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Kankakee adds positions

November 22, 2018

KANKAKEE — Facing a steep shortfall just a few months ago, Kankakee has since found enough money to pay for an economic development director position, among other things.

On Monday, the city council voted 10-4 to increase spending in light of unexpected, onetime infusions of money into the city’s main account. But a few aldermen wondered what the city would do when the one-time cash dries up.

In recent months, the city has found legal justifications for scraping cash from accounts designated for developing certain neighborhoods, known as tax increment finance districts, or TIFs. The latest justification is that the city could assess 2 percent fees for the city’s guarantee of bonds going back several years to pay for projects in TIF districts.

The city also obtained a better plan to repay more than $800,000 in sales taxes that the city erroneously received over several years. The payments have been stretched over 10 years, rather than the 18 months the city originally had budgeted for.

The biggest ticket item approved by the council was the creation of a $125,000-per-year economic director position, including benefits. This will be paid for with money from the TIF district that includes Walmart.

“That’s the one area of town that has some activity,” city Comptroller Elizabeth Kubal told the council. “Hopefully, we’ll have others.”

The city can fund the position for two and a half years, Kubal said.

Another new position is a second building inspector, with Kubal saying it can be paid for through the end of the budget year in April.

The new expenditures also include $4,000 for a recruitment firm to find an economic development director, as well as two previously budgeted positions, a planner and human resources director.

The budget changes include $2,500 for cellphones for aldermen. Officials say the phones are needed when citizens file open records requests for text messages involving city business.

Voting against the changes were Aldermen Tyler Tall, D-5; Dave Crawford, R-3; Chris Curtis, R-6; and Larry Osenga, R-3.

In interviews Tuesday, they said they agreed with the hiring of an economic development director. But they wondered why Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong pushed the other spending after aldermen rejected it at an earlier budget committee meeting.

They also expressed concern about buying cellphones for aldermen, saying it was unnecessary because they already have phones.

Tall questioned how the city could pay for the code inspector position after the new budget year starts May 1.

“We have more pressing issues than to have an inspector,” he said. “We’re trying to lower property taxes. It looks like we’re defeating that purpose.”

Curtis said his goal, too, was to cut property taxes. The city, he said, needs a long-term plan to pay for new positions.

“We’re hiring a second building inspector for five months. My problem is how are we going to do the budget in six months. How will we pay for (the inspector) without raising the tax levy?” Curtis said.

Throughout the last few months, the city had identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in TIF accounts that officials said could be legally transferred to the city’s main account.

Earlier this year, the city was able to plug a hole in its budget by scraping $408,000 from two of its TIF districts. This amount was generated by calculating general fund money spent running the TIFs for more than a dozen years — expenditures on such things as attorneys and accountants.

A city attorney figured the city could gain another $850,000 with the 2 percent fee for guaranteeing bonds.

Crawford questioned what would happen when the city starts drafting the budget for the next fiscal year.

“We will not have the money in the budget to pay for all these things next year,” Crawford said. “Unless they make a bunch of cuts, we’ll start 2019 in the hole.”

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