Alton Mayor Brant Walker issued the following statement today regarding the FY15-16 budget for the City of Alton:
"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, especially when they result in reductions in force and cuts in services.
The initial budget for FY15-16 contained 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 a minimum of $650,000 and up to $1.3 million.
These financial problems are in large part the direct result of decades of underfunding of our police and fire pension systems. These are not issues that I created, but I have not shied away from making the difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions necessary to address them.
I, along with the City Treasurer, City Comptroller, Department Directors, and Aldermen have worked 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 necessary budget cuts is to avoid as many disruptions in service as possible.
Prior to making the difficult decisions regarding budget cuts, I met with representatives of each of the City’s five bargaining units in an effort to find ways that we could work together to save money to avoid some of these reductions in force and cuts in services. Each of the cost-saving options presented were rejected by all five bargaining units, which is certainly their right and one I respect as a supporter of organized labor.
Further, the City was forced to lay off summer seasonal employees in the Street Department and Park Maintenance Department prior to making decisions regarding other services. This has hampered our ability to mow vacant lots and city right-of-ways. Our Public Works and Parks Departments are doing an admirable job of trying to stay on top of the most vital mowing, but citizens will continue to see instances of vacant lots and right-of-ways not being mowed as frequently as they are accustomed to.
Following months of intense efforts to find creative solutions to reduce the City’s budget deficit, and in an effort to cause the least amount of disruption in city services, we are now faced with the unambiguous reality that reductions in force and cuts in services are necessary in order to begin closing our budget deficit and maintain fiscal responsibility.
It has been through the intense efforts of the City’s Department Directors and staff that we have been able to limit the reductions in staff and the cuts to services. Initially, it appeared as though the reductions in staff and cuts in services would be twice as bad as they currently are, but through creative solutions we have been able to limit those reductions, save jobs, and lessen the impact on city-provided services.
It is unfortunate that the City is now forced to make reductions in force in the Police Department, Fire Department, and Public Works Department (Animal Control). These are not decisions that I, nor anyone else in the City, take lightly or enjoy having to make. To suggest that I have not agonized, and lost sleep, over these decisions would be completely false.
Not one of these decisions has been easy, but I did not run for Mayor to dodge tough or unpopular decisions. It is the dodging of tough decisions in the past, such as the massive underfunding of our pensions, that has led the City to this financial point. That path simply is not fiscally sustainable any further and requires difficult decisions that are often painful and unpopular.
The only option to avoid these unfortunate budget reductions would be a dramatic increase in property taxes to generate enough revenue to save all of the positions and services being lost. I cannot in good conscience support that kind of drastic increase in the property taxes of the citizens of Alton. Such an increase would stifle economic development and directly hit the checkbooks of Alton’s hardworking families who are struggling to meet their own financial obligations.
There simply are no easy, simple answers when facing a budget deficit as large as $1.8 million. This is an extremely difficult budget year, but it is my hope that as the City’s financial condition improves in the coming months and years that we will be able to slowly begin to restore the difficult cuts that are now necessary to maintain fiscal responsibility and live within our means.
I remain confident that the City will weather this financial storm and emerge stronger given the continued private investment that we have seen in recent years. Trends also are beginning to indicate an increase in sales tax and gaming revenue in the coming years. If those trends become reality and we work hard to make the tough decisions to weather this financial storm, Alton will have a strong foundation upon which to build a brighter future."