JOLIET – The stage is set for Joliet to approve a 2016 budget, but how it gets balanced still is a big question.
A public hearing on the budget is set for Dec. 21, making it possible for approval the next day. In the meantime, the City Council has scheduled a budget meeting Monday that likely is to include more proposed cuts.
The budget already proposes higher taxes, closing a fire station and spending $5.3 million in reserve funds to cover an annual deficit.
But a $1.6 million gap opened when the mayor and City Council this week rejected a proposed 5 percent increase in the city property tax.
Councilman Larry Hug is urging the city to stop making an annual $600,000 contribution to the Rialto Square Theatre and is rejecting suggestions that such action could shut down the theater.
“I just want to stop this alarm ringing that the Rialto will close down,” Hug said during the Monday budget meeting. “Management has to step up and work with an 80 percent budget.”
How serious is it?
Councilman Michael Turk said he has been told ending the city subsidy could shut down the theater.
“It’s that serious,” he told Hug at the meeting.
Rialto officials who were in the room said nothing. Instead, two members of the Rialto volunteer organization urged the city keep up the $600,000 contribution.
“The allocation that you have made in your budget is welcomed and recognizes that you value the Rialto, as well,” Rialto volunteer Sue Bienias said.
Rialto General Manager Randy Green, who was at the meeting, declined to comment when asked after the meeting whether the loss of the $600,000 contribution would close the Rialto.
“I’m going home,” Green said as he walked away. He did not return calls made Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment about the potential impact on the Rialto.
The budget shows the city is willing to cut funding to key organizations.
Joliet’s annual contribution to the Will County Center for Economic Development would drop from $125,000 to $50,000 as the city wants to hire an economic development director of its own.
The cut in the CED contribution would make Joliet the second-largest government contributor to the organization at $50,000, said John Greuling, the center’s CEO. Will County contributes $100,000. The CED budget is about $1.1 million.
Greuling said half of the Joliet contribution – $62,000 – is provided to the City Center Partnership, the agency that promotes downtown Joliet. He said the CED has not made any decisions on how it will adjust its budget.
“The bottom line is we’re still waiting for a final decision from the city,” he said.
The most obvious impact of the budget would be the closing of Fire Station No. 3, the newest fire station in Joliet.
Councilwoman Jan Quillman questioned the closing of the station because the city is just starting a staffing study that City Manager Jim Hock has said could lead to a different station being closed.
“What would be the purpose of closing the fire station for five months while doing the study and then possibly reopening it?” Quillman asked Hock.
“The point would be saving money,” Hock answered. “In order to cut $1.2 million of overtime out of the fire department budget, I have to close a fire station.”
Library and museum
The Joliet Public Library budget includes a 2 percent property tax increase, which likely is to stay intact.
Library Director Kevin Medows said the library needs more money to expand its digital operations and offer patrons modern library services. He also said the library has reduced its staff in recent years and instituted salary caps.
While the library is included in the city budget, it is a separate budget. The City Council’s instructions to Hock to remove the city property tax increase did not include the library tax increase.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and the council also have not said anything about a budgeted increase in the real estate transfer tax, paid when a home is sold, from $3 per $1,000 to $5 per $1,000. The council did hear from a representative from the Three Rivers Association of Realtors, who called the tax a second property tax on homes at the time of sale and urged the city to find another source of revenue.
Meanwhile, if the city chooses to cut Rialto funding, an annual $275,000 contribution to the Joliet Area Historical Museum also could be in jeopardy.
Hug is the only council member to suggest that funding be cut. But Hock said he would spend this week looking for ways to replace the $1.6 million the city property tax would have generated.
Losing the city subsidies might have a deeper impact on the museum than it would on the Rialto. The city contribution is 55 percent of the museum’s budget.
“We do depend on the city for 55 percent, and we’re grateful for that,” Museum Director Greg Peerbolte said. “I have not heard whether we’ll be affected one way or the other.”
IF YOU GO
• Budget meeting – 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 150 W. Jefferson St.
• Budget public hearing – 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at City Hall
BUDGET HOT TOPICS
• 5 percent increase in city property tax
• Increases real estate transfer tax to $5 per $1,000
• $600,000 contribution to Rialto Square Theatre
• Fire Station No. 3 closure
• $275,000 contribution to Joliet Area Historical Museum
• Reduces contribution to Will County Center for Economic Development from $125,000 to $50,000