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Local News

City trying to budget for vehicles but manager says money’s tight

Staff members: Fleet is getting obsolete, mayor says no new taxes

City staff and at least some elected officials, including the mayor, appear at odds over whether Joliet is keeping up with its aging fleet of vehicles and road equipment.

Public works employees packed the City Council chambers last week as a presentation was made for a proposed vehicle replacement program.

“We’re not asking for anything extreme. We’re asking for the equipment to do our jobs,” Cody Dengler, a foreman in the Roadways Division, told the City Council Public Service Committee.

The committee heard about rusted-out trucks, 20-year-old street sweepers, and a purchasing program that does not keep up with the rate in which old vehicles are being scrapped.

It was the second time in three months that staff made the presentation calling for $16 million to buy needed vehicles and equipment and a $3 million annual replacement program for the future.

The last presentation led to a political flare-up when council member Sherri Reardon said she could support a 1 cent increase in the city gas tax to fund vehicle replacement.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and council member Larry Hug accused Reardon of hitting the panic button and said the city already is addressing its equipment needs.

O’Dekirk reported that the city has spent $8.3 million on 137 new vehicles in four years and said, “We’ve done that without raising taxes. I think that’s the model we should use moving forward.”

Reardon appeared to back off from the gas tax idea.

But interim City Manager Steve Jones last week told the Public Service Committee, which is headed by Hug, that the city does not have the money to pay for the equipment it needs.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem with carving out money from existing departments or sharpening our pencils,” Jones said. “We’re going to need revenue we don’t have.”

Making a case for a tax hike would likely be a tough sell to the public much less the City Council and mayor.

Hug continued to be unconvinced.

When he gave a report from his committee meeting the next day to the full council he made no mention of Jones’ comments and said the city would have to take a “do what you can approach.”

Noting the city had spent $8 million in the past four years on vehicle replacement, Hug said, “I can see us doing another four years at $8 million and another four years at $8 million.”

City officials for years have talked about the need for a capital program to modernize its fleet and equipment, spending that had been stalled by the recession. Joliet in recent years has been buying squad cars, snow plows and other equipment.

But Public Assets Manager Mike Eulitz told the Public Services Committee that the city has been scrapping older vehicles and equipment faster than it has replaced them.

While Joliet bought 81 new police vehicles since 2016, the city scrapped 147 in the same period, Eulitz said. Overall, he said, the city has bought 128 vehicles and scrapped 255.

He recommended setting aside $3 million a year so the city can buy vehicles at a planned pace, selling older ones while they have value, rather than scrapping them.

“Going forward, we would like to start putting money aside for annual vehicle replacement,” Eulitz told the committee.

No one is suggesting where that money would come from. Reardon attended the Public Service Committee meeting but did not advocate for a gas tax.

Said Hug: “We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

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