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Joliet drops proposed hike in gas tax

A Joliet firefighter climbs a ladder during a fire training exercise on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 in Joliet, Ill.
A Joliet firefighter climbs a ladder during a fire training exercise on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 in Joliet, Ill.

Joliet is dropping a plan to increase the local gas tax next year.

Interim City Manager Marty Shanahan told the City Council on Tuesday that he was pulling the gas tax increase out of the proposed 2019 budget. Shanahan said he would make up the $500,000 in revenue that the higher gas tax was designed to generate by reducing the overtime budget for the fire department.

The gas tax increase had yet to go to the council for approval.

Joliet now puts a 1 percent local gas tax on fuel sales, which generates $680,000 a year. The proposed budget for 2019 included an additional $500,000 in revenue from the tax.

Shanahan instead reduced the overtime budget for the fire department by $800,000.

He said the proposed overtime budget had been based on amounts spent during the past three years.

“However, what I did not take into consideration is the hiring of 15 new firefighters in 2018, and now the fire department is fully staffed,” Shanahan told the council.

Overtime in the fire department has been a budget issue for several years.

The fire department at the end of 2018 is estimated to spend more than $3 million in overtime, compared with the $1.7 million that was in the budget for the year.

Fire Chief Joe Formhals has said overtime should go down after the fire department was brought up to full staffing this year.

The budget for the general fund, which covers most city operations, had been balanced. It now has a $300,000 surplus with the planned reduction in fire department overtime.

Shanahan, however, cautioned that the city may have two additional expenses next year not yet covered by the budget. One is a possible project on the north side of downtown, which Shanahan did not detail. The other is the possible addition of a public information officer to the city staff.

Finance Director Jim Ghedotte gave a presentation on the budget that he said does depend on growing revenue from the city’s share of sales and income taxes.

“I’m optimistic in hoping the sales tax keeps up in the next year,” Ghedotte said. “That’s tied to the economy and tied to jobs.”

The city expects to collect an additional $1.7 million in additional property tax revenue in 2019 from new land development and higher property values. The actual property tax rate is expected to go down.

The council set a public hearing on the budget for its Dec. 17 meeting.

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