News - Joliet and Will County

Joliet begins to cut back amid revenue crash

Interim City Manager Steve Jones addresses questions on Monday, March 16, 2020, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill. Mayor Bob O'Dekirk called a press conference declaring a local state of emergency with new measures taken to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The City Council debated at length this week over whether to replace a fire station roof said to be in danger of caving in after hearing a budget projection that could leave Joliet city government broke by November.

Joliet, like cities across Illinois, is dealing with the sudden constriction of tax dollars that normally flow in by the month to fund police patrols, street repairs and expenses like replacements of fire station roofs.

Unlike the 2008 recession, which "was a relatively slow decline," interim City Manager Steve Jones told the council Tuesday, "This is like a light switch. This is a situation where everything was shut off."

No casino taxes. That's more than $1.3 million a month. A big reduction in sales tax dollars with stores closed and car dealers doing little business. Hotel taxes are down. Gas taxes are down. And even the city share of state income tax could go down sharply with the surge of joblessness.

"We're starting to get some preliminary numbers in terms of the impact, and we're going to have to make some hard decisions," Jones said.

Joliet has used up $7 million in cash reserves since Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order was put in place, a rate of savings depletion that could wipe out the $70 million the city has available by November, Finance Director James Ghedotte told the council.

"Quite frankly, we can't wait until all the money is gone to do something," Ghedotte said.

The council agreed to meet some time next week for a special meeting to review finances and start taking actions that could be enacted by the April 21 council meeting.

"A lot depends on what happens in May," Ghedotte said, apparently alluding to the April 30 end-date as of now for the governor's stay-at-home order.

Whether the COVID-19 pandemic eases up sufficiently by then to resume business activity is uncertain. But Ghedotte cautioned against a rosy outlook.

"I don't think when we go back to business it's going to be business as usual," he said.

Just what the city is considering for cutbacks, no one said.

All 800-plus city employees are still working.

Jones last week told The Herald-News that the city will have to take a hard look at capital projects.

Replacing roofs could fall into that category, although Jones recommended replacing the roof on Fire Station One.

The council voted to hold off on a vote for the roof, which would involve spending $150,000 in unbudgeted money. The council also pulled five contracts involving expenditures off the agenda, even holding off on the purchase of spare stop signs until it finds out how many are in stock.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News