A look at the city’s 2023 budget

Ahead of Monday’s public hearing and approval of the City of Rochelle’s 2023 budget, City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh spoke with the News-Leader on Nov. 21 about the city’s guiding document for the next year.

Amount is $106.6 million, up due to capital improvements, power costs

ROCHELLE —  Ahead of Monday’s public hearing and approval of the City of Rochelle’s 2023 budget, City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh spoke with the News-Leader on Nov. 21 about the city’s guiding document for the next year.

Fiegenschuh said the budget preparation process “went well” and started earlier than usual due to a change to a new city-wide software system and a number of ongoing projects. The city begins planning for the next year’s capital improvements about halfway through the fiscal year.

“We're always working on some component of the budget,” Fiegenschuh said. “I've been very pleased with it. It's over $100 million this year. The reason for that is we have some significant capital expenditures we're taking on. Our power purchase costs aren't higher, but they do combine to be a significant portion of our overall budget.”

Another “big” expenditure planned for 2023 is hiring additional police officers with recent and future retirements and fewer officers in the current job market.

“When you hire a police officer, if they haven't been to the academy they have to go there and be out on the road with another officer to start,” Fiegenschuh said. “They're really not out on their own for up to nine months or more. I asked the council if we could hire an additional three officers in anticipation of some potential retirements next year. Hopefully those officers will be on the street and trained and if we have any retirements we won't see any shortfalls in staffing."

Fiegenschuh said that over the years, the budget’s total dollar amount hasn’t grown consistently year over year and depends on upcoming projects. A few years ago the budget dipped below $90 million. Higher numbers over the past few years have been due to spending on capital costs such as a new $15 million electrical substation on Ritchie Road and a $2 million well downtown. 

The city has plans next year for a $5.5 million iron removal well on Caron Road and is beginning work on another new substation on the west end of town. Once capital costs like that are expended, the total budget will likely start to decrease again, Fiegenschuh said.

Rising project costs have been seen by the city in recent years due to inflation, supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. The next phase of its wastewater treatment plant improvements came in double the engineer’s estimate and the project had to be put on hold for now. 

Fiegenschuh said staff does “a great job” saving up money each year to help with unexpected project increases and the city is “sitting very well financially” and has the money to move forward with a project if it absolutely needs to. 

“Rising project prices is something we'll have to be cognizant of as we go forward,” Fiegenschuh said. “If we have to do project A and it's twice as much as we anticipated, where are we going to cut back on other capital expenditures so we can finish that project? You really start to re-prioritize. There's only a certain number of dollars to work with. And once they're gone, they're gone.”

The city manager said the national and state economies are always a consideration when putting together a budget and looking to the future. He credited staff for controlling and monitoring costs, along with the city council for its review of revenues and expenditures each month. 

“If the revenues drop, we look at making cuts where necessary,” Fiegenschuh said. “And we did that during COVID-19 and the council was proactive during that time. We cut about $1 million out of our budget in anticipation of potential revenue losses due to the pandemic."

When naming projects he’s excited about for 2023, Fiegenschuh mentioned upgrades to electrical infrastructure, a new iron removal plant at Well five, additional street projects and storm sewer work, new training for employees, energy efficiency programs for Rochelle Municipal Utilities customers and the continuation of the city’s facade improvement grant program. 

“I'll be honest, I'm excited about everything,” Fiegenschuh said. “I think our budget is very proactive and I think we're doing a pretty good job of being fiscally conscious. Just because our budget is up doesn't mean we're just wasting money. It means we're reinvesting back into infrastructure, which is what people want us to do. There are a lot of great projects.”