After three years of austerity measures, Des Plaines is finally out of a financial sinkhole it dug itself through years of overspending, overtaxing and overextending the city's debt, 3rd Ward Alderman Matt Bogusz says.
City officials began discussing the proposed 2012 budget Tuesday night.
Among the highlights are a 0 percent increase to the property tax levy over the previous year's levy for the second year in a row, no layoffs, a reduction in the city's debt load -- down from $70 million to $63.5 million -- and a projected general fund balance of 34 percent of operating expenses at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.
"We've been very tactical," said Bogusz, chairman of the city's finance and administration committee. "We have worked hard, and staff has been working diligently to identify opportunities for operational improvement. This group didn't raise taxes, increased the general fund reserve, and decreased debt. We didn't get into this position by solely reducing personnel. A series of strategic moves have led to a more fiscally sound situation."
Over the past three years, the city's workforce has shrunk by roughly 10 percent, while several departments have been consolidated and spending on big-ticket items has been deferred.
The city laid off 12 employees in 2009 and cut 38 employee positions through layoffs, attrition and early retirement incentives in 2010.
This year, the city eliminated four administrative positions -- director of building and code, economic development coordinator, a deputy fire chief, and assistant to the public works and engineering director -- and made other cuts to save $535,000 in a $96 million budget.
Bogusz said the city's proposed $114.8 million overall budget for expenditures in 2012 doesn't include any surprises.
Officials are holding off on purchasing a fire truck next year and working on getting a federal grant instead. The 2012 budget does include up to $500,000 in funding for one major capital improvement project -- to remodel the downtown Metra train station.
The biggest challenge and accomplishment was to raise the city's reserve balance from roughly 2 percent four years ago up to 34 percent -- $19.7 million -- by the end of next year without raising taxes, Bogusz said.
It allows the city flexibility to be better prepared for emergencies such as flooding or delays in the county's remittance of property tax receipts, he added.
"We have worked hard to deliver this result for the residents," Bogusz said. "We are not going to have to go out for short-term loans when it floods. We've learned from the bad decisions of previous councils."