "to stretch our limited dollars."
In the coming weeks, aldermen may also suggest making other cuts. Eisenhauer gave them a spreadsheet showing what 5 and 6 percent across-the-board cuts would look like. It also includes scenarios that would keep the police and fire departments and general city government division, which can't be reduced, from the mix.
Ward 7 Alderman Bill Black said while no one wants to close the municipal pool at Garfield Park or cut funding to the Danville Municipal Band and the like, city officials may have to look at doing that.
"Sure, it's nice to having a swimming pool, but it's being subsidized," he said. "I don't think people realize how close we are to not having enough money to pay bills. Do we need or can we afford to keep every single amenity that the city has been able to offer in the past for another year, two or three?"
Eisenhauer said city officials hope to reach out to more businesses and organizations to see if they would sponsor some of those activities.