Last night, City Council approved an agreement with EMS Midwest, LLC to use Jeff Toricelli as a lobbyist at the state capital. Toricelli previously worked for the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The city is budgeting $30,000 toward the position. Mayor Andy Ezard says revenue from video gaming machines should help pay for the expense.
Ezard says Toricelli would be the city’s voice concerning topics ranging from infrastructure projects to the city’s state-run institutions. He says many municipalities within the state have lobbyists and it’s time for the city to go in that direction.
The idea wasn’t without opposition. Aldermen Rick Stevens was the lone vote against the measure.
“My feeling was we're in a very tight fiscal year and supposedly we have a state senator and a state representative representing us along with the [Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce] and the Illinois Municipal League," says Stevens. "I felt at this time we just didn't need to spend $30,000 to hire a lobbyist."
Ezard says a lobbyist will focus on the city’s needs as opposed a large district like a state legislator.
“I think this lobbyist will help me on the issues and with things that are going on," says Ezard. "If there's possible grants or money available for a broad spectrum of things that we're looking into - like the water plant to infrastructure improvements to the municipal building - I think we're moving in a positive direction by hiring a lobbyist."
Also last night, aldermen unanimously approved a first reading of the city’s $38.1 million appropriations budget last night. It’s an increase of about $500,000 over last fiscal year.
Finance Committee Chairman Don Cook says the city is budgeting to nearly break even again in Fiscal Year 2013.
Cook says department heads have done a good job staying within their budgets the past several years.
“I think they're very cognizant of the revenue streams coming in and the expenditures that we have," says Cook. "They did a very excellent job last year of holding their expenses down and working within their budget. I would expect the same thing out of them this year."
The big project for the city this year will be replacing the Municipal Buildings electric system. Cook says it hasn’t been updated since the building opened in the late 60’s.
“It is very outdated," says Cook. "Parts are very difficult to obtain should we have a failure in the system. The individual who has talked with us about the electrical system says if it goes down it could cause an outage for two to three months because of lack of parts."
Plans also include replacing ceiling tiles, repairing a shower in the fire department, repairing parking lots and other upgrades at the municipal building at a cost of about $400,000.
“We’re trying to get everything done within the building itself in preparation of next year when we have to start working toward the downtown project and gear up for the new water plant," says Cook.
Cook says the city should end the year with a balance of about $8.8 million in its savings which is the equivalent of about 6 months of operating expenses.