CITY BEAT: SOME TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD FOR DECATUR CITY COUNCIL BECAUSE OF LOSS OF REVENUE DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The Decatur City Council met in study session Monday evening to discuss finances and what needs to be done to keep the city operating. Although no official action is ever taken during a study session — that will come during a regular council meeting — it was, and is, apparent that some extremely tough choices must be made by the mayor and council members on where to make cuts in a budget that is experiencing extreme shortfalls of revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the focus of attention in the news has been on COVID-19 deaths and infections, loss of jobs and businesses that are closed, the impact on government at all levels has been substantial. When people aren’t working and sheltering at home and businesses are closed, the tax revenue stream starts diminishing, leaving elected officials, with the task of finding ways to cut costs. That is what taxing bodies have to do.
• EVERYTHING seems to be on the table for city council members to consider — ranging from refinancing long-term debt to cuts in staff, reduction in salaries and even impacting police and fire pensions. How well voluntary furloughs work out will also be a factor in helping to determine future action regarding cuts. Obviously, a huge chunk of city expenses is in personnel, so anytime a public body starts talking about making decisions directly impacting jobs and benefits, some extremely painful and sensitive issues are raised. That’s totally understandable — especially as it relates to our community’s safety services.
Another unknown factor in any decisions the council will have to make relate to the length of time that businesses and other revenue generators are going to be closed — and no one knows the answer to that question. The longer businesses are closed and people are sheltering at home, the deeper the cuts the City of Decatur, and other taxing bodies, will have to make as we move along. It’s difficult to make the right decision when the time factor is unknown.
• PROTECTION — I’m not going anywhere that I absolutely don’t have to go. Since this newspaper is deemed an “essential service” and is allowed to operate, my “routine” is now home, my newspaper office, service station and the post office. I am seeing more and more protective equipment being used. About everybody I see at the post office or service station is wearing a mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19. When I stopped at Billingsley’s in South Shores for gasoline on my way home the other day, I was told they now have sanitary clear plastic gloves to wear when pumping gas. I used the gloves and felt better about using the gas pump. The gloves not only protected me from possibly contracting the virus, but also protected the next person(s) who would use the pump.
When I was finished and returned to my car, I threw the gloves in the trash barrel next to the pump. When I was there, I saw the gloves in a dispenser on only one pump, which was closest to the front door. They may be on all the pumps by now, but if not, it is worth it to walk to the dispenser that is available and use one or two of the gloves to protect yourself and others. Other stations may also be using the disposable gloves. It is a great idea and one more way to protect people from getting or passing along the virus.
• OH, NO! One of my cousins called me Saturday morning regarding a wreck at the Franklin St/Eldorado intersection that happened Friday, when a big truck ran into a car(s) and the driver of the pick-up truck that was hit hard had to be cut out of the pick-up.
“That was Tony!” (her husband) my cousin Audrey told me as being the driver who had to be cut out of the pick-up that was hit by the big truck. My cousin said that she was in the passenger side of the pick-up and was knocked out for a short time, but she did hear one of the first responders coming to their aid saying “the female is non-responsive”.
That could give you some thoughts about whether or not you are still alive!
“We have been staying at home during the lockdown,” she said, but Tony needed something from Menard’s so they decided to drive up there. Apparently, they had the green light because two other cars ahead of them had already driven through the intersection and they were third (I guess third time is not a charm) when the truck hit their pick-up on the driver’s side. A witness also said they were driving through on green and had the right-of-way.
Tony was released from the hospital (which was remarkable considering he had to be cut out of the pick-up after being rammed by the truck). Audrey was going to be released soon after she talked to me, but will take several weeks to heal from her injury.
I am so thankful that they survived that ordeal and were not fatally-injured. Audrey hadn’t lost her sense of humor because she asked me, “You know that expression that ‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck?’ “I can actually say that now because I really have been run over by a truck!”
• I’VE MENTIONED before in this column about the shocking number of semis and regular vehicles that I’ve seen drive on through an intersection after the traffic signal turns red. I’ve seen several at a time go on through on red. If someone isn’t paying attention and they start driving through an intersection because the light for them just changed to green, there is a risk of getting hit — even though they have the green light. Be careful.
• POTHOLE PAIN: One of our daughters-in-law, who is an essential worker at a Decatur facility, was heading home after a day’s work, but stopped at a market to pick up some vegetables. On the way back to her car, she stepped in a pothole and seriously hurt her ankle! (As I’m writing this she has an appointment with a doctor to see if it is broken or badly-sprained.)
Some good Samaritans rushed to her aid, helped her up and picked-up all of the vegetables she had purchased.
Best wishes to Mandy for a speedy recovery.
Considering the potholes that populate our roads and parking lots these days, there are other dangers lurking out there besides COVID-19.
• THE LINCOLN UNSAFE? The City of Decatur has posted notices on the historic Lincoln Square Theatre in the 100 block of North Main Street, informing the owners and the public, the structure is “unsafe’ because of bricks falling off the back side of the theatre. It has also been cited for “structural failure” in the building. The City inspectors have ordered the owners of the theatre to either make it safe again or demolish it within 30 days! The only BIG problem is that, as I’m writing this column, no one knows who owns the building!
The Lincoln Square Theatre board, a non-profit group that worked hard to raise money to renovate the facility, was dissolved a few years ago. So, as I’m writing this — there is no owner. Hopefully, more information is discovered in the immediate future because the safety problems will have to be addressed one way or the other. Considering the size of the building and the lack of money available to make it safe or demolish it — I don’t think it will be demolished anytime soon.
• SEVERAL YEARS AGO, a state grant was received to help renovate the Lincoln. That resulted in new restrooms and dressing rooms being built, plus, as I remember some safety concerns and roof repairs at the time were taken care of by the grant. Some events were held in the building during the time I was mayor and I remember speaking to some groups and gatherings there — even though a lot more work needed to be done to restore the theatre to its former glory. The total cost of restoring the building was somewhat overwhelming — we’re talking millions — a decade ago and I’m sure the cost is even higher today. The Lincoln Square Theatre has been in existence for well over a century and has an extremely interesting history.
I’ll have to dig out the “Scrapbook” that I put together on its history that we printed in the Tribune on one of its anniversaries. It would be a real shame to lose this historic and prominent part of downtown Decatur. Several have voiced support for saving the Lincoln, but it will take a lot of money to make it useable again.
Don’t look for the City of Decatur to spend the money. As mentioned at the beginning of this column, the city council is in the process of making adjustments and cuts to keep operating. Any salvation for the Lincoln Square Theatre would have to come from private donations — and such donations are not easy to get, especially in today’s COVID-19 environment.
• OPPONENT —As the story elsewhere on this site indicates, State Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) is going to have an opponent in her bid for re-election in the 96th District in the November election. When she didn’t have an opponent in the primary, and there was no candidate for the office in the Republican Primary, it was assumed she had won another term in the Illinois House. However, Republican Charlie McGorray of Decatur has announced he is a candidate for the 96th District seat which covers most of Decatur.
• REMINDER — The Decatur Tribune offices remain closed to the public as we continue to publish the newspaper each week and, as I’m sure you can imagine, publishing under these conditions is not easy but we’ll get through it. We will remain closed until the all clear directive is given and we can return to our regular office hours. Until then, if you need to reach us during business hours, call (217) 422-9702 and leave a recorded message or email us at email@example.com anytime. You can also write to us via the USPS at Decatur Tribune, P. O. Box 1490, Decatur, Illinois 62525-1490.
• THE CITY Hall Insider is still on WSOY’s Byers & Co. Thursday mornings at 7:00 via phone so that we can shelter-in-place.
Stay safe and thanks so much for your continued support for, and patience with, this newspaper and its editor.
I truly hope Decatur is able to find the money to save the Lincoln it has a lot of memories for me