Geneseo discusses Facades, Rooftops and Revenues

Beth Welbers

The May City Council meeting was a mixed meeting, with a number of the attendees coming in via teleconference, and a number of them in attendance at the Council Chambers. All members were in attendance.

Mayor Sean Johnson gave thanks to all the members, and everyone who has worked together through these turbulent times.

Chamber of Commerce comments by Zack Sullivan included the success of the Loop Cruise night on Saturday the 23 rd . With the Phase 3 opening on the 29 th , he has been working with Geneseo restaurants and retail locations, on how to maximize seating, and allow retail outlets to reopen and all within compliance of the Governor’s and IDPH guidelines.

City Administrator JoAnn Hollenkamp discussed the Facade Program for the downtown TIF district.

The funds are specifically for businesses who decide to upgrade the fronts of their downtown businesses,, the City will reimburse them 50% of the cost up to $10,000. Examples of the improvement include, tuckpointing, siding, window replacement, and any other beautification project. In light of the Phase 3 reopening, this may be a good time to look at the shelved projects for building exteriors. These funds are committed for the purpose of economic development in this form. Any interested parties should contact the City and see if their project qualifies, and to what amount.

The Rooftops program was also discussed. The program waives certain utilities on new residential construction for up to 2 years, or $2500. Residents looking to undertake new construction should contact the City to see how to qualify.

A review of the Plans for the Re-Opening of Henry County, scheduled for May 29, also occurred. The Toolkit for Henry County, which provides an industry specific checklist, and the Road to Recovery, which is a comprehensive document that looks at all the Phases of the Governor’s plans, and the statistics that are required and currently exist to trigger the subsequent phases. The Mayor thanked the participating contributors for their efforts, which included the Geneseo Police, the Chamber of Commerce, and Hammond-Henry Hospital, whose participation has been remarkable. “Their passion for the public health is second to none. They have their finger on the pulse of the community. It was amazing to watch this develop” stated Johnson.

Chief of Police, Casey Disterhof acknowledged that “ I have been wth the City since 1996, and I was amazed to see the communities come together like they did over the County Plan. We have such great contacts in this County.”

City Finance Manager, Jamie Matthews presented the 6 month budget for June-December 2020. The Council decided earlier this year to make the changes in order to have the Fiscal Year coincide with the calendar year. Three city employees have been given the option of early retirement, and the budgeted figures are presuming those people go ahead with the retirement. The projections also reflect that no raises will be given in the coming period. That said, the 6 month projected budget will show only $65,372 in income. Estimates include only average utility payments in June, with a serious decline in sales tax revenues. The budget also reflected a moratorium on overtime, although if an emergency, such as storm damage, the city would respond. The figures presented showed a 40% reduction in revenue.

Mayor Johnson cited that there has been a serious revenue issue on the horizon for many years. “For too many years we have been in the habit of balancing the budget, and making it work. At this time we are not in a position to do so. In retrospect we should have reprioritized our spending to have allowed greater reserves to help us through such a time.” The motion to approve the 6 month budget in June was made, and approved.

Mayor Johnson asked the Council to start thinking differently on the subjects of revenue, spending and the necessary reserves. Paula Simosky (Ward 1) commented that in order to boost revenues, maybe the slot machines or cannabis business might need to be revisited, maybe if only for a year. Martin Rothschild (Ward 3) asked if there was state or federal money to help municipalities through a cash crunch such as this. City Administrator Jo Hollenkamp, stated that through her research, the only funds available were those that were directly related to Covid-19.

The Mayor stated that it was likely the Council would have to look at a rate increase sooner rather than later. He felt that residents would understand the value of a city owned utility company, citing the short time needed to restore power in the event of an outage, as opposed to surrounding municipalities who may have to wait hours for Com-Ed.

Brett Barnhart (Ward 4) brought up the idea of informing Vendors that bills would be dealt with on a longer timeline, maybe 90-180 days to help bridge the issues of cash flow until revenues improved.

Mayor Johnson said that $815,000 was the goal previously set for reserves for scenarios such as this one. “We need to be mindful of our projects” he stated.

Bob Wachtel (Ward 2) made motion to approve the Preliminary 6 month budget, without raises, Barnhart (Ward 4) seconded.

The drainage program at Chicago and Ash St. was next on the agenda. Motor Fuel Tax funds are fueling this project, so the $450,000 that is required to complete it are within the specific usage of the funds. The apartments are relying on this drainage project. Need to go forward with cleanup on the ditch.

The Unions have been put on notice that there will be impact bargaining regarding the scheduled raises. Due to the serious reduction in revenues, because of the Covid-19, the City cannot afford to pay the negotiated raises.

Coouncilmen had a variety of comments wrapping up the meeting. They expect Zack Sullivan from the Chamber to deliver a common sense plan on closing streets and re-opening the downtown.

Rothschild wondered if even a temporary period of videogaming might not be mutually beneficial at this time. Motion to adjourn by Barnhart and seconded by James.