City of Kankakee Administration Building (copy)

KANKAKEE — A Kankakee alderman said Monday the city was “cutting it awfully close” with this year’s budget.

Alderman Larry Osenga, R-3, told the city’s Budget Committee that he was concerned that the city only had a $27,000 surplus in a $24 million budget. He recommended a conservative approach to spending.

“We should have a moratorium on hiring people until we get into the budget year, and we’re in good shape,” Osenga said.

City comptroller Elizabeth Kubal said the city was only adding one full-time employee in this year’s budget — a firefighter.

Fire Chief Damon Schuldt said the new position would bring his department up to 48 employees, but he said more are needed.

The overtime in June alone, the chief said, amounted to half of a firefighter’s salary.

At the end of the discussion on the surplus, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong asked Kubal to get information on the surpluses during the previous administration. Wells-Armstrong, a Democrat, defeated two-term Republican Mayor Nina Epstein in the April 2017 election.

Last year, the city balanced the budget by scraping more than $400,000 from the city’s tax increment finance districts, or TIFs, which collect a portion of property taxes to improve certain neighborhoods. A city attorney told Kankakee City Council reps they could dip into those accounts because the city’s departments, such as legal and accounting, had provided services to those departments throughout the years.

At Monday’s meeting, council members said they appreciated that the budget was being balanced this year without using TIF money.

The city’s Budget Committee unanimously recommended the proposed budget. The full council is expected to vote on it next Monday.

On another matter, Kubal said the mayor reminded officials of a new state law that lets video gambling establishments have six machines, up from the previous limit of five.

Currently, there are 203 video gambling terminals in the city, with an estimated $211 in city tax revenue per machine each month. Kubal estimated 10 new machines would be installed as a result of that law, bringing in an estimated $20,000 more next year.

“It’s a conservative number,” Kubal said. “We don’t know the saturation point.”

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