Divided Springfield commission passes budget

A divided Springfield City Commission passed its budget for next year, which included $800,000 in cuts to the municipal court, parks and police and firefighters overtime.

The city also intends to close both a fire station and police substation on Jan. 1 and reduce staff beginning in March.

City commissioners passed the budget in a 3-2 vote Tuesday, which included a contentious, hour-long public hearing. Mayor Warren Copeland and commissioners Joyce Chilton and Karen Duncan voted in favor of the budget, while commissioners Kevin O’Neill and Dan Martin rejected it.

The cuts are about half of the the $1.5 million city leaders have debated in recent weeks in the wake of a failed income tax increase request on the November ballot. The cuts to the budget included:

• $269,000 from the municipal court budget and $182,000 from the municipal clerk of courts budget.

• $200,000 from the National Trail Parks and Recreation District.

• $100,000 in overtime for police officers and firefighters.

• Transferring the Transportation Coordinating Committee membership from the general fund to the street fund, which will save the general fund $40,000.

The initial budget released last month shows the city is projected to generate $38.4 million in general fund revenues next year. However, the city is estimating $39.8 million in spending — leaving a $1.4 million deficit. The approved budget has about $39 million in spending, leaving about a $600,000 deficit next year.

During the election, city leaders said up to 10 civilian workers at the police division could be laid off and replaced by removing officers from the streets if the levy failed. It also said it would lay off up to 25 non-union employees if voters rejected the tax increase, many of whom work at City Hall. During the campaign, city staff also said it would close Fire Station No. 5 and the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue.

The language was run past commissioners before being announced to residents, Copeland said. Copeland, Chilton and Duncan thought the commission had signed off on making the cuts if the tax increase failed, while O’Neill and Martin believed the language was proposed cuts that could be discussed at a later time.

“What we’re putting on our line is the trust of the people,” Copeland said. “My intention is to keep my word with the people, and I hope the commission will do that, which is to do what we told people we were going to do. If not, when are they going to believe us next time?”

O’Neill said cuts should be made to help employees keep their jobs, including suspending longevity pay for employees and reducing income tax credit given to people who live in Springfield, but work elsewhere from 1-percent to a half-percent. Those changes combined could provide about $675,000 to the city’s general fund. The city can’t afford not to make those changes because it needs to stop its deficit spending, he said.

“We’re just kind of ignoring those,” O’Neill said. “If you find other means to do things, I would think people’s livelihoods should mean more to us than what a campaign commitment was when can find other money in a different arena.”

It was not a campaign commitment, but rather what the city believes was necessary moving forward, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.

“I still believe I have to do those things,” he said.

The city should make fundamental changes suggested by a recent performance audit to look to the future, so it’s not continually kicking the can down the road on its budget, Martin said. He’s also suggested bringing furloughs similar to what the state government did with its employees recently and has made other recommendations to city staff in a cooperative way, Martin said.

“I feel like maybe I’m not getting heard sometimes,” Martin said.

All suggested cuts are on the table and will be examined, Copeland said.

National Trail Parks and Recreation District will receive about $700,000 in operating money. The district will also receive about $175,000 to make improvements to the parks.

More cuts should have been made at NTPRD, rather than at the fire division, Springfield resident Mike Lowe said.

“It’s a sad day when we have to lose one of our fire departments for safety compared to recreation,” Lowe said.

The city continues to try to work out an agreement with the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau on its $417,000 in funding, officials said, which may include reduced funding levels for the first six months of next year.

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about the city’s budget since Springfield commissioners approved going on the ballot for an income tax increase earlier this year, including stories digging into audit recommendations and proposed cuts.

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