EAST PEORIA — To a man, the East Peoria City Council seems to be aware that a fiscal calamity is within their view. For now, however, the five members seem collectively unable to do anything about it.
"Where we going boys, right down the tubes?" asked resident Bob Sink before the council got down to business Tuesday. "Why are we into this impossible situation? Like it or not we're going to have to cut, because when we're done, we're done."
Commissioner Dan Decker on Tuesday tabled his proposal to increase the sales tax in the city by one-half of one percent as a means to escape some of the effects of unexpected upcoming expenses. Decker and Commissioner Tim Jeffers support the tax increase; Commissioners Gary Densberger and John Kahl and Mayor Dave Mingus oppose the increase.
The proposal, recommended by City Administrator Jeff Eder, would raise about $2.5 million and cover the $1.7 million shortfall that is a combination of new state mandates and some self-inflicted spending issues.
It has led to something that resembles gridlock. Tabling the sales tax kicks that issue well into 2018, if it is ever to raised again to fix the current shortfall. The increase was on Tuesday's agenda because the state needed to know the city's intent by Oct. 1 in order to begin levying the new sales tax by Jan. 1, 2018. Its next opportunity would be an April 1, 2018, deadline to be able to begin collecting the tax on July 1, 2018. That would be the last chance for a sales tax increase for 2018.
Eder said after the meeting that no solution by spring would lead to a serious fiscal situation by May. His instructions from the council include looking at departmental cuts without layoffs or decreased services and cost savings through "increased efficiency of operations." Eder has also recommended a garbage collection fee and an increase in the tax rate, though neither of those partial solutions appear to have the vote of a majority of the council.
No one on the council disagreed with the need to be looking for ways to save money.
"I think before we go in and grab more money we have to make sure we are being as efficient as possible," Decker said. "I do believe the sales tax will come up again."
Densberger knocked down a common perception that the city created its own financial mess by agreeing to all the incentives to developers that brought the Levee District, Bass Pro and Costco to East Peoria.
"Thank God we did the development, but for it we would be much further down in the hole that we are," he said. "I say we need to tighten our belt, look at our business practices and how we deliver those services and what they will look like down the road. We have to look at all those things before we ask for more money."
Jeffers said the problem didn't spring up fully formed overnight.
"This isn't new," he said. "We have done our due diligence, but there is always room for more. This is really a very serious time, but we have to pull this off and make a decision soon."
Jeffers suggested one working session of the council every month until a solution was reached. There was no public consensus on the suggestion.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard.