Financial task force presents potential budget solutions to aldermen

By Jim Hagerty

CITY HALL — The City of Rockford Finance Task Force gave its first presentation about how to tackle the $10.2 million budget deficit Monday.

In total, the committee gave aldermen recommendations of cuts more than 70 areas in the city’s current spending plan. They include everything from the style of cars the city buys for employees to office supplies.

The most visible point of discussion continues to center on whether Rockford voters will reinstate home rule after 35 years. With home rule, the city would pursue several revenue streams that are currently prohibited by state law. If the referendum fails, the task force recommends the aldermen approve a utility tax on electricity and natural gas, something planners say could result in millions in revenue.

While Mayor Tom McNamara has vowed to not make cuts to public safety, the task force is recommending the city find a way to reduce overtime costs to save the city $300,000. Another $100,000 a year can be saved by doing the same in the fire department, the task force says.

Charging landlords property registration fees would create an additional $500,000 for the city while funding pothole patching operation from capital projects funds versus the general fund would save $240,000.

Turning low-level crimes into fined ordinance violations would save the city an estimated $187,000. It would also reduce the number of jailed offenses and people sentenced to probation, which can put a strain on city and county services.

“When you are in the line of duty fighting fire, or involved in a police incident, [there is] a cost,” Alderman Frank Beach said. “I think both chiefs say there’s ways they feel they can reorganize it to cut it down and we just challenge them to do that.”

The task force was asked to: review operating budget, department by department; propose recommendations to guide aldermen in a multiyear budget plan; work Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney’s Government Efficiency committee to find areas where efficiencies can be gained, and services can be strengthened through collaboration and or consolidation. The recommendations will be subject to an up or down vote by City Council within 60 days.

“After tonight’s presentation, we’ll start moving these items forward, to council for consideration as part of the 2018 budget,” Finance Director Carrie Eklund said.

Other highlights of the task force’s presentation include:

  • Enforce and inspect commercial backflow preventers, currently required by local ordinance ($440,000);
  • Reduce Police and Fire overtime ($400,000);
  • Implement stormwater maintenance fee ($500,000); and
  • Replace copper phone lines with fiber network connections ($100,000).

“We need to pay attention to what we are doing and how we are doing it,” Alderman Ann Thompson-Kelly said. “There’s a lot of good suggestions made [by] this task force. Aldermen will pay a lot of attention to the suggestions that were made.”

The city is also wrestling with a new administrative fee in Springfield that has reduced the amount of sales tax revenue returned to Rockford.

The full City Council meets on the first and third Monday of every month. Committee meetings are the second and fourth Monday. R.

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