URBANA — Mayor Laurel Prussing on Monday presented a budget for the fiscal year starting in July with few significant changes from last year — some consider that good news these days.
As costs have outpaced revenues during the past few years' worth of economic recession, Comptroller Ron Eldridge reservedly said it could be a sign of a slow recovery.
"I don't think the final verdict is in yet on the recovery," Eldridge said. "It still feels fragile to me."
Here is a link to the budget document  — a 1.80 MB, 247-page pdf file.
Prussing's budget includes a 1.2-cent increase in the gas tax, which drivers are currently paying at a rate of 2.4 cents per gallon. The tax is scheduled to go up to 2.8 cents in July, but Prussing said she will ask the city council to bump it to 4 cents to match the Champaign gas tax that drivers started paying this month.
"I don't really think it's going to change the price at the pump for Urbana residents, and we do need the money to fix the potholes in the streets," Prussing said.
The gas tax is expected to generate $442,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and budgeters expect the higher rate could generate $736,660 annually for the fund that helps pay for road maintenance.
"I think the average person understands that it's a pretty small price to pay to have a road to drive on without wrecking your car," Prussing said.
The mayor has also budgeted for flat property tax revenues. Just last month, the city council raised the rate after property values dropped. The outcome is expected to produce the same amount of money for this year's city budget, but the ultimate effect was a nearly 2 percent increase in the rate at which property owners pay — from $1.2942 per $100 of equalized assessed value to $1.3190.
Eldridge said he expects property values to stay about the same between this year and next, and Prussing said she wants to maintain the property tax levy and the $1.3190 rate.
Otherwise, Prussing's proposed budget looks a lot like last year's. The $58.4 million budget is a 1.8 percent increase over the previous fiscal plan, and Prussing said the city is coping with perpetually rising personnel costs, specifically health insurance.
City officials will continue to hold vacant two jobs — positions for the city attorney and a city planner — for budgetary reasons.
Some salaries will rise, too. A state arbitrator last year awarded the city's police union a 3 percent wage increase, which then extended to fire employees. Prussing said the 3 percent raise will also go to the city's non-union employees.
She defended the non-union pay increases as a matter of fairness. Prussing said Urbana's pay rates are still lower than Champaign's, and the city has to compete with the market for good employees.
"We can't go way below the market, so we do have to give some raises when other governments are giving them," Prussing said.
Prussing also said the legally binding state arbitration process that the city must undertake when administrators and union officials cannot agree on a contract is burdensome and should be changed. She said she supports legislation that would make the arbitrator's decision based on the financial condition of the city in which the union employees work.
Otherwise, arbitration is out of the city's control.
"Without the ability to actually control that, it's going to be hard to keep costs down," Prussing said.