GENEVA — Two new, probationary police officers were cut from the tentative 2021 city general fund budget Wednesday, lowering the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value from $17.17 this year to $16.21 next year.
The cut was made through a 5-4 vote, as were several other budget-related motions.
Sixth Ward Councilor John Pruett made the motion to cut the two positions, removing $160,960 from the budget. It was seconded by 3rd Ward Councilor Jan Regan.
Pruett made a statement before his motion, saying the city’s dire financial situation in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, state aid cuts, sales tax cuts and job losses, all in addition to a 12.6-percent increase in property assessments, make it necessary to look at such a painful cut.
“Geneva is facing rising costs and declining population. It either needs more revenue to come in or reduced expenses. We’re here to serve the taxpayers,” Pruett said, noting a $1.6 million deficit for 2020.
He suggested that one of the two police officers may be able to fill a vacant building inspector position that is in the budget. City Personnel Director Jennifer Slywka said Civil Service laws would make that a little more complicated than a simple transfer.
Police Chief Mike Passalacqua argued strongly against the cuts.
“We have 16 patrol officers, four officers working four shifts. This cut will mean only three officers will be working some shifts and that is unsafe for them and the community, especially when there is an accident and a domestic incident, for example, at the same time,” Passalacqua said.
He said one of the two probationary officers is already working as a “shadow” officer and the other is still in training. Passalacqua said the cuts likely will cause overtime costs to soar, possibly cause burnout and affect the department’s ability to protect the community.
A disappointed City Manager Sage Gerling said she thought all the cuts Council wanted to make had been made Monday night. She said the city already is understaffed and she asked to table the proposal to give her time to look for other ways to cut costs, noting the deadline to adopt a tentative budget is Saturday.
Pruett said overtime could be minimized by compensatory time off, when possible.
“If anyone has an alternative, let’s hear it,” he said.
Said Mayor Steve Valentino: “This is disappointing. I thought we were done with cuts. We need economic development to increase revenue. We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face here.”
“Listen to the chief. He has more expertise than we do,” said 2nd Ward Councilor Bill Pealer.
After more discussion, the motion was approved. Voting in favor were Pruett, Regan, Tom Burrall, Ken Camera and Laura Salamendra. Opposed were Pealer, Valentino, Anthony Noone and Frank Gaglianese.
That led to a new general fund budget of $16,639,603, as amended by the police cuts. That was approved by the same 5-4 vote. The new tax levy would be $7,633,691, down from $7,794,651 before the meeting started. The tax rate decrease is 5.56 percent..
A significant impact on Council’s desire to reduce spending and the tax rate was a nearly 13-percent increase in property assessments. Most Council members wanted to mitigate the higher assessments with a lower tax rate so property owners would pay close to what they paid in 2020 in city taxes.