Ardis: Budget cuts could get 'ugly'

DeWayne Bartels
Deputy Peoria Police Chief Phil Korem, left, and Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard talk during a budget policy session before the Peoria City Council last night.

The cuts needed to eliminate a looming city deficit, projected at $10 million for next year, is going to get "ugly" Mayor Jim Ardis warned last night.

At a policy session the city council heard suggestions from department heads for reducing the city budget by 5 percent.

Some of the cuts proposed were pulled because the council deemed them too drastic. Others were routinely accepted as reasonmable.

In the end the effort only trimmed $3.2 million.

"We still got a ways to go. This is a beginning point," Ardis said. "This is probably going to be the most brutal budget process in years. From here it only gets uglier. This won't be clean and tidy ... It may look more like a chainsaw in the operating room, rather than a scalpel."


Public safety - police and fire - carry a large part of the burden because of the size of the two departments.

A 5 percent reduction for the police department amounts to $1,295,716. To meet that amount police chief Steve Settingagaard's proposals include a $10,000 reduction in funding for confidential sources, withdrawing from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and MEG, which battles drug dealing. He proposes reducing saturation patrols in high-crime areas. He also proposed eliminating one sergeant's position which saves $78,000.

For the fire department chief Kent Tomblin faces reducing costs by $936,533. His trimming work was made easier by the unionized firefighters agreeing to a wage frezze amounting to $570,000. A non-union emplooyee wage freeze added another $20,000. But, his posposal also includes leaving two firefighter positions vacant which carries a savings of more than $91,000.

The plan overall calls for the elimination of 17 positions in city departments, with 13 of those postions in the police department.

Settingsgaard said if the police union agrees to a wage freeze the job eliminations can be prevented if the department only has to trim 5 percent.

But, there was no promise from the council to hold cuts at just 5 percent.

"I am prepared to go deeper when necessary," Settingsgaard said.

Other departments found savings by cutting expenses such as travel, printing, food and dues to organizations.

The council

Second District councilwoman Barbara Van Auken asked department heads why she did not see management positions being targeted for elimination.

Settingsgaard said he has just five non-union management positions to oversee 250 sworn personnel and 40 civilian employees.

"It's hard to manage a police department with a short management staff," he said. "But, I'm prepared to do it. I'm not of the opinon we're top-heavy."

Fire chief Kent Tomblin, likewise, said he has five non-union management personnel to cover 216 employees.

"I need division chiefs more than you need a fire chief," Tomblin said.

Ardis, at the conclusion of the meeting, said the council has a long ways to go. He said the 5 percent in reductions proposed trimmed the budget $4.4 million. But, the council pulled out $1.2 million of those cuts.

"We have some more heavy lifting to do," he said.

 Van Auken recommended the council direct the administration to target $8 million in cuts.

"We're less than half way to our goal," she said.

Fourth District councilman Bill Sopears was critical of the proposed cuts he saw from department heads.

"What they grabbed was the low-lying fruit." he said.

Spears said the city department heads need to actively look at area's where the city and county can work together to cut costs for both. He said the county and city can find ways to reduce employees and yet deliver services.

"We need to communicate and figure out ways to cut taxes," Spears said.  

At-large councilman George Jacob also expressed frustration.

"We can't be the Chicagpo Cubs saying, 'Wait 'til next year,'" he said. Tonight is a wake-up call that we have a lot of decisions to make."

The council will re-visit proposals for cuts at their first meeting in September.