Spring, Havermale agree budget is city's biggest issue

Posted: Jan. 8, 2013 11:19 pm Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Quincy Mayor John Spring and 3rd Ward Alderman Paul Havermale don't always agree on issues, but both believe the city has managed to weather the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Spring, a Democrat, and Havermale, a Republican, offered their views on the state of the city and fielded questions Tuesday night during the monthly meeting of the Quincy Tea Party.

Tuesday night's meeting was not adversarial, even though Spring is seeking a third term as mayor in the April municipal election and Havermale is the campaign chairman for his opponent, fellow 3rd Ward Alderman Kyle Moore, and the tea party has opposed many of Spring's initiatives.

Both Spring and Havermale said the city has fared well despite the uncertain economic climate that continues in part because of the massive pension problem that still looms over the state of Illinois.

"We didn't know how bad (the economy) would get, but we were a little bit proactive," Spring said of the national economic downturn that began in 2008.

"And that has really helped us keep our reserves and our budget balanced, and we worked within our means to keep that balance. We are basically operating on revenues and expenses of our 2009 budget."

In April, aldermen pushed through more than $350,000 in cuts in the fiscal 2013 budget, lowering the general fund budget to $30.8 million from $31.1 million. It included $267,300 in across-the-board reductions and called for phasing out over five years subsidies to nonprofit organizations.

It also reduced funds earmarked for other organizations, notably the Great River Economic Development Foundation.

The spending plan reallocated $105,000 in capital spending and put more than $340,000 in the reserve fund. It also increased allocations for ward funds. The city also has reduced its full-time workforce to 312 from 348 in 2009, Spring said.

After discussions with Phil Conover, interim GREDF president, Havermale said he would consider restoring that organization's funding in next year's budget. It was reduced to $49,900 from $68,500 this fiscal year, a move Spring opposed.

"A lot of the initiatives that (Conover is) talking about and the enhanced communications, especially with the City Council, if that all comes to fruition, I'll consider supporting GREDF a little bit more than I have in the past," Havermale said.

The city's tax rate is projected to dip below $1 per $100 of assessed valuation based on a levy of $5.655 million, or $39,000 less than this year. Havermale pointed out, however, that none of that money goes to the general fund for city operations.

"The only thing that comes out of that is pension obligations for police and fire, debt service" and library funding, he said.

Garbage service was also included in discussions.

The city's garbage and recycling trucks were bought in 2001 for $1.012 million, and a committee is examining options to replace the trucks or privatize waste collection. Both Spring and Havermale said they would consider the privatization options.

"There are options to look at privatization," Spring said. "There are options to look at automated (trucks). If you followed it lately ... Keokuk (Iowa) has gone to an automated system where they have an arm that comes out. It greatly reduces your exposure and workman's comp."

While members of the Quincy Tea Party opposed the city's pursuit of building hydroelectric power facilities on the Mississippi River, there were no questions on that topic from Tuesday's audience.

Havermale, a staunch opponent of the hydro project, said the city's failure cost money that could have been used for infrastructure improvements and services.

The city is in the process of paying off the $6.6 million bond that was approved on a 12-2 vote by aldermen in 2009 for the hydro initiative. City officials don't expect an increase in property taxes will be necessary to finish paying off the bond by Dec. 1, 2015. The remaining $2.9 million of the bond and cash reserves are being used to pay down a portion of the debt.

"The other ways that hydro was addressed are, we have hit the capital budget, which is infrastructure, vehicles and things like that," Havermale said. "We had to take money from those projects in this current year, next year and up to 2016 — about $490,000 worth."

Spring did not comment on the hydropower issue.