Ardis: Cuts are coming to city budget

DeWayne Bartels

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis made it clear July 24 during a meeting with the editorial board of the Peoria Times-Observer that cuts are coming to city hall.

“We’re going to be a smaller organization at the end of this year,” Ardis said, “and smaller yet next year.”

The Peoria City Council, next week, will receive information back on cuts proposed in July.

Among the ideas being considered are a wage freeze, unpaid furloughs and voluntary separation (retirement) packages for city employees.

A report is coming to the council on the feasibility of a 2 percent tax on packaged liquor.

The idea of a 5 percent water utility tax was also raised.

Increasing the city’s motor fuel tax from its current 2 cents was raised.

At the Aug. 11 city council meeting, the city council will also discuss how to distribute Hotel Restaurant and Amusement Tax revenues. One of the proposals calls for eliminating all the HRA funding given to ArtsPartners, currently set at $75,000 annually.

Ardis was cagey about which cuts he specifically supports, but he did give some specifics on those he does not think much of.

“I don’t like the idea of a retail tax on liquor or gas,” Ardis said. “As sensitive as people are about gas, they will drive five miles to save two cents a gallon. We need to focus on things like the water utility tax. It spreads the pain out among everyone.”

 Ardis said a real-estate tax hike is the last thing the council will look at. But, he said, the city has not raised the tax rate in 20 years.

The suggestion the city look at merging of the Peoria police and Peoria County Sheriff’s Department, is an idea Ardis would like to see investigated further. It came up at the July 14 city council meeting.

Ardis likes the prospect of a Unigov concept — used in Indianapolis — which merges city and county services together  under one governmental umbrella.

“A lot of people think we should have Unigov,” Ardis said during a July 14 city council discussion of budget-cutting ideas. “If people at city hall and the courthouse would take off their protective cloaks that would be a huge benefit to the taxpayer.”

Ardis said there is slow progress on the idea between city hall and the county courthouse. “Peoria County Board chairman Tom O’Neill is not protective,” Ardis said. “We are looking at it in the same way. We serve the taxpayers.”

Employee cuts of one kind or another will be coming. Ardis said the employees will have to concede to a wage freeze or almost certainly there will be layoffs. Ardis said the council will not promise no layoffs even with a wage freeze, furloughs and voluntary employee retirements.

“We met with the unions six weeks ago and gave them the numbers,” Ardis said.  Talks with the unions began July 27.

“They understand what we are dealing with,” he said.

Ardis said it is obvious police, fire and public works will not be trimmed dramatically. But, he added, those departments cannot count on getting the same money as last year.

Ardis said $3.9 million would be trimmed from the deficit if every employee agrees to a wage freeze.

But, he added, “We’re not going to close the $10 million gap solely on the backs of our employees.”