Budget Cutting Discussion Turns Testy

Macomb, IL – Macomb Fifth Ward Alderman Dave Dorsett says those elected to office should be willing to make some sacrifices as the city looks for ways to cut spending.

Dorsett suggests the salaries for the mayor and city clerk be slashed by 30%. That would reduce the mayor's pay from $40,000 per year to $28,000 and the clerk's annual pay from $36,743 to $25,720.

Dorsett says the salaries for aldermen are so low that cutting them would not save much money. So he says they should also lose perks such as telephone allowances and the option of obtaining health and life insurance through the city.

"My reason for doing this is fairly simple and straightforward," said Dorsett during the February 8 Committee of the Whole meeting. "I believe that we are looking at one, if not two or three, years of significant budget concerns."

Dorsett said his plan would save the city $44,543.

Fourth Ward Alderman Mike Inman spoke against the salary cuts for the mayor and clerk.

"There's some intrinsic value in these two positions that we cannot put a dollar value on," said Inman. "In many cases, those two offices are the face of the City of Macomb."

Third Ward Alderman Lou Gilbert harshly criticized Dorsett's plan. Gilbert said he has not talked to a single person who supports the idea.

"To sit here and argue about saving $44,000 a year is chicken feed in this budget," said Gilbert.

That drew a sharp rebuke from Alderman At Large Dennis Moon.

"When we go through these budgets in our committees, line by line, and we look to cut $1,000 or $500...to discount it (Dorsett's plan) like it's chicken feed in a $26 million budget...that's absurd," said Moon.

Sixth Ward Alderman Tim Lobdell also defended the proposal.

"We're looking, through attrition and possible layoffs, to possibly make up some of this money in our budget hole," said Lobdell. "$45,000, by my calculations, comes pretty darn close to saving an employee."

The size of the hole in next year's spending plan is not yet known. City Administrator Dean Torreson estimates it's around $200,000.

Dorsett's plan would fill nearly one-quarter of that projected hole. However, he will not call for a vote on his proposal because there is not enough support to win approval.

Inman, Gilbert, First Ward Alderman Ryan Hansen, Second Ward Alderman Ed Lavin, and Seventh Ward Alderman Clay Hinderliter all expressed opposition.

Alderman At Large Don Wynn appeared to support the idea, joining Dorsett, Moon, and Lobdell as those who might vote in favor of it.

In the meantime, the city still faces a budget shortfall, and several city leaders are already fearing an undercount in the federal census. An undercount would result in less federal and state money flowing to the city for a few years until a special census could be held to obtain a more accurate count.

Dorsett outlined his plan in a letter to the City Council and the citizens of Macomb:

It is not news to anyone the City of Macomb, along with most municipalities, is experiencing financial difficulties. The recent proposal for changing compensation for elected officials received my support in part because of this fact. I understand some aldermen believed reducing salaries might redirect focus of officeholders. This was not my main reason for supporting the proposal. My reasons were (and are) related to leadership and economics.

Because of our looming budgetary hole, most recently pegged at $170,000, it is reasonable to believe wage and/or benefit suppression, perhaps even concessions or staff reductions are possible. Service reduction to the community at large is also not unforeseeable. Clearly some combination of these steps must be undertaken to address difficult economic conditions.

To ask for any of these without some form of sacrifice from elected officials is unconscionable. The previously discussed 50% reduction in salary in a couple of elected offices is clearly a non-starter. A second option, an across the board 10% reduction of all elected officials salaries, amounts to so little in some cases as to be merely symbolic. It could even result in greater discontent among staff if they perceive they are being asked to share a greater burden. It is certainly simplistic.

If 50% is too much and 10% not enough, I am presenting the idea of a 30% reduction in the salaries of aldermen, mayor and city clerk. Further, since the aldermanic salaries are low and this will result in little savings, I am recommending elimination of all insurance options for aldermen, elimination of the yearly telephone allowance and reducing the number of aldermen annually allowed to attend the IML conference to two, to be determined by lottery or a rotation system.

While I don't believe it will be seriously entertained, I am also recommending the elimination of the two person committee meetings. I believe strongly in the Committee of the Whole system and feel the smaller committees prohibit the free flow of information to both officials and the public. They certainly end up costing more.

I hope a majority of the council can see their way to agree with my reasons and my reasoning. It is my belief this can be a significant first step on the road to improved fiscal health.

Dave Dorsett
5th Ward Alderman
City of Macomb