URBANA — The city’s new mayor is proposing a new budget, and a lot of your tax dollars could be moving around.
Diane Marlin released her $45.9 million budget proposal. She says it includes cuts and consolidations. The positions of two staff members who are retiring wouldn’t be refilled.
The proposal also includes a voluntary separation incentive program. This means up to 100 non-union employees could be eliminated or have their positions restructured. Marlin also wants to raise the food and beverage tax by a half a percent.
Marlin says the city’s past budgets haven’t been realistic, especially when it comes to public safety. She says that’s her top priority, but she says money matters are complicating that. When she was running for mayor, she supported adding five more police officers, provided the city could pay for them.
Right now, she says they can’t.
More officers? Corinne Hannon was all for that.
“I truly would like that,” says Hannon.
So does Boubacar Maiga.
“We’ve seen and heard several break-ins in the neighborhood, a couple of blocks down the road here,” says Maiga.
They both live only a couple streets away from the area where a string of shootings started that discussion. After the former police chief said his department was understaffed, the former mayor declared they needed to do some hiring. Marlin supported that, but as the current mayor, she says the money just isn’t there.
“We won’t continue this practice because we’re digging ourselves into a hole,” says Marlin.
Marlin says that’s because of the city’s long-running property tax dispute with Carle. In her proposed budget, she took the disputed taxes out of the general fund and put them in the reserve. She says that’s because if the city doesn’t win the legal battle, they could lose all $5.26 million of that.
“We have to have a balanced and fiscally sustainable budget and this is going to require thoughtful strategic decision making over the next few years,” she says. “Some cuts are included in this budget, and more will be necessary.”
More officers are not technically cuts, as they were never originally budgeted for. But some wonder if they should have been.
“The sooner the better,” says Hannon. “If you’re gonna have a hot summer, more police would be good in time for summer. More things happen when the weather gets hot.”
Also on the topic of public safety, the mayor says there are significant concerns with the way police and fire pensions are being funded. In last year’s budget, former mayor Prussing said they were well-off, but Marlin says the city hasn’t been paying enough into the pensions, and if that doesn’t change, it’ll create a long-term liability.
Besides moving money around in city departments, Marlin is looking at changing the way the mayoral administration works. She wants to save $110,000 a year by not hiring a new chief of staff when the current one retires, but she’d like to spend $190,000 a year to hire a city administrator.
That position hasn’t been filled in about a decade, but Marlin says one is needed to manage day-to-day operations while she works on building community relationships.
The council will vote on the proposed budget next month. There will be a public hearing about it on June 5th.