Elgin council splits over new budget, spending on new hires
Elgin's newly approved $266 million budget for 2021 is balanced, but not all city council members supported the addition of two new city staff positions that will focus on environmentally friendly practices and promoting and protecting human and civil rights.
The new staff positions are in response to areas of need identified both by existing staff and in a survey of residents. But three council members -- Terry Gavin, Rose Martinez and Toby Shaw -- said an already struggling local economy combined with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time to add new positions. At the council meeting Wednesday, they also highlighted the need for pay cuts and furloughs for the majority of city staff to balance out both the 2020 and 2021 budget.
"Many of our citizens are hurting as well as small businesses," Gavin said. "I was hoping for more compromise during these historic times."
Gavin and Shaw, who tend to be more conservative in their viewpoints, frequently clash with the more liberal majority of the board. But annual budgets are not a typical source of contention. To that point, Shaw said he agreed with more than 95% of what the budget calls for, except for the new positions.
Martinez, while citing increased division on the city council, said her concerns directly relate to "a pandemic that may get worse and more complicated."
"I hope to God I'm wrong, and we'll be fine next year at this time," Martinez said.
Council member Cory Dixon supported the budget and the new positions because he said 2020 was not just about the pandemic.
"It was also about social unrest, social justice, the Black Lives Matter movement, the country's recognition that all things are not equal for all people," Dixon said. "With us creating these positions, those are great steps in the right direction. Everything we do we should be striving for equality."
The Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter group sent in a petition with more than 140 signatures calling on the city council to not approve a $3 million budget increase for the police department. The group has cited concerns about over-policing fueling systemic racism and inequality.
In the end, the city council deleted the addition of a new police officer to trim the department's budget. The bulk of the added money for the department now is to pre-fund pensions for current and future department retirees, not to bolster operations.