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Local News

Joliet takes out 5 percent tax hike, digs deeper into savings

JOLIET – City Manager Jim Hock is digging deeper into reserve funds and making no new cuts while dropping a property tax hike from the proposed 2016 budget.

A special City Council meeting on the budget Monday included a confrontation between Councilman Larry Hug, who is alone in calling for reduced funding for the Rialto Square Theatre, and the theater’s general manager.

Hock’s budget adjustments did not reduce the city’s $600,000 annual stipend to the Rialto.

His budget proposal no longer includes a 5 percent property tax hike, which was resisted by Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and some council members.

Hock said that he’s using less money out of reserves than the $8.7 million used to balance the 2015 budget. The city also used $15 million in reserve funds to buy the Evergreen Terrace housing project after condemning it in court.

“We’re seeing a decreased use of fund balance down to $6 million,” Hock told the council.

Hock said the city can generate an additional $530,000 while keeping the tax rate the same.

Councilman Michael Turk noted that people should realize that means their property taxes can go up if the assessed value of their houses increase. The city also would get property tax revenue off of new construction.

Rialto

Hug engaged in an animated argument with Rialto General Manager Randy Green and was accused by Councilman Pat Mudron of engaging in “a personal attack.”

Defending his previous suggestion that the Rialto could cover the $600,000 that the city now gives the theater by raising ticket prices, Hug said to Green, “I didn’t give specifics because I’m not paid $140,000 a year to run the Rialto. You are.”

Hug accused Green of falsely portraying the Rialto as “an economic engine” for downtown and pointed to the numbers of restaurants changing hands or closing down.

Green and Hug differed over the validity of a 2012 study that concluded the Rialto generated $7.5 million a year for the community by bringing people to shows.

Green said the Rialto needs a dedicated funding source, such as a hotel/motel tax that once went to the theater, and said, “I would do whatever I can to find a dedicated funding source that will continue to support the Rialto.”

What’s next?

The $289 million budget will go to a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

A couple of council members suggested line-item votes on the budget.

Turk said certain controversial items might be separated for votes, including the closing of Fire Station No. 3 and outsourcing the city’s legal work.

O’Dekirk asked Fire Chief Joseph Formhals if any progress is being made in union contract negotiations to avert the closing of the fire station. Shutting down the station is expected to save the city $1.2 million in overtime costs because of contracted manning requirements for equipment.

“We’ve had some dialog with both unions, but at this point we haven’t been able to come up with an agreement,” Formhals said.

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