June 19, 2015
Op-Ed by Mayor Brant Walker
In recent days, there has been much confusion concerning the fate of Alton Main Street as it relates to the City’s current budget crisis. Some of the facts surrounding this issue have not been presented, and I feel it necessary to ensure that the public is aware of all of the facts.
Let me be clear, I fully and completely support the mission and activities of Alton Main Street. I firmly believe that it is an integral part of our community and I want nothing more than to see it thrive. Because of that belief, I have worked extremely hard to ensure that it will survive regardless of the difficult budget decisions the City has to make in the coming days.
Over the past few weeks, I hosted meetings with representatives of the Alton Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), the Riverbend Growth Association (RBGA), and Alton Main Street in an effort to find ways in which all three organizations can work together to ensure that Alton Main Street continues to flourish within our community.
To that end, the CVB offered a package that would pick up $11,000 of the $18,000 that Alton Main Street receives annually from the City of Alton. Further, the RBGA has offered to work with Alton Main Street by assisting with the various programs and activities that Main Street promotes in our community to ensure that those programs remain active and viable.
Through these partnerships, Alton Main Street would continue to operate and would, in some ways, have access to even more resources to further its mission. If I were not committed to the success of Alton Main Street, I would not have taken the time to bring these three groups together to ensure Main Street’s continued viability.
The City of Alton faces a stark financial outlook for Fiscal Year 15-16. The City currently faces a $1.8 million budget deficit, largely the result of a $1 million dollar increase in our police and fire pension payments and a proposal by the Governor that would decrease the City’s share of the Local Government Distributive Fund by $650,000.
I, along with the City Treasurer, City Comptroller, and Department Directors have been working diligently to make the necessary cuts to alleviate at least a large portion of the City’s budget deficit. These cuts require difficult decisions on my part – decisions that I take absolutely no pleasure in making. My ultimate goal in making these cuts is to ensure that we maintain City services at the highest possible level.
Ultimately, these upcoming budget cuts will affect public safety and our ability to maintain our infrastructure. My number one responsibility as Mayor is the safety and welfare of the citizens of Alton, and that weighs extremely heavy on my decision making process. At the end of the day, I support many programs that make our community a better place to live, but when it comes to a choice of funding those programs or funding public safety, I must choose public safety.
In the case of Alton Main Street, I worked diligently to ensure that it continues to be an active part of our community. At least a partial solution has been found through partnering with the CVB and the RGBA, and I will continue to seek creative and efficient ways to ensure Main Street’s continued success. It is also distinctly possible that, as the City’s financial outlook improves, we will again be able to support Main Street financially in future years.
Our City faces a stark financial reality, much of which has been 30 years in the making due to the continued underfunding of our police and fire pension systems. These are not issues that I created, but I am prepared to make the difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions necessary to address them.
Constructing a budget for FY15-16 has been a particularly difficult process, one that I, nor any City staff, have taken pleasure in. Proposing budget cuts is never easy, but we must continue to work together to make city government more efficient and effective in the wake of the financial situation we face.
I remain confident that with the continued private investment in our city that our financial condition will improve in the coming years if we are willing to make the difficult decisions necessary to build a strong, fiscally responsible foundation upon which to build a brighter future.