BATAVIA – By cutting low-hanging fruit from the budget tree, Batavia city officials are buying time until they can get a better idea how the closure of the Sam’s Club store is going to affect revenues.
City Administrator Laura Newman told city alderman at a committee meeting Jan. 23 that the staff has identified $576,000 in savings through spending delays and outright cuts to the budget.
The Sam’s Club store is scheduled to close Jan. 26, and this is expected to result in lost revenue to the city of between $800,000 and $1 million, Newman said, including sales, property, utility and gasoline taxes, along with utility bill payments.
City officials hope that Sam’s Club customers will do their shopping at other Batavia retail outlets, mitigating the effect on the city’s sales tax revenue.
“We’ll be able to see in three months how much sales tax has dropped,” City Finance Director Peggy Colby told aldermen.
The city administration has put on hold the hiring of a new police officer and a building inspector that had been included in the 2018 budget, for a savings of $229,000, Newman said.
An additional $200,000 is to be saved by holding off on an interfund transfer for renovation work at the Batavia Government Center building.
Finally, the city staff last week came up with $147,000 in savings from what Newman called “quick, low-hanging fruit.”
These include delaying or eliminating vehicle, equipment, furniture and software purchases, cutting all out-of-state travel and eliminating an intern program.
A plan for providing tuition-reimbursement for city employees has been shelved and the biannual employee recognition dinner will be replaced with a breakfast. A budgeted increase for economic development services is being scratched.
Aldermen praised Newman for identifying that final long list of cuts, but there was concern that eliminating the police officer and building inspector would be counterproductive.
The police officer hire is to be assigned to the North Central Narcotics Task Force, which aldermen said is important in light of the opioid crisis.
The other post, a combination building inspector and code enforcement officer, was approved because aldermen were appalled to learn that building inspections in the city are backed up two weeks or more.
“We don’t know the [revenue] impact … are we chasing away our economic development?” 7th Ward Alderman Dave Brown asked. “How are we going to get inspections done any sooner than what we said was unacceptable?”
Police Chief Dan Eul said he is meeting with the Kane County Major Crimes Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration to seek a partnership for heroin investigations.
But Brown and 1st Ward Alderman Michael O’Brien expressed disappointment that the city is putting on hold the hiring of a dedicated narcotics officer.
“We can’t ignore the need for the two people,” Brown said, suggesting that when sales tax figures are available three months from now, the council should look at finding the money to hire the police officer and building inspector.
In addition to the cuts identified by the staff, aldermen effectively made another budget reduction, by not approving a proposal to hire a consultant to assist the council in developing a strategic plan.
The proposal before the committee was a $40,000 contract with a Chicago firm to help the city develop long-term goals.
“I can in no way support this now,” Brown said.
“We know what we need to do,” he continued, meaning the hiring of the two new employees. “I can’t see spending the money.”
Other council members agreed, saying the time simply is not right. Without taking a vote, aldermen tabled the matter.
“The immediate need is to conserve as much cash as possible,” 1st Ward Alderman Scott Salvati said.