Urbana city council discusses budget

The discussion about the budget centered on vacancies in the police department at the Urbana City Council meeting on Monday.

Diane Marlin, Ward 7, asked that the two vacant police officer jobs be filled. The positions are being left vacant, along with seven other positions in city government, to help deal with the city’s loss of revenue during the recession. As positions become vacant, the city plans to keep them vacant rather than have to lay off staff or implement furloughs.

Marlin said the city’s primary goal is the safety and welfare of its residents. She called for the council to find room in the budget to fill those positions, possibly by cutting funding for social services.

“It’s hard for people to understand why this budget is planned this way when you’ve got someone crawling through your bedroom window robbing you,” Marlin said. “This is probably the year to make choices, and I think the council needs to have a serious discussion about what our priorities are going to be this year.”

Marlin said it would only cost $215,000 to fill the vacancies.

Mayor Laurel Lunt Prussing pointed out that the city’s financial situation could change depending on how contract negotations and lawsuits against the city turn out.

“We’re not just talking about a couple of hundred thousands dollars here,” Prussing said. “We’re talking about millions of dollars.”

Prussing said the actual number of police officers is unchanged because two officers, one who was sick and one who was in Iraq, are back on the police force, making up for the two vacancies. She also said the problem with crime in Ward 7 has underlying problems that cannot be solved by an increased police presence.

The council also heard budget updates from the Urbana Free Library, the fire department, community development services, the executive, the finance department and the city clerk. The general theme of the updates was that the department budgets were similar to last year’s because the city’s revenue is unchanged; however, revenue is still not enough to cover spending, Prussing said.

In other business, the council heard community responses about the proposed forced annexation of 13 properties in the Scottswood subdivision in eastern Urbana. The properties are currently outside city limits, although several surrounding properties have already been voluntarily annexed.

Dwight Redding, who owns one of the properties, said the city did not give enough information to the property owners. He also said he did not want to pay Urbana’s higher property taxes.

“Somebody’s had a nightmare or some kind of a dream that created this, and now you’ve got it out on the street, and we’re going to have to live with it,” Redding said. “But I am certainly dismayed, down-hearted and totally beat with the principle of the whole thing.”

City council agreed to send out more informative packets to the property owners.

The council also voted unanimously to show its intent to annex the subdivision. The council will meet with the property owners on May 25, and a final action will be made on June 20.

The council also approved what had been discussed at the Committee of the Whole meeting last week. It voted unanimously for ordinances to reauthorize the establishment of the Civilian Police Review Board, to approve the Public Arts Program’s plan for the next fiscal year, to amend the city code on establishing hotel and motel business licenses, to amend the city code on public meetings and to authorize a jurisdictional transfer of land between Somer Township and the city of Urbana.

The council also approved a resolution opposing delays in releasing or diminution of the city’s share of the state income tax.