By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK — The evening’s key conversations aren’t included in the regular agenda for tomorrow night’s city council meeting. Mayor Patricia Diaz Krause said that a post-meeting, closed-door session will begin a discussion that elected officials would prefer to have avoided.
“The time has come,” Diaz Krause said of the council’s need to identify cost-saving measures in order to erase an anticipated deficit of $3 million, perhaps more. “We’ve got to stop waiting for someone to do it for us.”
It was made clear to Diaz Krause and the council during the Tuesday, Feb. 19 regular meeting that the city’s financial problems were as severe as expected, perhaps worse. Diaz Krause said that the mid-year report — halfway until the fiscal year concludes on June 30 — from finance director Lisa Griggs projected that by then the city will be in deficit and out of cash.
“We’re going to be in a definite deficit,” Diaz Krause said. “We’re going to meet Monday with the intent on finally making some really tough decisions.”
For more than a month city officials have scrambled to find cost-saving measures and identify additional revenue streams, meetings that ended with ideas but limited progress. Diaz Krause said that department heads have made salary concessions, municipal staff have reduced spending however possible, and employee unions are reviewing current contracts for possible help.
Last month the council approved slight increases in recreation rental and building permit fees to boost revenue, but opportunities for more income are limited.
What has become obvious is that continuing the status quo will no longer be acceptable.
“Some services may be curtailed or eliminated, things that have been taken for granted,” Diaz Krause said of budget line-items such as street sweeping that may be cut. “We’ve already made some cost-cutting measures, but we need to do some bigger and deeper ones.”
There are priorities, Diaz Krause said, of what the city can’t realistically live without.
“I do not want to see public safety impacted at all,” Diaz Krause said. “If anything we need more officers on the street; there’s no way we can reduce police.”
The mid-fiscal year adjustments heard at the most recent meeting presented a sobering picture that Diaz Krause said remains the obligation of city council to address. With six months left until a balanced budget is due, projections indicated that revenues declined more than expected, and expenses ran higher than anticipated.
City officials have considered as many options as possible, and made staff decisions to include not renewing the contract of City Manager Greg Capote last month. Diaz Krause said the answers won’t come from consultants, the state or anywhere other than city administration. That process begins tomorrow, she said.
“We’ve got to stop waiting for someone to do it for us,” Diaz Krause said. “Not the labor attorney; the city manager didn’t. We’re the ones people elected, so let’s move forward and make some decisions.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)