The Joliet City Council this week approved a $572 million budget and focused most of its attention on less than $1 million of it.
City subsidies for the Rialto Square Theatre at $375,000 and Joliet Area Historical Museum at $200,000 were the focus of much of the discussion before the council approved the 2023 budget.
A couple of council members also questioned whether they should approve a 2% increase in the property tax for the Joliet Public Library, which operates with a separate levy and a separate budget but is dependent on the city to approve its levy.
Representatives from the library, museum and Rialto all made presentations to the council Monday to state their cases for council approval.
The Rialto and Joliet Area Historical Museum often come under scrutiny at budget time when a few council members question whether the city should spend money to support them.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk added the midyear controversy over the Rialto’s insurance deal with council member Pat Mudron to the mix, suggesting that the Rialto should recoup any money paid to Mudron’s insurance firm. The Rialto has since switched insurance providers.
The Rialto got the most attention, with council member Jan Quillman saying the theater should stop hosting weddings, and O’Dekirk suggesting he, too, considered it an issue.
“We don’t subsidize other banquet halls and wedding halls in Joliet,” O’Dekirk said as the council discussed its annual subsidy to the theater.
The Rialto was seeking $475,000, an amount it received from the city until a couple of years ago, but it did not get it.
The focus on stipends for the Rialto and museum is intense enough that the council voted on them separately from the rest of the budget, the only spending items pulled out of the budget for separate votes.
Even so, the council approved the Rialto stipend on a 7-1 vote, with Larry Hug being the only no vote. The mayor, who votes in case of a tie, did not vote.
The museum stipend, too, was passed but on a 5-2 vote.
Quillman joined Hug in voting against the museum stipend. Council member Sherri Reardon, who is the council liaison to the museum and votes with the museum board on museum matters, recused herself from the vote.
Hug criticized museum management, saying the city was promised 10 years ago that the museum would become self-sufficient.
“In fact, they’ve actually increased their dependence on us,” Hug said. “They have not lived up to the word.”
The museum has become a partner with the city in the reopening of the former Joliet Correctional Center for tours and events, which also has led to city spending on prison maintenance. The city took out a lease on the prison turning to the museum to act as the manager for the facility.
Hug and Quillman also voted against the library property tax levy, which is $6.1 million.
Quillman questioned the need for a 2% increase in the levy.
Library Executive Director Megan Millen said the levy increase was needed to fund mandated minimum wage increases for library employees.
The city budget, which includes a 4.5% increase in the property tax levy to $45.1 million, was approved with an 8-0 vote.
Editor’s Note: The story “Joliet OKs city budget amid concerns over local funding” that appeared on page 5 of the Saturday edition incorrectly reported the Joliet Public Library tax levy, which is $6.1 million.