JOLIET – Mayor Tom Giarrante said the city is financially sound and seeing new growth in a State of the City speech that hinted at times to the April 7 mayoral election.
“My job as the new mayor was to put Joliet finances in order,” Giarrante said at the start of Tuesday’s speech, referring to when he came to office in 2011 and the city projected deficits. “Today, we are living within our means and not making promises we cannot keep.”
Giarrante referred to “tough decisions in 2012,” when the city enacted a sales tax increase and fee hikes aimed at generating more revenue. Those hikes have been criticized by Councilman Bob O’Dekirk, who also is running for mayor. Also running is Andy Mihelich, chairman of the Joliet Junior College board.
The State of the City speech was given at City Hall, where it has been held the past two years, and was sponsored by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. About 75 people attended.
Giarrante highlighted city revenue growth and low debt. He pointed to increases in hotel taxes as a sign Joliet is a destination location and offered numbers on building permits to show the city is seeing new development.
“Developers know that Joliet is revitalized, and the proof is in the numbers,” he said.
All charts presented during the speech compared 2014 to 2011, when Giarrante first became mayor. He previously was a councilman.
Building permit revenue topped $1 million in 2014, up from $728,000 in 2011. Real estate transfer tax revenue reached $1.6 million last year, up by a little more than $500,000 from four years ago.
The mayor did comment on a decline in gambling revenue, down about $3.8 million since 2011. Gambling revenue has been on a steady decline since 2007 and the onset of the recession.
“The only sure bet is that gaming revenues will not return to the glory days of 1992 to 2007,” Giarrante said.
He noted, however, that gambling tax revenue remains a major source of revenue. The city’s share of gambling taxes was $19 million in 2014.
Giarrante also focused on downtown development and efforts to help Will County build its next courthouse downtown.
“I plan to do whatever it takes to keep the county seat in downtown Joliet,” he said.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr., who attended the speech, said Giarrante has had a “commitment to working together in making sure the county operations stay in downtown Joliet.”
John Greuling, Will County Center for Economic Development chief executive, said the building trends in Joliet are seen elsewhere in Will County.
“Joliet tends to be a good barometer for the county overall,” he said.
O’Dekirk, contacted later, said the state of the city also is reflected in the decline in numbers of snow plows available for winter storms, a reduced number of police officers on the streets, and an inability to fully fund pensions.
“We’ll have to have a difference of opinion on the condition of Joliet,” O’Dekirk said. “I believe it’s a city that has great potential. It’s not a city that’s in great shape.”