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Local News

Joliet council wants property tax hike out of proposed budget

JOLIET – Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and City Council members told the city manager to bring back a 2016 budget without a property tax increase Monday.

At stake in the budget may be the city’s $600,000 annual contribution to the Rialto Square Theatre, which one council member said should be eliminated.

The council met for the second time to review the proposed budget, which would use up $5.3 million in reserves to cover a deficit.

The council meets again Monday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the budget.

No vote was taken on the proposed 5 percent hike in property taxes, which would raise more than $1.6 million. But several council members said they would not vote for it, and O’Dekirk told City Manager Jim Hock to come back with a budget that did not include the hike.

The total budget is $289 million. But the tax increase would have supported the general fund, which covers most city services, and totals $174 million.

Joliet resident John MacQueen said a no-tax increase budget could be done.

“I think you should have some moratoriums here,” MacQueen told the council. “No new hiring, no new projects, no new nothing until you get this figured out.”

MacQueen noted the budget does not yet take into account potential pay increases. The city has just begun to negotiate contracts that expire at the end of 2015 with its unions.

The budget also includes a 2 percent increase in a separate property tax for the Joliet Public Library and an increase in the real estate transfer tax, charged when a home is sold, from the level of $3 per $1,000 to $5 per $1,000.

The real estate transfer tax would have to be approved by referendum, which makes it an unreliable revenue source, said Gideon Blustein with the Three Rivers Association of Realtors. He urged the council to drop the proposed hike, which he said amounted to a property tax on people selling their homes.

Councilman Larry Hug wants Hock to ask all department heads to consider 3 percent spending reductions to avoid the spending of $5.3 million in reserve funds to cover an annual deficit.

Hug also said the city should consider cutting its annual $600,000 contribution to the Rialto, which, he said, amounts to 20 percent of the theater’s budget.

“They need to find a way around a 20 percent cut,” Hug said, adding he believed suggestions that such a cut would close the Rialto are overblown.

Hug is the only council member who has publicly said the Rialto should be cut out of the budget. But O’Dekirk at one point during the meeting said, “There will be a day when that money will be cut off.”

Rialto General Manager Randy Green and board Chairman Dan Vera were at the meeting, but did not address the council. Two members of the Rialto volunteer organization spoke and urged the council to continue making the $600,000 contribution.

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