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Local News

More cops included in Joliet budget approved Tuesday

Timing of mayor's Rialto board reappointments questioned

JOLIET – The City Council on Tuesday night approved a $279 million budget for next year, with a last-minute amendment to hire additional neighborhood police officers.

That means six more officers will join Joliet’s Neighborhood Oriented Policing Team next year, bringing the longstanding program closer to pre-recession levels. Two sergeants also will be hired, one for training and another to oversee the NOPT team.

District 1 Councilman Larry Hug suggested the addition of more officers. After the meeting, Hug said the police department headcount is still down about 45, but Tuesday night was a move in the right direction, considering the string of recent shootings across the city.

“Frankly, the homicides are far removed from the district I’m elected in, District 1, but again I look at the city as a whole,” Hug said. “Is this going to solve these problems? No, but it can go a long way.”

The $279 million budget – which calls for no tax or fee increases – anticipates about $163 million in revenue and $172.3 million in operating expenses. The city is using about $8.7 million from its reserves to balance the budget, bringing reserves down to about $44 million, which keeps roughly two months worth of operating expenses on hand.

The city also included $600,000 in the budget for the Rialto Square Theatre.

Rialto board reappointments

The timing of Mayor Tom Giarrante’s reappointments for the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority – the Rialto Square Theatre’s governing board – came into question Tuesday night with the April mayoral election around the corner.

Giarrante had reappointments of Mary Babich, wife of Will County Board member Joe Babich, and Dan Vera, supervisor for Joliet Township, on Tuesday’s agenda. Babich and Vera have been on the WCMEAA board since 2001 and May 2014, respectively.

But Councilman Jim McFarland questioned the timing, and why a third board member, David Thorton, whose term expired back in 2009, wasn’t also on Tuesday’s agenda. Board members are appointed to the board for five-year terms – four by the mayor and three by the Illinois governor. Babich’s term expired in 2004, McFarland said.

“Is there any reason why we cannot delay these until after the April election? My only concern is that we’re approving these for a five-year term when they could have been approved long before,” McFarland said.

Giarrante said Vera asked him to be reappointed, and Babich’s reasoning was “personal” and agreed to discuss the issue in closed session. Outside of closed session, the reappointments were then approved, with Hug abstaining, and Bob O’Derkirk, a mayoral candidate for 2015, voting against.

“I personally like Ms. Babich and Mr. Vera ... I’ve seen them work on the board and I know they have a passion for the Rialto,” O’Dekirk said. “But I have issues with the timing, with the politics of this.”

The reappointments comes on heels of controversy surrounding the Joliet theater’s new marquee design. Many residents have criticized the new design, first unveiled last month, saying it doesn’t fit with the character of the 88-year-old building and that the space devoted to honor the donor’s parents is too prominent.

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