The City of Jacksonville got some good budgetary news at last night’s city council meeting. Police Chief Adam Mefford came to the council to discuss a major grant from the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board. That grant is for $45,000 to upgrade the force’s vehicle cameras. The initial grant alone would be a major boon for the city, but it also leads to other cost savings as well.
Body and vehicle cameras are an important tool for police accountability. Having a video record helps protect both the public and officers. But implementing these systems is expensive. There are obvious upfront costs for the cameras themselves. Yet the real costs come from storing the footage. Every officer has multiple hours of footage per day, every day. This footage must be secure and accessible for years into the future. The storage systems that can handle this are expensive.
This is where the grant really saves the city money. Mefford said that the new grant will allow for the purchase of a new server for these cameras. However, this server is compatible with other planned improvement projects for the interview rooms at the station. By having one server for both jobs, the cost of the second project is tens of thousands of dollars lower. So not only does the grant free up the funds to make the other planned improvement project possible, it also makes the project much cheaper. This translates into thousands of dollars in savings for the taxpayers in Jacksonville.
The one catch is that the deadline for the grant is quickly approaching. Given the obvious benefits to the city, the council had no issue giving Mefford permission to ensure he was able to receive the grant.
In other city business, the Heritage Cultural Center account was closed and the funds were transferred to their new account. The Cultural Center never operated with city funds, but it did use the city’s tax ID code. Now that they have their own code, the city no longer needs to hold their money. There were no substantive changes to the funds or the center.
City gets good budget news tempered with warnings
The City of Springfield is on track for a budget surplus in FY 2019. Based on current revenue, the city may have a positive fund balance of $1.7 million. This comes as something of a surprise, considering the original budget had an estimated $2.6 million shortfall. At last night’s city council meeting, Budget Director Bill McCarty explained what caused the turnaround.
Numerous factors played into the turnaround. Early tax payments, a large settlement from Comcast, and a transfer from Fund 095 to the corporate fund were key on the revenue side. Hiring delays and stabilizing healthcare cost increases have been key on the expense side of the equation.
The city’s good management has been noted by outsiders as well. The S&P affirmed the city’s AA bond rating, which helps determine how much interest is paid on new bonds. A higher bond rating is a good indicator of financial health, and so avoiding a downgrade is very valuable for the city.
Clouds on the horizon
But while the current year is better than expected, the council was given several warnings about the future. Director McCarty pointed out that much of the surplus was due to a one time settlement. That extra million helps this year, but doesn’t represent a lasting increase in revenue. While optimistic about the long
Representatives from the Police Pension fund also warned about the growing pension obligations. Pensions already consume all of the property tax revenue in the city. McCarty said that where property tax used to pay for pensions and other things, now they only pay for pensions; and even other revenue sources are being tapped to make the required payments.
The S&P also noted these long-term challenges. So while the current AA rating was affirmed, the city’s outlook was downgraded from “stable” to “negative.” Although this will not impact current interest rates, it might make future borrowing more expensive.
You can watch McCarty’s presentation to the council which starts at 55:00. You can also watch his after meeting Q&A in the player below.
LIVE | Springfield City Council October 16th
Follow along live with the Springfield City Council meeting. Local BSA troop 202 is present. Camp Care-a-Lot is being recognized for their work with under privileged students. Director McCarty will present on the city’s finances shortly.
Langfelder, McMenamin discuss the Capital Township question
Illinois is notorious for having too many units of government. Capital Township, which is coterminous with the City of Springfield, is widely considered obsolete. Local leaders are working to abolish the township, a move which should save taxpayers nearly $500,000 per year. But questions remain on what is to become of the township’s functions once it is dissolved. One proposal is to merge the township with the county. Supporters of this proposal point to the several county officials who also perform roles for the township. This question will appear on the November 6th ballot.
However, not everyone thinks that the county should take over the township. Mayor Jim Langfelder and Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin agree that the township should be dissolved, but they think the city should take over the remaining township functions. Normally, a townships’ primary function is to deal with roads. But because Capital Township is coterminous, or lies wholly within, the City of Springfield, it has no roads to take care of. The city takes care of the roads.
The other main function of the township handles is economic development. Langfelder pointed out that while the county could perform this function, it makes much more sense for the city to handle issues that will impact its community directly. Springfield may be the largest city in Sangamon County, but the County Board represents the numerous smaller communities in the county. The Springfield City Council, however, only represents the city, and is better positioned to assist local economic needs. McMenamin went on to say that the city should be the ones decided what taxes are levied and what money are spent. He likened it to letting Indiana making decision for Illinois. McMenamin also pointed out that when coterminous townships are dissolved, they are typically dissolved into their municipality, not their county.
The ballot questions
In November, township residents will see the county’s plan to give the township to the county on the ballot. Because this is a non-binding question, the results of the vote will only be informative to the county and township board. Similarly, the proposed question by Mayor Langfelder is also non-binding and will also have no effect on its own.
Because the city council declined to put the city’s question on the ballot, voters will first need to sign the a petition to get the question on the April 2019 ballot. Langfelder will need at least 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot, but the final number of signatures they need will not be known until after the November election. Supporters of the mayor’s position are currently passing petitions, and their efforts are expected to pick up after the November election. Only voters in the township can sign the petition.
No matter what results the ballot questions bring back, the Township will still need need to vote to absolve itself. The township has already agreed to absolve itself to the county, but Langfelder cautioned that this was possibly due to the officials who overlap between the county and the township. And the county would still need approval from the state to take over the township because it is coterminous with a municipality.
You can watch our full interview with Langfelder and McMenamin in the player below. We apologize that the audio is not up to our normal standards.
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Langfelder, McMenamin discuss the Capital Township question