City’s proposed budget: Infrastructure among top priorities

‘And then it's about reinvesting back into the community’

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ROCHELLE — City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said last week that infrastructure investments will be among the top priorities of the city’s proposed 2022 budget that totals nearly $90 million. 

“It's different from last year’s budget because there's different projects, but a lot of what we're doing is infrastructure improvement,” Fiegenschuh said. “On the general fund side, I think we have about $16 million in infrastructure and capital improvements and on the utility side I think there's about $16-20 million there.”

Among top projects are the completion of Well Four, moving forward with a possible iron removal plant at Well Eight, upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, completing an electric substation south of Ritchie Road, starting work on a new substation on Center Point Drive, electric distribution system upgrades and storm sewer work. 

Outside of infrastructure, Fiegenschuh said the proposed 2022 budget prioritizes “reinvesting back into the community.” The city will be continuing things like its Facade Improvement Program and the budget continues to waive things like building permit fees. 

The city also plans to reinvest back into its employees and backfill some positions that have been left open and change positions to meet where it’s at now. It plans to hire two police officers with some potential retirements coming up in the police department. 

The city typically starts work for the upcoming year’s budget in August and monitors revenue projections each month to make sure it isn’t overspending. Staff make budget requests that are followed by meetings. 

“And then we put all the numbers together,” Fiegenschuh said. “If we need to cut, we all get back together and prioritize projects and make appropriate cuts where needed. If not, then it's been a good year and you take it to the city council.”

Fiegenschuh said one of the budget-related things he’s most proud of is the city’s general fund cash budget increasing each year. He said the city is in a “strong financial position” right now, but it needs to continue that and be prudent with expenditures. 

“The mayor and city council have been supportive of projects that they see as fitting within their strategic plan,” Fiegenschuh said. “I'm proud of the fact that most or all of our funds are in great shape financially. When I came on staff, our IT and communications fund had a negative balance of over $1 million and this year we're projecting by the end of 2022 to have a cash fund balance of over $150,000. In five years, that's a swing of almost $1.1 million. Financially, we’re in a good spot."

Fiegenschuh said the current situation with the economy and inflation does make him concerned about the city’s ability to provide services to residents. 

“I'm not saying we're going to have to, but if prices continue to go up, do we put projects off and hope that if we wait a year they'll come down?” Fiegenschuh said. “That's my concern along with whether we receive shared revenues from the state, which is always a concern because of their budget issues. Aside from that, this was a great budget.”

Other planned 2022 investments include continuing to change out street lights for energy efficiency, which the city manager hopes will start moving into neighborhoods. The city will invest again into community events and organizations. 

“All of the things we've been able to help with in the past, we'll keep doing that,” Fiegenschuh said. “Again, every year we have to reevaluate. I'm just proud of the fact we're in good enough financial shape that we can continue to do those things. I'm thankful we have a very good mayor and city council that have provided great leadership and they've set the priorities for us. We work within those priorities."

The city will hold a public hearing for the proposed 2022 budget and it will be up for approval at the Dec. 13 city council meeting.