CARBONDALE - In response to $5.8 million in forecasted budget deficits, the Carbondale City Council will soon consider instituting a city property tax.
The 0.5 percent tax, which the city says would raise about $1.3 million, was just one proposal presented by City Manager Allen Gill at Tuesday's meeting of the city council to fill the deficit.
Gill also suggested a number of spending cuts, including:
$330,000 by freezing some city employee wage raises
$100,000 in cuts to community services
$78,283 by eliminating the community relations officer position. That post is currently held by Marilyn James.
$96,000 by switching the accreditation of the police department from a national organization to a state group and eliminating one of the city's two deputy police chief positions next April. Current Deputy Chief Calvin Stearns is expected to retire next year.
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Under the fiscal year 2011 plan, the city would also postpone construction of a long-awaited police station, part of roughly $700,000 in postponed or deferred spending. Also delayed would be $100,000 for a green-space development program.
Gill said, under the proposed tax rate, a person who owns a home worth $100,000 would pay about $132 annually or $11 per month.
It's been seven years since Carbondale last collected a property tax.
Both the tax proposal and the spending cuts were roundly rebuked by several citizens who addressed the council during its 2.5 hour meeting.
According to city forecasts, Carbondale is set to be hit with a $2.6 million deficit in fiscal year 2011 and a $3.2 million deficit in fiscal year 2012.
Gill blamed the deficits on the city's ballooning obligations to various pensions for city staff, firefighters and police. All told, the city says its pension obligation has increased in the past five years by about $1 million, or 66 percent. Flat revenues and rising city health care costs, which Gill said have increased by about $500,000 over the same time frame, were also cited.
A number of speakers questioned the city's 20-year $1 million commitment to Southern Illinois University Carbondale's plan to build and renovate its sporting facilities, Saluki Way, in the wake of the news.
Council Member Chris Wissmann said that agreement is signed and the city is legally bound to fulfill its end of the deal.
"We can back out of the contract, sure," he said. "But they (the university) will sue us. They will win, we will lose and we will pay, plus court costs. That's the way it is - sorry."
The cut to the community relations officer post, which also oversees implementing the city's affirmative action policy, was of particular concern to some in the audience.
In voicing their concerns on the matter, several wondered how the city could be expected to implement its affirmative action plan without a monitor.
The Rev. Sydney Logwood, president of the Carbondale branch of the NAACP, said the move, which would see the human resources department monitor its own adherence to affirmative action policies, was akin to having "the fox guard the henhouse."
The city council is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 6.