Champaign budget hearing draws new plan, sparse crowd

The city of Champaign will see reductions in general spending as budget officers prepare to present a plan for fiscal year 2009-2010, which starts July 1.

A series of public forums is being presented relaying a budget proposal to the public. Monday night’s meeting was attended by one person.

“We think we should be planning for a look at the long term,” said Richard Schnuer, the city’s finance director.

Schnuer said there will be a 4 percent spending reduction for the upcoming year.

“If we’re not financially strong, we can’t offer good services in the future,” Schnuer said. “It’s hard to know how to deal with it.”

Renata Matousova, budget officer, said Champaign’s finances have remained stable because of a “buffer” zone — the city uses 98.5 percent of its revenue while keeping 10 percent of all operating expenditures in reserves.

“We haven’t gone into deficit yet,” Matousova said.

To safeguard the budget, many policies have been put in place, including freezing the hiring of 25 positions and keeping an untapped “rainy day fund” for emergency purposes, Matousova said.

There will also be 15-21 staff reductions, Schnuer said. The majority of these positions are either already vacated or will be eliminated by attrition— these employees are planning to retire anyway.

The positions to be eliminated draw heavily from the public works department, where four to six jobs will be cut, as well as the fire department, where three jobs will be cut, Schnuer said.

Slower emergency service response time to non-urgent calls and reductions in lower-priority services are expected, Schnuer said.

“We knew that this fiscal year was going to be difficult coming up,” he said.

Despite low turnout at the budget forums so far, the budget officers are still looking for any suggestions or comments on the plan, Matousova said.

“Unfortunately, we’re not getting that much,” she said.

The final budget forum will be held at 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 at the Champaign Council Chambers.