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City considers cuts for Rialto, museum and library

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The Joliet City Council on Tuesday began planning coronavirus-caused spending cuts that could include a halt in library renovations, less funding for the Rialto Square Theatre and a range of other reductions in city spending.

The council discussed the cuts at a special meeting before going to closed session to consider personnel and contract matters, an indication that city officials will look to reduce payroll costs.

Finance Director James Ghedotte said Joliet, like other municipalities, needs to prepare for revenue reductions that will hit like “a tsunami” when the usual monthly funding from sales taxes and other sources stops because of business shutdowns.

Ghedotte said that because of the timing at which those funds arrive, the full impact will probably come in June or July.

“This tsunami, this giant tidal wave is going to hit us, and it’s going to hit hard,” he told the council.

Ghedotte said Joliet already has used $8.4 million of its $70 million in savings since Gov. JB Pritzker began shutting down segments of the state economy in March.

“Our revenue is based on commerce, and we need commerce to fund our operations,” he said. “We need to get back to work, We need to adjust our finances until we know when we get back to work.”

He presented a list of reductions planned by city department heads that totaled more than $3 million through a hiring freeze and an additional $1 million in reduced overtime.

Other planned savings include $237,500 from not sending the Rialto its full funding assistance for the year and holding back $125,000 from the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The City Council also discussed holding back bond issues for the interior remodeling of the Joliet Public Library Main Branch and parking system improvements downtown.

“The parking system and the library?” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said. “We don’t know if we’ll be making payroll in six months.”

Ghedotte outlined $13 million in needed cuts in a worst-case scenario in which the local economy could remain shut down for five months. Even when restrictions are lifted, he said, business won’t immediately return to normal.

Council member Larry Hug said the city should plan to hold back on major spending plans on a quarterly basis until the economic outlook becomes clearer.

“We don’t know how elastic the economy is going to be when it’s over,” Hug said of the potential rebound once coronavirus restrictions are lifted. “We don’t know if it’s going to be a Super Ball bounce. I doubt it. We don’t know if it’s going to be a dead cat bounce.”

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