Naperville Sun

Budget to the bone should be council's goal

Monday, September 20, 2010

The economy is on everyone's minds these days, and well it should be.

With the United States still mired deep in recession, a great many people have lost their jobs, and even those who are still at work are very nervous about the prospect of suddenly finding themselves in the unemployment line.

A small favorable trend is that individuals and families are starting to save more or, at the very least, not continuing to plunge further into debt.

Now, governments need to do the same thing.

Fortunately, unlike the federal government, the state and local governments can't print money as a "solution" to budget shortfalls. Eventually the piper must be paid -- though the state of Illinois keeps putting off the inevitable and consequently keeps digging itself into a deeper hole all the time.

Locally, the city of Naperville is beginning its budget process for the next fiscal year and held a workshop Tuesday to begin the process of working on the staff's budget proposal.

Since the recession hit, the city has been faced with declining revenues from some of its many sources of taxation and fees, and has had to trim its sails, primarily by cutting staff and increasing revenues in non-property tax areas -- such as instituting a charge for trash collection and tacking it on to the utility bill.

When house prices fall, it takes assessments and hence the tax base a while to decline, but for next year, it appears that the city's projected $4.8 million budget shortfall would primarily come from decreasing property values and hence lower property taxes.

However, this only holds true if the city doesn't let its tax rate go up, something which was easy for the council to do -- and then brag about to constituents -- when times were good and property values and the city's tax base kept increasing.

Now the opposite is true: The economy is hurting, and property values are falling.

The city is faced with spending less, taxing more, or a combination of the two.

At its Oct. 25 budget meeting, the council is planning to consider what can be done to reduce expenditures.

At Tuesday's workshop, Councilman James Boyajian said the city should "find ways to cut expenses by $5 million without revenue." He called that putting "the horse before the cart."

We endorse that method. Before the council should even look at raising revenue to meet a budget, it needs to scrutinize everything the city is spending money on and keep only what is absolutely essential.

As the council works toward next year's budget, its overriding principle needs to be not spending a nickel more than is necessary.