City seeking help to fund safety services

By Joshua Keeran -

Urbana City Council on Tuesday took the first step toward seeking voter approval for the first income tax hike in 25 years.

The ordinance, introduced to council as a first reading only, seeks to place on the November ballot a measure adding an additional .6 percent tax on income (earmarked for safety services only) to the current .4 percent tax rate added in 1992 to support the city’s police and fire divisions.

If passed, the city’s total income tax rate would increase from 1.4 percent to 2 percent (1 percent dedicated to public safety operations and capital improvements, and a 1 percent base rate earmarked for General Fund purposes).

Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said council and administration spent the past year-and-a-half discussing the budget and how the city can continue to meet the needs of the community.

“Currently, the police and fire four-tenths money (.4 percent income tax rate) only covers about 30 percent of their operating budgets, so the remaining 70 percent of the police and fire operating budgets come out of the General Fund,” Brugger said. “What that obviously does is squeeze the General Fund where we are trying to continue to operate the rest of the city on the remaining 30 percent of that budget.

“In order to provide the support we need and try to help get the safety services the support they need, we feel it’s (proposed .6 percent income tax increase) an opportunity and that it’s only fair that we bring this forward to the community and let them weigh-in,” he added.

City administrators say data is being collected and will be shared with voters.

“I think anybody who reads the newspaper or watches the news locally (realizes) there is no way you can continue to operate on a budget that is 25 years old, coupled with the loss of local government funding,” Brugger said.

Director of Finance Chris Boettcher added, “The message is clear from the state. If we want to provide services, we have to come up with the money ourselves to do that. They have cut over the last few years about $2.5 million from our operating budget in the General Fund.”

Funding aside, Mayor Bill Bean said it’s of the utmost importance that the city supports its first responders.

“Locally and regionally, it doesn’t look good when it comes to safety services,” Bean said. “We need to beef up our safety services.

“They’ve got issues that they are dealing with, and they need protected. I just think it’s something we need to do in order to protect our fire and police,” he added.

Council agreed with administration’s stance on the proposed income tax increase.

“I think it’s our job … to put it before the voters,” council member Doug Hoffman said. “In this situation, it’s up to the community. If the community doesn’t feel it’s important, then they will vote it down.”

Council member Eugene Fields added that if the issue is placed on the ballot, everyone with an earned income will be contributing to help fund the city’s safety services, not just property owners.

Petty crimes on the rise

With safety services taking center stage during the meeting, Hoffman addressed those in attendance, including Police Chief Matt Lingrell, with his concerns over what he considers “petty crimes” like thefts of lawnmowers, weed eaters, etc. across the city, including in his own neighborhood.

“God forbid somebody walk in on someone while they are stealing something and on a drug binge or whatever,” Hoffman said.

Lingrell said the police division has seen an uptick in thefts from sheds and garages throughout the city.

“This has been going on for quite some time,” he said. “We’ve been getting hit for a long time without any luck. Eventually, we will have some luck.

“The guys are working their tails off trying to catch them,” Lingrell added.

In hopes of preventing residents from becoming victims, Lingrell encouraged “neighbors to watch out for each other.”

He added residents should keep their residences and back yards well-lit and, if possible, installing security cameras.

“We solve a lot of crime in Urbana because of private security cameras,” he said.

Lingrell and Hoffman both stated the importance of calling law enforcement when anything suspicious is noticed.

“Make it your business and call us,” Lingrell said. “That’s how we solve crimes.”

In other business:

•Council approved the purchase of two new police cruisers from White’s Auto Group – a 2017 Dodge Charger at a cost of $28,504 and a 2017 AWD Ford Explorer at a cost of $35,375.82.

Council was informed the total combined cost of $63,879.82 came in below the budgeted amount of $70,000.

The new cruisers will replace a 2011 Dodge Charger (86,000 miles) and a 2013 Dodge Charger (90,000 miles).

•The fire division’s 2001 Ford F350 utility truck will be replaced with a 2017 Ford F350 pickup truck after council approved the purchase from White’s Auto Group in the amount of $36,917.12.

Brugger said that in February council approved replacing the 2001 Ford with a 2017 GMC Sierra 3500 heavy duty pickup truck, but the city was advised a few weeks ago that General Motors would be unable to deliver the product as agreed upon.

•Bean swore in the following firefighters/paramedics: Jacob Jones, John Flora and Michael Drake.

•Council heard the first reading of an ordinance adopting the city’s 2018 tax budget.

Boettcher said the tax budget shows an estimated total revenue in the General Fund of $6,541,800 with anticipated expenditures totaling $6,526,687.

She added the estimated positive balance of $15,113 in the General Fund for 2018 doesn’t leave “a lot of wiggle room.”

•Due to concerns over the safety of drivers and pedestrians on the northwest side of Urbana, city resident Linville Castro asked council to consider making Hitt Street, which runs from Park Row to Laurel Oak Street, a one-way street.

“The street is not made for two-way traffic,” he said.

Council President Marty Hess said the city engineer and administration will look into the matter.

•Following a brief public hearing, council heard the second reading of an ordinance seeking to amend the city’s official zoning map by rezoning a 1.023-acre parcel on Lippincott Lane in the Urbana Commons Planned Unit Development (Walmart) from fuel station only to fuel station plus additional uses allowed under the B-2 General Business District.

By Joshua Keeran

Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.

Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.