Belleville’s proposed budget includes funds to improve West Main Street from Sixth to 12th streets, give employees a 3 percent pay raise and increase payments toward the pension fund for police officers and firefighters.
Property tax revenue is used to help fund the police officer and firefighter pensions, and the homeowner who claims the owner-occupied exemption on a $100,000 home can expect to pay $58.25 more in city property taxes this year, according to an estimate by the city.
The 2018-19 budget is scheduled to go into effect on May 1, and a public hearing will be April 9. The $100.8 million budget is comprised of 48 funds, and the largest one is the $28.1 million general fund, which is used to pay for the day-to-day operations of the city, including the pay raises for employees.
“We’re very watchful,” Mayor Mark Eckert said. “This could be the most difficult budget I’ve put together in all my years as mayor, but that’s only because we’ve been cutting over the years. We’re down to pretty thin when it comes to the number of employees we’ve trimmed.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“The budget is balanced. It’s going to be tough, with state funding being cut so much, particularly the income tax is down again and they tell us it's because people are leaving Illinois, and we hate that.”
As far as the city’s share of state income tax revenue, the city has received about $500,000 less than what previously had been expected for two years. For example, the city recently received $4.7 million in state income funding but now can expect to receive only $4.2 million.
The city’s share of sales tax revenue and state income tax revenue are the two biggest revenue sources for the proposed general fund, which is up slightly from the current general fund.
In the $28.1 million general fund, most of the funding goes to two departments: The police department will get $10.3 million and the fire department $6.7 million.
As part of the union contracts that end next spring, city employees are scheduled to receive a 3 percent pay increase in this year’s budget.
The firefighter pension fund and police officer pension fund in this year’s budget are each expected to get about $4 million, and most of that will be funded by property tax revenue.
In December, the City Council approved a 12 percent increase in the city’s tax levy, which is the amount of property taxes it hopes to collect in the coming fiscal year.
Along with the pension funds, the property tax revenue is used to support the library, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Social Security, tort liability, health insurance and playground equipment.
Eckert said the city has kept up property tax payments to the pension fund in the past 20 years, but before a state law in the late 1990s required the cities to maintain funding, the city did not give the pension funds the money they needed.
“We are paying the price because for many years, our city fathers did not choose to appropriately fund the pensions and they kicked that can down the road, saying, ‘Oh, we have plenty of years to get caught up,’” Eckert said.
Jamie Maitret, the city’s finance director, said in December that the homeowner who claims the owner-occupied exemption with a $100,000 home could expect to pay an increase of $30 to $80 in property taxes for the city. Now, she can give a more specific estimate -- an increase of $58.25 for an estimated total of $759.65 -- because the county recently gave her the equalized assessed value, or EAV, of all the property in the city.
The city’s current EAV is $403.3 million, and the new estimate is $406.5 million.
This year's expected increase in property taxes continues a multiyear trend of annual increases.
Main Street work
The proposed budget includes nearly $2 million for improvements on West Main Street from Sixth to 12th streets.
Most of the funding will come from a $1.2 million federal grant.
In the first phase, new sewer lines will be installed so the waste water lines are separate from the storm water lines. After the sewer work is finished, work will be done to improve the lighting, roads and curbs.
The sewer improvement and roadwork are expected to be done by December.
Next year, the city plans to improve the stretch of West Main Street from 13th to 17th streets.
Eckert said the long-term plan calls for improvements from 18th to 28th streets.
Eckert and Maitret said they hear complaints from people who say the city’s budget needs to be cut.
“I just kind of cringe, because people in general don’t realize how much we have scrutinized this budget and how much we have trimmed and cut and downsized,” Eckert said.
They noted that someone may hear that the city has tax increment finance, or TIF, funds available as part of a development agreement to give tax incentives to businesses, and then this person argues the city should use this money to pay for a police officer’s salary.
But they said that’s not possible.
“Those are legal, separate pots of money,” Maitret said.
For instance, property taxes collected in a TIF district are channeled into a special fund earmarked for infrastructure improvements or economic incentives in the district and can’t be used to pay someone’s salary.
Want to go?
What: Belleville public hearing on 2018-19 budget
When: 6:45 p.m. Monday, April 9
Where: Belleville City Hall at 101 S. Illinois St.