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Local News

Joliet city finances: 2019 not so bad, but 2020 has become trouble

Yellow police tape blocks the entrance into Harrah's Casino, which is among many Joliet businesses closed because of coronavirus restrictions.
Yellow police tape blocks the entrance into Harrah's Casino, which is among many Joliet businesses closed because of coronavirus restrictions.

The Joliet budget deficit for 2019 will be several million dollars less than what was forecast.

That's the good news.

The bad news is the budget for 2020 has been "blown up" in the words of Mayor Bob O'Dekirk speaking two weeks ago about the effect of coronavirus shutdowns.

What's happening to city revenues is a likely topic for the City Council when it meets next week.

O'Dekirk said Friday that the the council is "going to have a good discussion about city finances because revenues are drying up."

The mayor made the comment at a news conference Friday when answering a question about whether the city would consider relief for residents and businesses in light of the shutdowns.

Joliet has waived late fees on water bills and put a moratorium on shutoffs for not paying the bills. Late fees and interest charges have been waived for businesses unable to make on-time monthly payments on city taxes.

O'Dekirk said the city may take another look at tax and fee increases put into place this year. He had opposed hikes in the gas tax and downtown parking rates.

But city officials have been looking at their own budget problems, too.

The city is losing about $330,000 every week that the two casinos and bars with video gambling machines are shut down, said interim City Manager Steve Jones.

"Do the math. That's almost $1.4 million a month," Jones said.

Sales taxes, gas taxes, hotel taxes and even state income taxes are all big sources of revenue that are drying up with stores closed, fewer cars on the road, hotel rooms empty and record numbers of people out of work.

Jones said Finance Director James Ghedotte is preparing estimates on the potential effects of the coronavirus on the city budget.

Ghedotte grimly reported good news to the City Council Finance Committee earlier this month.

"I know we said with the [2019] budget we're going to have a $11 million deficit," he said. "It looks like it's going to be more like [$6 million or $7 million]."

The city does not get a grip on the 2019 fiscal year until March because of late-arriving tax revenues.

Ghedotte was grim because restaurants and bars already had been shuttered to dining customers and it was apparent things were going to get worse.

Jones said the city first will look at cutting capital expenses, but layoffs have not been contemplated.

"We're going to have to have some expense reductions to match up with revenue reductions, or we're going to have another deficit year, which we may not be able to avoid," he said.

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