Big plans for the budget

Flush with cash, city seeks to tackle one-time projects

click to enlarge Big plans for the budget
Mayor Jim Langfelder said the success of the Levitt AMP concerts on the Y-block has helped revive momentum for redevelopment of the site.

The final fiscal 2023 budget for Springfield city government includes $6 million to purchase seven new fire vehicles and $10 million to build three new fire stations.

City Council members passed 16 amendments in February before finalizing the budget for the 2023 fiscal year that began March 1.

The result was a net increase of $3 million over what was originally proposed for the corporate fund budget, which was finalized at $182 million, rather than $179 million, according to city budget director Bill McCarty. This represents a significant increase from the fiscal 2022 budget of $127.5 million.

The upgrade in equipment for the fire department was supported by a report on the department from the Center for Public Safety Management in Washington, D.C. That report said equipment should be replaced after 15 years.

The council changed the proposed budget, which previously didn't include money for the six new fire engines and a fire truck, to reduce the number of new fire stations from four to three. The $2 million saved by the reduction, along with more money allocated from other city revenues, will pay for the new fire vehicles, McCarty said.

The city budget was flush with cash from federal COVID-19 relief funds and benefited from an increase in sales and income-tax revenue connected with surging consumer demand.

The budget left the city after fiscal 2022 with a surplus of almost $17 million and a record $50 million in reserves.

"That's what's put us in the position to be able to do these great programs that we've wanted to do for years in the fiscal 2023 budget," McCarty said.

The budget, with almost $23 million in federally funded infrastructure improvements, includes $33.8 million the city expects to receive from the federal American Rescue Plan.

The one-time federal dollars will contribute $6 million toward the new fire equipment and new fire stations.

The money also will contribute $6 million for road projects and modernization; $7.5 million for sewer improvements; $3.5 million in water system work; $715,000 in marketing by the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, which includes $165,000 for local tourism grants; $207,000 for license-plate reader technology for the police department; and $50,000 for traffic signal enhancement.

Among other things, the fund surplus from fiscal 2022 will contribute $3 million toward the cost of a future yard-waste drop-off facility, $700,000 for downtown trees and planters and $444,000 for enhanced technology benefiting the police department.

McCarty said he remains concerned about ongoing increases in the city's required contributions to fund fire and police department pensions, which total $28 million in fiscal 2023.

He said Springfield and other municipalities have called upon the Illinois General Assembly to restructure the state's municipal pension-related debts so the mandated 90% funding level is achieved in 2050 instead of 2040, as the law now requires.

McCarty said a corporate fund balance projected at $31.5 million by the end of February 2023 would help protect city government if the nation's economy heads into a recession.

While not part of the fiscal 2023 budget, Mayor Jim Langfelder said the city hopes to receive $3 million through the state's Downtown and Main Street grant program to kick off development of the city-owned block just north of the Illinois Governor's Mansion. A grant application was filed recently.

The block is bounded by Capitol Avenue on the north, Jackson Street on the south, Fifth Street to the east and Fourth Street to the west. The city bought the block, home to the former YWCA building, in 2014 for about $1.5 million, using funds from the downtown tax-increment financing district.

A plan for the block was proposed by Langfelder in 2017 and backed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. But momentum for the project faded when a group backing the development argued with organized labor about the lack of a project labor agreement.

The success of the Levitt AMP concert series on the vacant land has helped revive momentum for the development, Langfelder said.

"I think people truly understand how valuable that can be in connecting the sights and businesses and really enriching downtown," the mayor told Illinois Times.

According to the city's state grant application: "The North Mansion Block Plaza sits in a corridor of downtown Springfield that can be a renewed vista and vantage point to the pulse of the entire city. The proposed plan will create an outdoor street-level event center and an urban square, including interactive plaza space."

The cost of the overall development, which could include funding from state government and the business community, would be at least $7.5 million, Langfelder aide Julia Frevert said. The mayor said he hopes a more detailed design plan can be developed in the next several months.

But the grant application says the downtown plaza would include statues of former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, amphitheater seating, an area honoring women, a market pavilion, a kid-friendly area, a dog-friendly area, a portable performance stage, food truck locations around the perimeter, and sidewalks and ramps to assist people with disabilities.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer with Illinois Times. He can be reached at dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
dolsen@illinoistimes.com, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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