As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the City of Champaign's budget. According to the press release below, the city has identified some strategies, and is also seeking public comment on ways to reduce the budget to make up for lost revenue.

The methods proposed by the city are all good and fine, but why not take a household approach to reimagining the budget? Yes, a household's budget and a city's budget are incredibly different. However, anyone who has ever had to consider how much they spend per month knows that sometimes you need to get creative. Can't afford cable? Maybe it's just internet and Netflix. Maybe it's borrowing library books and movies instead of buying. Consider it a different way of approaching the budget discussion, even if the comparision isn't exactly perfect.

To that end, and to reiterate what we suggested in our April Editorial Board piece, now is the time to invest in asking and answering, "What could our city be, and how could we get there?"

Why not take a good, hard look at the police department's budget, and see what budget lines can be repurposed elsewhere? Instead of potentially cutting employee health insurance in a global pandemic, could administrative salaries be cut by 2%, or 5%, or 10%? Instead of de-prioritizing projects that improve quality of life in neighborhoods that need it (specifically Black and Brown neighborhoods where these improvements are regularly pushed back), assess which projects may be more vanity than necessity.

Most importantly, the City of Champaign is asking for public input on this matter. We have a lot of very smart residents who are used to solving big, complicated problems with creativity and finesse. Learn how you can submit your ideas here.

It's important to take this opportunity to consider the long term vision for the city, not just a stop-gap, short term view of how to fix this particular budget problem.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 4, 2020
Contact: Kay Nees, Finance Director | 217-403-8940 | kay.nees@champaignil.gov

Champaign City Council to Consider Strategies to Reduce Budget Due to COVID-19
City Council to Evaluate Options this Fall in Response to Historic Revenue Decline

CHAMPAIGN – On September 8, 2020, the City Administration will review an updated financial forecast and present several recommendations to the City Council on how to proceed with reducing expenditures due to revenue losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The City of Champaign has seen significant declines in major revenues since the onset of the pandemic and this trend is anticipated to continue into the 2021/22 fiscal year. 

Finance Director Kay Nees said, “We are projecting a significant reduction in revenues received from sales tax, income tax, food and beverage tax, hotel-motel taxes, and other tax revenues.  Our preliminary financial forecast shows that if budgeted expenditures are not adjusted in the current fiscal year, the City will need to cut recurring General Fund expenditures by $5-6 million to meet its financial policies.  Next week we will recommend several strategies to develop cost savings options for City Council consideration later this Fall.”

City Manager Dorothy Ann David adds, “The economic impacts of COVID-19 on our community are being felt by everyone, and the City of Champaign is no exception.  The rapid and significant loss of revenue from the economic decline requires quick action on the part of the City to assure that critical services can be maintained into the future.  Our #1 priority is serving our community, and the community is relying on City government support in these challenging times.  However, we have an obligation to be good stewards of public resources and keep the costs of services within available funding levels.  To address these historic revenue losses, the City will have to consider reductions in certain City services to close the projected budget gap.”

When adopting the 2020/21 fiscal year budget in July, the City Council directed staff to develop a second-tier budget process and bring back expenditure reduction options for Council consideration prior to the end of the calendar year.  Next week during their Study Session meeting, the Council will review staff proposals on how to proceed with the second-tier budget process.  City Administration will recommend exploring a variety of strategies to reduce expenditures, including:

  •     Direct all City departments to identify possible service reductions that would generate savings equivalent to 15% of departmental budgets.
  •     Review the Capital Improvement Plan to generate ideas to reduce recurring capital improvement expenditures of $2.0 million. 
  •     Implement a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) to reduce the City’s workforce and related personnel expenditures.
  •     City Administration will explore additional organization-wide cost-savings strategies such as evaluating the cost of health insurance and future compensation and benefits.
  •     City Administration will meet with the leadership of all City bargaining units to obtain employee input and ideas on how to modify/reduce City services to achieve savings.
  •     City Administration will establish a process to solicit ideas from individual employees on how to modify/reduce City services to achieve savings.

The Administration will work with City Departments and employee groups over the next few months on various budget balancing options for Council consideration.  Staff will bring forward an updated forecast and savings options/service reductions for Council consideration in a future Study Session prior to the end of the 2020 calendar year. 

For more information about these recommendations the public is encouraged to review the Study Session Report (SS 2020-022 - Fiscal Year 2020/21 Budget Update) on the City’s website (champaignil.gov/council).  The City Council will consider the Administration’s proposals during their meeting on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.  The meeting starts at 7:00 pm and will be held electronically via Zoom.  The City Council meeting will be telecast live on CGTV (Comcast and i3 Broadband channel 5, U-verse channel 99) and live streamed on the City’s website (champaignil.gov/CGTV).  The meeting will also replay on CGTV and be available for on-demand viewing on the City’s website (champaignil.gov/CGTV) starting on September 9.  To learn how to provide public comment during the meeting please visit the City’s website at champaignil.gov/publiccomment.

Top image by Anna Longworth.