Geneva mayoral hopefuls have different views on city spending
The two candidates seeking to become Geneva's mayor disagree about city finances, with challenger Tom Simonian saying the budget is "bloated" and Mayor Kevin Burns arguing spending has been prudent, while striving to maintain city services and invest in its future.
It has emerged as an important issue in the rematch between Simonian, a former alderman, and Burns, who has been mayor for 20 years.
If he wins, Simonian said he wants to set up a finance and budget committee made up of elected officials and residents to review expenditures with an eye to cutting waste. It would be the first time in 22 years Geneva has had a finance committee.
He said the budget has grown from $60 million to $108 million in the last 10 years under Burns, or 83%, while the population has grown less than 5%.
"Common sense says there are some issues," Simonian says in a campaign video.
But Burns says Simonian isn't providing a complete view of the city's finances.
"We (he, aldermen and employees) understand that getting the best bang for your buck is critical," Burns said, in a February endorsement interview session with the Daily Herald.
He said the budget has 36 funds, and the city is required to account for project spending even when much of the money may have come from other sources such as the state or federal governments. That would include the money spent on big-ticket items, such as when the city added a third level to the commuter parking deck and built a water-treatment plant.
Simonian has not given specifics of how he would reduce the budget, in campaign materials or in responses to questions on his campaign Facebook page. But in the past, including when he was an alderman, he has criticized the city council's practice of absorbing the entire cost of health-insurance increases for city employees. He suggests forming a committee to look for options that would be fair to the unions and taxpayers, "basically sharing with the heavy lifting," according to his "Mayoral Plan 2021-2025."
Burns defended spending, saying the city portion of the average property tax bill for a Geneva house has dropped to 6%, compared to 8% in 2017.
Burns says that after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, officials cut more than $5 million in planned spending from the 2020-21 budget, and waived nearly $800,000 in liquor and business license fees, late-payment fees on utility bills and commuter parking fees.
Simonian scoffs at that, saying his property tax bill hasn't decreased 25%.
"The budget itself speaks louder than words," he said. "I'd be curious as to where all those cuts are."
Kane County records show that from 2010 to 2019, the city's property tax extension ranged from $5.9 million in the 2018 tax year to $6.93 million in the 2016 tax year. Those numbers do not include levies for special service areas. The city estimates more than 70% of a Geneva tax bill goes to Geneva Unit District 304.
According to budgets posted on the city's website, total expenditures were at $66.14 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, and $106.2 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year. In those years, the general fund budget went from $15.8 million in planned expenditures to $20.12 million. Much of that fund pays for salaries of police officers, firefighters, administrative workers and streets department workers.
Planned electric fund spending went from $30.8 million to $54.3 million.