After two years of belt tightening amid the coronavirus pandemic and using cash reserves to balance the budget, Waukegan officials expect to have a $1.6 million cash surplus for the coming fiscal year.
Interim Finance Director Donald Schultz introduced the city’s approximate $217.1 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year starting May 1 during a public hearing at a special meeting of the City Council’s Finance & Purchasing Committee Monday at City Hall in Waukegan.
No members of the public spoke during the public hearing and no aldermen on the committee asked questions. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. March 20 at City Hall.
Working with a record $233.5 million budget this year, Schultz said the receding impact of the pandemic enabled him to craft the $217.1 million spending plan with projected revenue from all sources at around $218.7 million leaving a $1.6 million surplus. Long-term projects may benefit.
“Supply chain issues kept a lot of projects from taking place,” Schultz said. “We’ll spread (the surplus) out over the year. We’ll do what we feel comfortable with as the year progresses. This budget is conservative, responsible and sustainable.”
Mayor Ann Taylor reinforced Schultz’s wish to see the surplus used for long-term projects. She said there is no shortage. She will be monitoring the situation through the year while thinking about needs.
“Improvements are needed in a lot of our buildings,” Taylor said. “We need a new police station. We’ll see how the year goes.”
While more than $31 million is slated for capital projects like lead service line replacement, road repair, bridges and similar efforts the largest expenditures — just under $95.2 million — are planned for public safety. Those funds are earmarked for the police and fire departments.
Public safety spending includes hiring five new police officers and three additional firefighters. Interim Police Chief Edgar Navarro said the new officers will help with investigations and on shifts where they can best deal with violent crime.
“We will add resources where they are needed on the street,” Navarro said. “More will probably be on the night shift where most of the violent crime takes place.”
Along with the five police officers, the budget includes money for three social workers who will accompany officers on some calls under a new state pilot program enacted in April. Waukegan is one of four cities in the state participating. The others are Peoria, Springfield and East St. Louis.
“This is going to make a difference,” Navarro said. “They will be looking at things from a different perspective. They will be able to help in a lot of situations.”
Other major expenditures include approximately $30.3 million for general government expenses like insurance and administration as well as just over $11.1 million for public works taking care of roads, plowing snow and other municipal services.
Schultz said the primary revenue source is taxes of approximately $128.7 million including just under $55.6 million in real estate taxes, $23.7 million in sales tax from various sources and $12 million in income tax shared by the state. New this year is nearly $4 million from the opening of The Temporary by American Place casino, which began operations Feb. 17.
Doing her third budget as mayor since she took office just under two years ago, Taylor said this year was the best one of the three. There was a disciplined process as each city department head presented its needs to a group.
“They did not get everything they wanted but they got a good amount,” Taylor said. “They had to justify what they needed each dollar for.”