Budget cuts topic of commissioners forum

The eight candidates for Effingham City Council listen to instructions from Effingham County Chamber of Commerce President Norma Lansing before Tuesday's forum at Effingham Junior High School. Seated from left are Don Althoff, Kevin Esker, Merv Gillenwater and Tim Koester. Standing candidates, from left, are Brian Milleville, Dustin Reardon, Michael Williamson and Kevin Willis. Forum moderator Eric Zeller is standing behind the podium. Bill Grimes photo

 EFFINGHAM — None of the eight candidates for Effingham city commissioner expressed enthusiasm with Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to slash in half local government's share of state income tax receipts. But — during Tuesday's candidate forum at Effingham Junior High School — most candidates seemed resigned to the concept of having less money to work with.

Although the recently passed state budget spares local governments from losing those funds through this fiscal year ending June 30, Incumbent Commissioner Brian Milleville noted that the city would have lost $600,000 had Rauner's proposal become reality. Whether those funds will be taken away in next year's budget is uncertain.

"I appreciate his efforts to try to fix Illinois, but he's pushing off the consequences for bad deals in Springfield onto local government," he said.

Milleville added that the city would just have to adjust by completing fewer municipal projects.

"Raising taxes isn't an option," he said. "We would just have to make adjustments as we go along."

Candidate Dustin Reardon said Rauner's proposal could have had a negative impact on the city.

"People don't realize how state and local governments are connected," Reardon said. "But I think there are areas we can handle cuts."

Candidate Michael Williamson pointed out that the cut in tax receipts would affect the city's general fund, including salaries and pensions.

"We just have to work within the budget we end up with," he said.

Candidate Kevin Willis is hopeful such cuts, if enacted next fiscal year, won't affect personnel cost within the city.

"I understand what the governor is trying to do," he said. "Hopefully, we can look at areas that won't affect employees with the city."

Like Willis, incumbent Commissioner Don Althoff said he hoped any cuts would affect programs rather than people.

"I think the governor has to do a lot of cutting," Althoff said. "But I think it will mostly affect projects, not employees."

Candidate Kevin Esker decried the state using local units of government to solve its fiscal woes.

"They are passing along their problems to local governments," Esker said. "I don't like the idea."

Mayor Merv Gillenwater, who is leaving the mayoralty to seek a second term as commissioner, said Rauner's proposal wasn't fair to local governments.

"It's a state problem," he said. "Let them make the cuts at the state level.

"It's not fair to other units of government that might have to make cuts."

Candidate Tim Koester said he would rather see cutbacks in Medicare than the loss of those tax receipts.

"I'm torn on it," Koester said. "We need to get those taxes at the local level."

Under the guidance of moderator Eric Zeller, a media panel including Effingham Daily News Editor Jeff Long asked questions about zoning, proposed Right-to-Work zones, infrastructure needs, and the value of having a city administrator. Each candidate was also given one minute to explain why they were seeking a spot on the council, as well as two minutes to make a closing statement.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com, or on Twitter @EDNBGrimes.

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