Prussing boosts proposed legal spending in new budget
URBANA — Mayor Laurel Prussing has proposed increasing next year's budget for outside attorneys after the city far outspent that line item consistently for the past several years.
The News-Gazette reported last week that spending on "special counsel" — attorneys who are not employed by the city — had grown to $326,000 so far during this fiscal year, which runs through June. The budget for that item was $8,780.
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In next year's budget proposal, which Prussing released this week, the mayor has planned for $175,000 worth of special legal expenses — that could include labor negotiations, employment disputes or other legal proceedings. The city this year is in negotiations with its three labor unions and embroiled in two lawsuits.
One of those lawsuits involves former accounting supervisor Liz Walden, who claims she was wrongfully dismissed from her job last summer when Prussing did not reappoint her. Walden was one of about 30 "at-will" employees who must be invited to return to their job every year by the mayor.
The city's spending on those proceedings alone had grown to more than $100,000 this month.
The other is the city's ongoing dispute with Carle Foundation Hospital over property tax payments and the tax-exempt status of Carle properties. The city has paid attorney Fred Grosser about $30,000 in this fiscal year for those proceedings.
Prussing said the $175,000 in next year's budget includes $75,000 more for the Carle dispute and $100,000 "for whatever else we have to deal with."
"We're not planning to spend it," Prussing said. "I think we can wrap some of these things up earlier, but that's the proposal."
In particular, Prussing suspects the legal dispute between Walden and the city is nearing a conclusion.
"There is an end in sight," Prussing said. "This lawsuit, that particular one, was filed after we did the budget, so it's very hard to budget for something that you don't know is going to happen. So that's why I'm trying to build some numbers in here."
Prussing told city council members she plans to update them on both lawsuits in a closed session sometime this month.