Council approves budget, paving road to April 17

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11745001202205.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Aldermen unanimously rallied behind Wasco's budget amendment‘);

Rockford aldermen unanimously passed the city’s $240 million 2007 budget March 19, including an 11th-hour surprise for local roads.

Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) made a motion to amend the budget, which had been passed to the full council by the Finance and Personnel Committee just a week earlier.

“The aldermen have been negotiating with the mayor’s office for four months,” Wasco reported, not specifically commenting about whether he thought the mayor had been caught off guard by the move.

The last-minute amendment provides for $1 million of the budget to become available, essentially immediately, for use toward neighborhood road programs. That translates to the improvement of about 50 residential streets throughout Rockford’s 14 wards.

“In my ward, for example, that could be anywhere from three to six alleys or residential streets,” Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) argued during council debate. “I can tell you I have a big list of people that are wondering, after this winter, what we’re gonna do about their streets.”

Aldermen discussed the possibility of putting the million into a contra account, which Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) seemed to favor, giving the council the option to use the money for local roads at a later date.

By this plan, whether the money would be used for streets might depend strongly on the outcome of the April 17 sales tax referendum to raise the sales tax by 1 percentage point for infrastructure improvements.

Aldermen gathered behind Wasco to say they don’t need 60 days to decide—streets could use the money right away.

Using about a percent of the city’s $107 million general fund, departmental budgets were shaved to pave the way for the additional $1 million in local street improvements.

“They can decide, department by department, what their real needs are,” Wasco indicated. “It all started at the budget meetings when we asked for a budget cut, not out of personnel; we didn’t ask ’em to lay anybody off. We asked them to find a cut in their expenses.”

The approval of the 2007 budget means the end of a 60-day hiring freeze, which has been putting pressure on various city departments. Aldermen had discussed extending the freeze for the rest of the year if department heads were unwilling to tighten their belts a notch.

“As far as I’m concerned, by moving the million dollars off, we’ve given them the freedom to hire who they need,” Wasco remarked.

“In the end, it was to move an extra million dollars this year, to kind of make up for some of the repairs we didn’t get to last year,” Wasco explained.

“I don’t know that it’s extra,” Morrissey responded after the vote. “It’s just part of the budget that’s been reallocated to roads.”

The reallocation increases the local road fund from $2.45 million to $3.45 million.

Downplaying council’s action, Morrissey turned his attention quickly, but not surprisingly, to the upcoming “road referendum.

“The good news is we’ve got a budget that’s passed, that has a lower levy for the first time in quite a while,” Morrissey asserted. “That decrease in the property tax levy is the result of us changing the way that we build our roads.”

If approved by voters, the sales tax increase is expected to raise at least $80 million over five years.

Although a similar referendum failed a year ago, Morrissey believes he’s better prepared this time, and that a five-year sunset clause will show voters the city means to keep its promise to fix Rockford’s crumbling streets.

After five years, the sales tax increase could only be extended by another referendum.

Neighborhood streets will see the $1 million in 2007, regardless of the outcome Apr. 17. To view the city’s five-year plan for capital improvements, visit: To view the 2007 (proposed) budget, visit:

from the March 21-27, 2007, issue

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