Four full-time Geneseo employees recently were laid off as a result of what city officials call a “significant decline” in sales tax receipts. The layoffs, which were announced Jan. 20, include a police officer, two dispatchers and a street department employee.

Four full-time Geneseo employees recently were laid off as a result of what city officials call a “significant decline” in sales tax receipts.

The layoffs, which were announced Jan. 20, include a police officer, two dispatchers and a street department employee.

The decision was made by the city’s administrative services board, and a crowd of more than 90 attended the board’s regular Jan. 26 meeting to discuss the layoffs.

Reading from a prepared statement, board member Curt Spensley told the audience the city was “not immune from the economic hardships confronting private industry.”

“Local sales tax receipts constitute the single largest source of general fund revenues. In preparing the current fiscal year budget, the city made adjustments to account for the loss of Jewel and Klavohn’s Furniture, but the impact of those store closures could only be estimated. In addition, local sales tax receipts were conservatively estimated with prudent monthly monitoring,”?he said.

The summer’s high gas prices helped maintain monthly local sales tax receipts, but there have been sharp declines in the past few months.

According to Spensley, the November sales tax revenues were down $18,654, December was down $37,843 and January was down?$62,715.

“The accelerated decline in this single largest source of general fund revenues necessitated immediate action,” he said.

It was the immediate part of the action that upset many in the audience.

“If you leave, you have to give a two-week notice, and if you retire, you have to give six months,” said Geneseo Police Officer and union representative Sean Johnson, who asked what justified the “lack of notice”?given prior to the layoffs.

“There’s a need for communication ... notice I didn’t say better communication, but communication ... because there’s been a lack of communication about the serious nature of the city’s financial hardships,” he said.

Geneseo Mayor Pat Eberhardt said because of delays from the? State of?Illinois, the city didn’t receive sales tax numbers for the fall until December.

Because of high gas prices, Eberhardt said sales tax revenue in August was comparable to August of 2007. “We thought then, ‘Maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are,’” he explained.

When gas prices dropped, the city’s sales tax numbers plummeted. “And we know our sales tax numbers are only going to keep going down,”?he said. “We looked at how we could cut back fairly. In Geneseo, 51 percent of the general budget goes to the police department, and 80 percent of the police department budget is wages. What else is there to cut out?? The dog? ?There’s nothing else to cut out.

“We knew we had to step up and make cuts immediately,” said Eberhardt, who added, “We probably have more layoffs to do. We’re going to have to cut back our budget considerably. We lost $26,000 in October ... that’s almost a job.”

The mayor explained that since taking office in 2005, the city’s payroll has expanded from 64 employees to 70.

“For years, the city has done nothing but grow, and we’ve grown fat. There needs to be deliberate cuts,” he said.

“Did it have to happen so fast?” asked Johnson. “You just don’t blindside people in a small town.”

Geneseo resident Marsha Jackson said, “Maybe the police force is not the place to make cuts.”

Others in attendance echoed her thoughts. Realtor Carol Johnson said public safety is a big factor for homebuyers looking to move to Geneseo. “When you’re cutting safety measures, it looks like the city is really falling on hard times, and that makes it an unattractive place for homebuyers.”

“The city still needs the same level of service from its police, regardless of whatever else is going on,”?said Marvin Sleaford.

The cuts leave the city with four dispatchers to cover hours 24/7. “Four dispatchers are not going to cut it,”?said Larry Swanson.

With one dispatcher currently on vacation, Johnson said the department “would not have enough people to cover (the job) 24/7.”

Prior to the layoffs, Geneseo had 12 police officers and six dispatchers.

In addition to the layoffs, all non-represented employees will be required to take a mandatory one week unpaid furlough between Feb. 1 and June 30.

Street department employee Randy Russell asked why employees couldn’t take one day a week off for five weeks instead. “I’d rather do that than not have a paycheck for a week,” he said.Board members indicated that was a suggestion they’d consider.

Community members in attendance also suggested other cost-saving measures to the board.
Jacquie Russell encouraged the city to forgo for several years the clothing allowance some employees receive.

Justin Anderson asked elected officials to return the stipend they receive for serving in office.

Ken Schloemer proposed putting a 1/2 cent sales tax increase initiative on the ballot in April.

“A sales tax is the fastest way to bring in revenue,” he said.

Geneseo city administrator Eric Wiederhold said city officials also were willing to return to impact bargaining with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council.

The two sides met Jan. 22, but each indicates the other side as a reason talks stalled.

At the January meeting, the administrative services board recommended the city council enact a hiring freeze and cut or limit non-essential purchases and compensatory time and overtime.