• THANK YOU! Despite objections by several in the audience at Monday evening’s city council meeting, and a no vote by Councilman Rodney Walker, the Decatur City Council approved 6-1 the acceptance of a $500,000 donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for the hiring of a police officer who will focus on enforcement of the Driving Under the Influence laws. It is expected that, when the use of marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1st, there will be more drivers operating vehicles under the influence of pot and the specialized officer will certainly help to keep our community safer. For those concerned that Howard Buffett’s Foundation is having too much influence on our community — I can’t think of any donation from the Buffett Foundation that hasn’t been of great benefit for our community. I appreciate all Howard Buffett has done for this community and know where we would be today without the tens of millions he has donated to help make this community a better and safer place. I just don’t get the negative reactions by a few to his generosity in helping the residents of this community and those living beyond Decatur. He’s been a Godsend to this community and I’m so thankful for his perspective and contributions in making Decatur a better place.
• ALTHOUGH 2019 has been a great year for low unemployment and several projects that have enriched the quality of life in our community, there is no doubt the population slide over the past 40 years has dramatically impacted our community and the revenue needed to operate. The last census that showed growth in our population was in 1980, when our population was 94,081 and we had grown 18.7% over 1970. By 1990, we had lost 10.8% of our population and had 83,885. We shrank less by the 2000 census and had 81,860 or a loss of 2.4% of our population, but by 2010, we had lost 7% of our population and had 76,122. It was estimated 5 years ago, in 2015, that we had lost another 3.8% and had a population of 73,254. In 35 years, starting with a population of 94,081 in 1980, Decatur has lost over 20,000 residents, These figures are from the U.S. Census. With the annexation push, it will be very interesting to see the result of the 2020 Census. Obviously, one reason that taxes are so high in our community, is that we have a lot fewer people being taxed and fewer people generating revenue. Although the population is far less than it once was, the footprint has grown and that’s why future growth is so important and many community leaders and organizations, are working to grow our community.
• BIG BUCKS! Last week, the Taxpayer Education Foundation (TEF) released an updated study on Decatur and Macon County government pensions including the top 200 pensions in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), and the State University Retirement System (SURS). TUA issued the following statement based on the TEF pension study: “Decatur property taxes saw a punishing increase of nearly 15%, largely to cover IMRF pensions. IMRF pensions are funded by property taxes while the other five state pension systems are funded by the state income tax,” said Val Zimnicki, TUA Director of Outreach. “With one of the most rapidly shrinking populations in the state, Decatur should be making lots of tax cuts. Over the last few decades we heard how they needed more funding because of growth and yet they still demand more money when the population shrinks. Their lust for taxpayers hard-earned money never ends.” “The Macon County effective property tax rate increased from $1.79 in 2017 to $2.45 in 2018. The county lost 1,009 residents in the same period. TEF, in a news release, published a list of the top 200 Decatur area TRS pensions, the top 200 Decatur and Macon County IMRF pensions and the top Decatur area SURS pensions. You can find the list of pensions at taxpayersunitedofamerica.org under the heading “Decatur Decimated By Government Pension Tax Increases”.
• GREAT JOB! Thanks to all of the city, county and state workers for doing an amazing job of clearing highways, streets and sidewalks from the big snow on Sunday — and again on Monday. I was able to walk from my office to the post office on completely cleared sidewalks downtown Monday morning. Thanks also to local businesses and organizations who also cleared the snow.
• ENJOYED talking with former Decatur Mayor Erik Brechnitz, who called me last week, after reading this column that printed comments from another former Decatur Mayor, Terry Howley, regarding the present city council’s push on annexation. Howley was responding to comments made by the present Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and a few comments by other council members that seemed to blame previous councils for not moving ahead with annexation a long time ago. Although Brechnitz didn’t seem irritated by the remarks as was Howley, who fired off an email to the mayor and council members, he did say that, during the time he served, the council was very aggressive and successful in focusing on annexation, fighting many battles with Forsyth in the process. “Newspaper archives will tell the story,” he said. He also said that, before any annexation took place, it was determined if it would be a financial benefit to the city. Erik served on Decatur’s City Council for ten years and another four years as mayor.
• WHAT MANY OF our readers may not know is that Erik, who lives in the city of Marco Island, Florida, has an important role in that community’s government, which is similar to our city council, except the chairman (who would be mayor in our system) is elected by the members of the council, instead of the public. Erik has been elected chairman twice and continues to serve in that capacity. A couple of Erik’s major accomplishments as Decatur’s mayor, included lowering property taxes during three years of his four-year term; and building a $40 million water treatment plant with adjustable rate bond issue. He also took over as chairman of the bankrupt Decatur Public Building Commission, restructured debt and completed $20 million court renovation with no increase in taxes. In all fairness to the present council, the city, along with a lot of cities in the midwest does not have the revenue flow that we once had which means some real financial challenges continue to face us.
• I’VE KNOWN all ten of the mayors since our council/manager form of government came into being in 1958. Three of the former elected mayors are still alive: Brechnitz, Howley and the guy writing this column. Councilman Michael Carrigan, was chosen mayor by the city council for the interim months before the next mayor was elected after I left office. (I’m happy to write that Michael is also very much alive.) During last Thursday’s “City Hall Insider” hour on WSOY’s Byers & Co., Brian Byers asked me if there was some sort of “mayors club” for those who served as mayor of Decatur. Although there isn’t a “club”, I think all of us who served in that office remain interested in what is happening with today’s mayor, city council and city manager — and the decisions that are made by that body. For the few people who have experienced the honor of serving as Decatur’s mayor, actions of the council are viewed from a perspective based on what went on when they were leading the city. That experience certainly gave me better insight in reporting on the council and the issues facing the city, than what I had as a newspaper editor before I was elected.
Paul Osborne joins Brian Byers every Thursday morning from 7:00 until 8:00 for “City Hall Insider” on Byers & Co. on WSOY, 1340.