Belleville City Council approves $142M budget

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert in a 2013 file photo.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert in a 2013 file photo.

While questions remain about possible state funding cuts for the city of Belleville, aldermen on Monday night voted 13-2 to approve a $142 million budget that has to be in place before the city’s fiscal year begins May 1.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider, who lost in their re-election bids on April 7, cast votes against the budget as they have in the previous three years.

Neither Hayden nor Schneider spoke during the meeting about the budget but Hayden released a statement about the budget.

"The fiscal budget is simply a planning tool. During my four years on the Belleville City Council, each year we have failed to plan the wants and needs of the citizens as a relates to crime and infrastructure improvements,” Hayden said in the statement.

“Counter to the negative campaigning against me, which no one seems to ‘man up to,’ voting against a budget does not mean you are against everything within it. Especially as (it) relates to public safety, infrastructure or providing basic responsibilities as it relates to personnel, insurance or pensions. Not one officer has been placed on the streets with gambling gaming tax as promised.”

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed cuts that could cost the city more than $2 million. This would be 50 percent of Belleville’s share of the Local Government Distributive Fund, which is the state income tax transfers to municipalities.

“I don’t think they’ll cut us 50 percent,” Mayor Mark Eckert told the city’s Finance Committee last week. “But could they cut us 25 percent or 20 percent? I think you’re going to see some loss of revenue to all of us.”

Eckert said a 25 percent cut in state funding would mean a “very significant” loss of $1.1 million.

He also has said since city leaders don’t know what kind of state funding cuts they may have to deal with, salary negotiations with unions are on hold and a hiring freeze is in place.

The budget’s general fund, which includes the operations for the police and fire departments, is up 1.97 percent to $28.1 million as compared to last year. The police department, with a budget of $9.9 million, takes up 35 percent of this fund and the fire department with $6.4 million takes up the second largest chunk at 23 percent.

The budget includes eight new police cars and has $3 million in cash reserves.

Although final tax rates have not been established yet by St. Clair County, the owner of a $100,000 home in Belleville can expect to pay about $700 in property taxes to the city this year. This is an increase of about $13, according to the city’s Finance Director Jamie Maitret.

Along with Hayden and Schneider, Monday night was the last meeting for outgoing City Council members Jim Davidson, Gabby Rujawitz, Dorothy Meyer and Michael Heisler. Joe Orlet also is leaving the council and was absent.

Eckert gave the outgoing aldermen plaques honoring them for their service and he thanked them for their time and dedication.

Davidson, Rujawitz, Orlet and Heisler did not run for re-election while Hayden, Schneider and Meyer were defeated on April 7.

Seven new aldermen will take office early next month. They are Joe Hazel, Michael Buettner, Scott Tyler, Raffi Ovian, Ed Dintelman, Phil Elmore and Roger Wigginton.

In other action Monday:

•  Eckert read a proclamation designating Friday as “Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day” in remembrance of the genocide that began on April 24, 1915. The proclamation said 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government between 1915 and 1923. The statement also notes the current Turkish government does not acknowledge a genocide occurred.

Ovian requested the mayor make this declaration.

Several members of the Holy Virgin Mary & Shoghagat Armenian Church on Huntwood Drive in Swansea and St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in Granite City attended the meeting to hear Eckert read the proclamation.

•  Eckert recognized Thouvenot, Wade & Moerchen Inc. and Royce Carlisle, the city’s sewer department director, for their work on the city’s waste water treatment plant. The Illinois chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois recently gave the Honor Award to Thouvenot, Wade & Moerchen for the project.

•  Debbie Belleville, director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, gave a plaque to Dintelman for his 20 years of service on the city’s park board.