New hires and other projects included as normal city council reviews next year’s budget plan

The normal city council met on Wednesday to consider the city’s draft staff budget for the new fiscal year which begins April 1.

The 2022-2023 budget proposes total expenditures of $192.6 million, an increase of 16.5% over current year estimates.

Notable budget items include several park projects, a new fire station, a pedestrian underpass at the Uptown train station, and 23 new municipal employee positions in several departments.

Although proposed new staff make up the bulk of new spending, the city has cut nearly 60 positions since 2017, and the positions proposed to be added will put staff numbers on Normal’s payroll. still below the 2017 number.

The communications department’s proposed additions of a full-time graphic designer and a full-time social media manager, which communications director Cathy Oloffson says will save the city money by relieving the other departments of the burden of these functions, particularly interested the board. while strengthening the city’s brand image and its link with citizens. The duties are currently performed by a rotating team of interns.

Aside from the 23 new salaries to be funded, the council’s main spending concerns relate to apparent anomalies in the water fund and the city staff health and dental fund.

The water department expects to operate as usual, but its regular operating expenses are expected to significantly outpace growth due, in part, to the doubling of the price of the department’s lime sludge disposal contract and a 17.5% increase in chemical prices.

“That’s an additional $375,000 that we have in expenses, and we’re literally not doing anything different than we’ve done in the past few years,” Water director John Burkhart said.

Finance staff do not expect this issue to be imminent until 2023-24 and beyond, but City Manager Pam Reece insisted staff are being proactive on this and other issues. The city generally works from a five-year budget plan.

“If we see something concerning in the third or fourth year, as we make our projections, we’re not just going to wait until the third or fourth year and just cross our fingers that they will resolve on their own,” Reece said.

Health and dental insurance costs are currently skyrocketing due to a flood of city workers seeking non-emergency medical care after avoiding doctor’s offices during the initial panic of the pandemic.

“People have gone back to the doctor for a variety of issues, and sometimes those issues have become more prominent due to the inability to get to a doctor during that time, so we’re seeing a lot of claim costs go up there. “, said the director. of Finance Andrew Huhn.

City staff are still working to resolve the issue, and a large cash payment for unexpected claims will likely feature in the final version of the budget.

The atmosphere of pandemic-related uncertainty made last year’s budget what Huhn called “one of the most conservative budgets we’ve ever had,” but a faster-than-expected economic recovery makes The city’s financial outlook is somewhat more optimistic.

“We are now, for the most part, in a post-COVID economic outlook, and we ended 2021 a bit better than expected,” Huhn said. “Internet sales tax is now a thing, and there’s just significant economic growth, so we’re really in a much better position than we thought we were at this time last year.”

Revenue for next year is expected to be $181.5 million, an increase of 8.9% over current year estimates. About 50% of this revenue comes from sales and property taxes combined. Staff expect state and local sales tax to increase to 11% and 13.5% respectively, and they expect economic engines like Rivian to continue to drive commercial and residential growth.

“It probably won’t always be like this,” Mayor Chris Koos said, “There may be another crisis down the road that will set us back. The time for me to act is now. -in with that.

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