Closure of Urbana Civic Center among cuts in city's proposed budget

Closure of Urbana Civic Center among cuts in city's proposed budget

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URBANA — Facing continued financial uncertainty and shortfalls, the city's proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes closing the Urbana Civic Center and other cuts that Mayor Diane Marlin hopes will pocket around $600,000 in savings.

Urbana's proposed budget will be presented to the city council tonight. A public hearing on it will be held at the city building at 7 p.m. June 4.

Since taking the reins last year, Marlin has created cost-savings plans to bring Urbana back to financial stability. She said the ongoing Carle Foundation Hospital property-tax case and aftereffects of the state budget impasse are the city's main challenges.

"We have a few years to go," Marlin said about her cost-savings plans. "We envision the next two to three years as the most challenging ones. We took a $40,000 hit when the state budget passed last year."

The state budget crisis resulted in a total loss of almost $500,000 to Urbana's general operating fund, Marlin added.

The proposed 2018-19 budget has $45.8 million in expenditures and $43.6 million in revenues.

Marlin said the expenditures exceed the revenues mainly because of one-time costs in the capital improvement fund.

Goals of this year's budget are to eliminate the structural deficit in the general operating fund, fully fund police and fire pensions, rebuild the city's financial reserves (or "rainy-day funds"), grow the tax base and start long-term plans to repair and maintain public infrastructure.

Included in this year's budget cuts, according to a report from Marlin:

— Closing the Urbana Civic Center, which Marlin said "has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer continue operating in its current condition." It has operating expenses that she said exceed revenues by $40,000 to $50,000 annually, and would cost between $750,000 to $1 million to repair.

If the budget is approved, the center would close Dec. 31, and the city would decide what to do with the building once a facility planning study is complete.

— Reducing funding for the Urbana Free Library by $55,400 annually. Marlin said "this share of the originally planned $500,000 in total budget reductions is proportionate to the size of the library's operating budget."

— Not filling a vacant fire prevention inspector position, which would save around $35,000 annually. The city's community development staff would conduct the inspections instead.

— Line-item budget reductions across city departments that would save $75,000.

Some of last year's budget cuts are slated to stay in place, including the voluntary separation incentive program for non-union employees. During the most recent fiscal year, Marlin said the program eliminated two full-time positions.

"We may tweak the program a bit for next year and see what happens," Marlin said about the voluntary separation incentives.

After some recent growth — including the reinstatement of a city administrator who will make $155,000 per year — the city-staff payroll is more stagnant in this budget. There's a 1 percent salary increase for non-bargaining unit employees.

Among the additional expenses in this budget, according to Marlin's report:

— Updating the city's website for $25,000 "to make it more user-friendly, flexible and readable on mobile devices."

— Buying licensing software that Marlin said would simplify administrative processes for licenses, including those for liquor and vehicles for hire. It would cost $5,000 annually and $12,000 to implement in the first year.

— Updating each city department's scheduling and time-entry software. That would cost $21,000 annually and $25,000 to implement in the first year.

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