State could force tax hike on city

DeWayne Bartels

Mayor Jim Ardis said March 22 a property tax hike is not out of the realm of possibility if a proposed cut of state funds to municipalities proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn becomes reality.

Ardis said the proposed cut would amount to $3 million less from the state to the city. He said that, coupled with an already projected $1.5 million budget deficit, means everything has to be put on the table, including a tax hike and more cuts to public safety.

That was last year

“We were very resolved last year to do what we had to without raising taxes. That idea will be no more comfortable this year,” Ardis said.

“But, if the governor takes away another $3 million, there’s only so many rocks you can look under.”

When Quinn outlined his plan to balance the state’s budget, he included a proposal to cut funding for municipalities. 

Municipalities now receive 10 percent of the income tax revenues collected.  The governor’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal would give municipalities 7 percent, resulting in a 30 percent cut in funding. 

Ardis said such a cut would be devastating to the city, which is still assessing what the impact of cutting $14 million from this year’s budget will be.

“The $1.5 million deficit we are looking at right now reaffirms what we said last year when we said we didn’t know if we had hit bottom,” Ardis said.

“What we learned from that is when we see things coming in, we have to face it right then and not wait.”

Easy cuts made

As a result of last year’s cuts, the city cut or did not fill 70 positions.

“In my opinion, all the low-lying fruit easy to pick is gone,” Ardis said.

“We made cuts that will be noticed. The next cuts will be painful.”

Governing in Peoria, Ardis said, is strikingly different from governing at the state or federal level because the city has to balance its budget.

“(The state) is coming to us to balance part of their budget. I say, ‘Enough is enough. Do your job.’”

Ardis said he does not yet have a sense of how much support Quinn has for his proposal from the members of the Illinois General Assembly.

“But, I don’t think it’s going to be a slam-dunk,” he said.

Impact

Ardis said the impact of last year’s cuts have not really been felt yet.

Ardis said as the weather turns nicer and crime becomes more of an issue, he expects to hear more from Peorians about the public safety cuts imposed last year.

And if more cuts are forced on the city, Ardis said, it will again include people.

“It will be people. We haven’t identified any people yet. But, if we lose $3 million it will be people,” Ardis said.

“There’s almost no way we can do anything without touching public safety. For people in high-crime areas, it won’t get any better. For those in low-crime areas, the response time will be longer. What’s really maddening is the state will end up taxing us more even if they take this $3 million from us.”