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Local
Virus' next target? Local government
 05.02.20

Kankakee comptroller Elizabeth Kubal is always crunching numbers.

The six-year bookkeeper for the city of Kankakee is known for her ability to put a positive face on even the worst of situations.

But the financial storm set to hit Kankakee, as well as every other municipality in Kankakee County and across the state and nation for that matter, is about to release a torrent of red ink in which Kubal will likely be challenged to find a silver lining.

The shock waves associated with the COVID-19 virus which first rippled through nursing homes and the medical world, before unleashing itself on business and industry and record-setting unemployment claims, is set to bear down on municipal government.

“I am certainly cognizant there is going to be a decline in revenue,” she said. “Forecasting revenues is usually the easy part of putting a budget together. But that task will a challenge this year.”

Federal aid amounts to some 5 percent of a local budget. State money accounts for another 20-25 percent. The remaining 70-75 percent is produced locally.

Sales taxes. Property taxes. Income taxes. Those are the basic funding sources for a municipality. Kankakee also has the $30-per-vehicle tax.

Sales tax revenues along with income taxes will likely be dramatically decreased as consumers have been forced home which has reduced spending and economic uncertainty has caused most to take hard look at spending practices. Taxes on wages will be down as unemployment has skyrocketed.

Property taxes — or the lack of those paying them at least in a timely matter — will come later this summer putting an even greater hit on the government’s relying on that income stream.

Because sales tax revenue figures lag, meaning fiscal activity from February, March and April does not manifest itself until May, June and July, the ability to accurately predict — and thus prepare — a 2021 budget (May 1 is the start of the 2021 municipal budget year) is difficult at best.

Kubal said it may be premature to label the pending fiscal government impact as “significant” just yet, but she is bracing herself as she attempts to piece together a budget which has been in the $25-million range in recent years.

Even though the budget is now due, Kubal said Kankakee’s will likely not be ready for Kankakee City Council approval until July so she can have as thorough of an examination of tax revenue trends as possible.

“I will be using all this time to pour over these numbers. I have a good grasp on expenses, but it’s the revenues this year. With COVID-19, we don’t know what tomorrow holds.”

BRADLEY

Bradley prides itself on being a home for small business. Fortunately, it is also the home for big-box retail and retailers considered as “essential” by government.

Bradley retailers such as Lowe’s Home Improvement, Menards, Meijer and Target not only remained open during the stay-at-home state order, but thrived as customers flocked to the locations stocking up on supplies.

The village board approved its $23.5-million budget this week on its first reading. The budget is actually $5-million higher than the 2020 document as officials expect larger sales tax dollars, due in large part to the pending 1-percentage-point hike in the local sales tax rate.

Village finance director Rob Romo said prior to the virus, he was planning on $7.35 million from sales taxes. He noted the village saw a decline of about $600,000 in sales taxes during the first two months — largely due to sharp declines of spending for gas, restaurants, vehicles and furniture.

“But Target, Lowe’s, Meijer and Menards have been doing more business now than before. We are blessed to have them in our community,” he said.

Romo noted that some 65 of the village’s sales tax receipts come from its top 10 producers.

Car dealerships, however, a key taxing component for village revenue, has experienced a blowout.

“They are hurting,” he flatly stated. He noted restaurants are in the same situation.

“I can’t see us being back to normal until at least August,” he said noting one significant caveat. “The businesses who have closed, will they re-open? Obviously, that’s an answer we don’t know.”

BOURBONNAIS

Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore characterized the upcoming budget as “bare bones,” but also noted it is not “doom and bloom.”

He said village services will be performed.

One area Schore noted as being closely monitored is what the state of Illinois will do with revenue-sharing money. “Is it going to be there?” he questioned.

Village administrator Mike Van Mill said in the past few years the state has discussed pulling back part of the income tax revenue which are shared with local governments. “That is the challenge facing us,” he said.

The village has been conservative in its estimates in how much it would receive from the state through revenue sharing — for income as well as sales taxes.

Finance director Tara Latz said tax figures from May, June and July will give officials a much more accurate assessment of how COVID-19 will impact them.

“Every community is looking at this,” Van Mill said. “I don’t think anyone knows what the impact of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order will have.”

At the village’s April 15 Finance Committee meeting, Latz noted that if the state does cut the amount of income tax revenue, the village could see a drop between 30-40 percent. She has already trimmed $241,175 from the projected $12 million 2021 budget.

MOMENCE

Momence Mayor Chuck Steele said it’s difficult to say what might be the expected revenue fallout from the stay-at-home order, like others, he noted grocery sale figures are strong, but big-ticket items are down significantly. The city is home to Route 1 Chevrolet Buick dealership.

“It’s not a good situation. You don’t know how bad it’s going to affect you. It’s too early to tell,” he said.

At present, Steele said the city still has good financial footing with its $1.8 million budget. The city council meets Monday, meaning more fiscal information may give them a better idea as to where they stand.

MANTENO

Manteno administrator Chris LaRocque said the village usually gets budgeting estimates from the Illinois Municipal League, but the uncertainty of the pandemic has meant even this group stopped predicting.

“When we put our budget together, we just took a shot in the dark and reduced our state revenues by 30 percent,” LaRocque noted.

Unknown factors like how long businesses will have to stay closed and when federal funding might reach local governments continues to be uncertain, he said.

“We are just estimating and really, truly just guesstimating what effect this is gonna have,” LaRocque said. “Is 30 percent a real number? We have no idea. There’s no way to know. We just felt like we had to do something to at least show some sort of a reduction in what we’re expecting in revenue to be realistic.”

Video gaming revenue accounts for $170,000 of Manteno’s budget yearly, but that revenue is as good as lost. Sales and income tax revenue had been on the rise, but that clearly won’t be the case this fiscal year, LaRocque said.

“We’re fortunate in Manteno that we’ve got a decent nest egg saved up,” he said. He noted the village sold its sewer system a couple years ago for $25 million. Along with about $4 million in savings, Manteno has roughly $29 million in emergency funds.

“Basically, we could probably go maybe a year or two without getting into that [sewer sale fund] and that’s our goal to make sure we don’t,” he said.

Currently, the village is not planning layoffs or canceling projects.

“At least we’re in decent-enough shape that, depending on how long the downturn lasts, we’re pretty comfortable that we should be able to get through it,” he said.

KANKAKEE COUNTY

Fortunately for the Kankakee County government, it had $4.2 million in its rainy-day fund.

Board Chairman Andy Wheeler noted at the March board meeting that cash reserves in the $36-million general fund might be enough to offset the expected shortfall from income, use and sales taxes.

“At times it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces haven’t been cut yet. It’s hard to put that picture together when all the facts don’t exist or they change from day to day, which is what we’ve seen.”

Wheeler said it is difficult to estimate how much revenue the county will receive.

“You can look at what’s going on in retail and the restaurants, but it doesn’t tell the whole picture. We’ve had an insane amount of people filing for unemployment. Who knows if they’ll be back next month. ... We’ll just have to ride this out and know that we have the resources to ride it out.”

Lee Provost, Jeff Bonty, Stephanie Markham and Chris Breach contributed to this report.


Coronavirus-local
Memorial Day celebrations canceled
 05.01.20

Daily Journal staff report

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Veterans’ Council has canceled all Memorial Day celebrations, including events planned at Memorial Gardens Cemetery and the Kankakee County Courthouse.

Memorial Day is May 25, which falls under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s modified “stay-at-home” order that took effect Friday and continues until May 30. That order calls for social distancing and prohibits large gatherings.

Organizers say they don’t want the cancellation to stop the public’s recognition of veterans on that day.

“The council does recommend that on Monday, May 25, some time during the day to take a moment to remember those hero veterans of ours who gave their last full measure on various battlefields, and to all of our local veterans who have served our country and have since returned home, especially to all the men and women who are sacrificing everything today as they serve around the world, protecting our freedom,” said Stanley Olenjack, acting chairman of the veterans council.

The council is planning for a Veterans’ Day Ceremony on Nov. 11 at the Kankakee County Museum.


Local
County, hospitals working together toward reopening
 05.02.20

KANKAKEE — While continuing to keep restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Kankakee County officials and leaders at both local hospitals are turning their attention to the future reopening of the community once Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay at home” mandates subside.

Among the first things returning to normalcy will be medical care. At a press conference Friday at the Kankakee County Administration Building, leaders of both Riverside Medical Center and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital announced the resumption of elective surgeries on May 11.

“We shut down 52 days ago,” Riverside CEO Phil Kambic said. “We need to change that narrative.”

For many, he said, the delay in receiving necessary procedures needs to come to an end.

“If you needed a procedure six weeks ago, you still need that,” Kambic said. “We have delayed these and over that time, you still need the procedure but your health has deteriorated. We need people to come to the hospital before it is too late.”

Protocols are in place at both local hospitals to ensure patients don’t come in contact with COVID-19 during the course of their treatment for other ailments, and elective surgery patients will be tested for the virus before having a procedure.

“What I want the community to know, is that it’s safe to come to our hospital,” he said.

Testing more people in the community is a key component of re-opening, he said, adding that the hospital has the equipment to test up to 3,000 people a week. The hospital is also testing its employees and will continue to do so.

AMITA Health St. Mary’s president Chris Shride said they, too, are readying for the community’s safe return from this crisis.

“We are currently looking to work with a large interdisciplinary team of physicians and experts from across our health system for a re-emergence planning that includes restarting central procedures, surgery and elective procedures as Phil has referred to,” Shride said during Friday’s press conference.

He said they are following guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the governor’s office as they consider all factors for a safe re-opening in the near future.

Much planning is also underway outside of the medical system.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the Kankakee County Coalition for a Responsible Reopening is being formed.

“It is time to get our collaborative act together,” Wheeler said of the coalition that will be led by the healthcare community and facilitated through local government. “It is better to do this now than when things open.”

Wheeler said they are looking for input from members of the community, business, education, manufacturing, web design and more. He also said he hopes the governor will be a part of this coordinated effort.

While Wheeler said it would be great to start this process now, they must follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said he has received phone calls from board members as well as taxpayers about wanting businesses and activities reopened.

“I do encourage our governor to consider there are 101 counties outside of Cook County and one size does not fit all,” he said.

As for the county’s administration building, which has been open by appointment only, it will be re-opened on May 11. The same measures currently in place at the county courthouse — which includes employees and the public having their temperature taken when entering the building and required face coverings — will be in place.

Though the building at 189 E. Court St. will be opening, he urged residents to continue doing as much business online and over the phone as possible.


Coronavirus
BBCHS waits for ISBE approval to proceed with graduation plans
 05.01.20

Schools might have to cancel plans for modified graduation ceremonies that would allow students to walk across the stage to receive diplomas while social distancing, according to state education officials.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala issued a statement Wednesday indicating that in-person graduation ceremonies of any kind would not be allowed at this time because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extended stay-at-home order, which lasts until May 30.

“This directive extends to drive-through graduation ceremonies or events where students come in small groups to the school or other locations for a photo or to walk across the stage,” she said in the statement. “The governor’s extended stay-at-home order prohibits group gatherings.”

Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, where 515 students are set to graduate, is one of many schools planning alternative options to honor high school seniors.

BBCHS officials said Friday they are postponing their modified graduation ceremony until May 6 “at the earliest” in hopes state officials will change their decision, but that it might have to be pushed back further. The ceremony was planned for May 4-5.

In a letter to students and parents Friday, Superintendent Scott Wakeley and Principal Brian Wright said they are communicating through the school’s attorney with the Illinois State Board of Education and Pritzker’s office.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the updated recommendations will allow us to move forward with our plans to celebrate our graduates next week,” according to the letter.

ISBE has indicated that they have received hundreds of inquiries from school districts and are working on new recommendations for graduation ceremonies to align with the governor’s orders.

Modifications for the BBCHS ceremony included having graduates come to the school in small groups and individually walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Students would be required to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another while waiting to hear their names called, and only graduates and school officials would be allowed in the building.

A professional video recording of the ceremony also would be made available for graduates’ friends and relatives to view, and the school district planned to take complimentary portraits of all graduates.