Urbana deals with revenue loss by not filling vacant posts

Because of the recession, the city of Urbana’s revenue stream has been declining. One thing the city council has been doing to cope with the lost income is not filling vacant posts in city government after their occupants quit. This includes the police department, which currently has two vacant positions that will

not be filled in the next fiscal year under the proposed budget.

Some members of the city council want to change that.

Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said the city’s primary focus should be the safety of its residents. She suggested cutting other parts of the budget, including portions allocated to social service projects, to make room to hire two police officers.

“If you ask people in my ward if they’d choose between plants and police, this year they would choose police,” Marlin said, referring to money allocated to landscaping on Philo Road.

Marlin said it was especially important to maintain the same police staff since her district is experiencing a crime wave.

This problem is especially noticeable along Philo Road, where she said there were 477 violations of Illinois state statutes in 2010, including aggravated battery, theft and murder.

She also said the city would only need to find $215,0000 in the budget to fill the two vacant positions.

Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, disagreed with Marlin. He said the city needed to have flexibility in the budget because of how contract negotiations and lawsuits against the city could turn out. In fact, he said, it would cost closer to $1 million to fill the vacant positions.

Mayor Laurel Lunt Prussing pointed out that the actual number of Urbana police is the same as it was before the vacancies because two officers, one who was on sick leave and the other who was fighting in Iraq, have returned to the force. Still, Marlin pushed for hiring two new officers.

Prussing also said the question of how to deal with the crime surge in Ward 7 involved addressing the underlying causes of crime, not just boosting the police force. She added that the Urbana police already have special patrols on Philo Road.

Alfredo Lopez, employee at the McDonald’s on Philo Road, said he does not feel safe when he goes home at night.

“They live around here, all the bad people,” Lopez said. “This is kind of a bad area.”

Lopez said a customer was robbed in McDonald’s while he was counting money in the back. The robbers took the customer’s cellphone, and they had already escaped by the time the police arrived.

Still, Lopez said he is satisfied with the amount of police presence along Philo Road.

Urbana City Council will discuss the police force’s budget again on Monday but will not take any final action.