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Our View

Our View: Make Joliet city government more affordable

Joliet City Council member Mike Turk speaks with City Manager Steve Jones on Dec. 11 during a council meeting on the city's 2020 budget in Joliet.
Joliet City Council member Mike Turk speaks with City Manager Steve Jones on Dec. 11 during a council meeting on the city's 2020 budget in Joliet.

On Thursday, the Joliet City Council will meet to decide how much more they’re going to tax citizens and guests in 2020 and beyond.

The city’s past two budgets have been included deficits. This year the $329 million spending plan calls for an $11 million shortfall, which some council members and staff want to plug with hefty tax increases on residents and visitors to the city.

It’s the wrong approach. Before voting to increase taxes, council members and city staff should show the public they can make real – and overdue – reductions to the budget. Give the people of Joliet a government that they can afford without reaching further into their wallets.

We know that government employees aren’t in the habit of reducing their budgets. Government always seems to “need” more money.

The proposals to balance the 2020 budget include some large tax increases, including a 43 percent hike to the city’s tax on hotel stays, raising the rate from 7% to 10%. These additional funds would go to attractions such as the Rialto Square Theater, the Joliet Area Historical Museum, and DuPage Medical Group Field.

Anoher proposal would triple the city’s tax on a gallon of gas, from a cent a gallon to 4 cents. That would be on top of the 4 cents the Will County board has decided to add to fuel costs for next year, and the 19 cents that the State of Illinois added this year.

There’s also a plan to pass along costs from the city’s waste hauler, Waste Management, which will cost customers another $7 a year.

Once these increases are approved, they probably will not be repealed. We will be stuck with them.

As for spending cuts, the only reduction noted by staff ahead of Thursday’s meeting is for a $300,000 cut to fire department overtime due to a new sick time policy.

The obvious place to look for spending reductions is through cutting staff. Personnel is the major cost center of almost any organization. That’s not an easy choice to make, but no harder than increasing the cost of living for the city’s 150,000 residents.

Let’s see a review of the city’s staffing levels and other spending, with an eye toward making reductions that would erase the projected deficit – or at least half of it. Every tax increase doesn’t have to be a whopper, and the proposals now before the council will cost people.

Citizens already provide considerable support for their local government through taxes they pay on their property, purchases, and other means.

Before asking for more, council members should push the staff to present a plan that will cost less.

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