No Surprises For City Audit, Discussions About Marijuana and Broadband Continue

By Benjamin Cox on June 11 at 7:55am

City officials saw no surprises for their annual audit last night. The Jacksonville City Council braced for a lengthy meeting including the city’s annual audit by Zumbahlen, Eyth, Surratt, Foote, & Flynn, Ltd. At their monthly city council meeting last night. Adam Withee presented the council with both the annual financial report and the federal audit report during the workshop meeting. The federal audit is described as providing the city with the amount of federal government contribution to the city’s overall spending. Withee described the audit as being a clean one, with no major problems, unexpected shortfalls, or mismanagement of city funds

Mayor Andy Ezard explains his opinion of the overall audit. “Mr. Withee said that that the city is in pretty good shape financially. That’s attributed to the city council and the department heads keeping a close eye on things. Overall, I’m really pleased with the audit. Hopefully these trends will continue and we will be able to do some things in the near future. If there is some surprises, we have a little leg room as far as the seven and a half month reserve. We don’t ever wish a disaster to happen, but it is good to know that there is something in the bank.”

Some major figures that Withee pointed out during the audit presentation was the fact that the city has collected nearly $481,000 in revenue from the video gambling around the city. The city also received nearly 1.35% more money in tax revenue in the past year, which was offset by a 3.75% increase in overall expenditures.

One of the biggest expenditures is the current pension liability for the city, a problem that plagues municipalities around the State of Illinois. Mayor Ezard explains his feelings on how the city is trying to meet the goals of being completely funded for pensions by the year 2040. “I feel the city is in pretty good shape as far as our pension contribution. We’ve annually given the police and fire pension more than what the state actuaries indicating what we should give. We’ve taken into account that we are behind a little bit so we’ve funded their pensions. In talking with the police and fire pension boards, they are very satisfied with the city’s contribution. They’ve appreciated that we’ve taken the next step going up and above what’s being asked in our involvement. I think we are in a very good place.”

Currently, the police pension is 46% funded and the fire pension is 54% funded. Despite the nearly $37 million dollar pension liability, Withee said that the city needs to continue to monitor their return on the investments for both and maintain their level of funding.

In other council business, the council approved the 4 year collective bargaining agreement with the Water and Sewer Department’s International Union of Operating Engineers Local #399. The agreement sets forth a new 12 hour work schedule and a pay increase schedule that begins at 2% and ends at 2.5% by the fourth year term.

The council also voted to unanimously open closed session minutes from the past six months to the public, with litigation and collective bargaining minutes to remain closed.

Hutchison Engineering announced the approval of a bid to Illinois Road Contractors for a Motor Fuel Tax project for resurfacing roads in the city for $175,635.88. The bid also included an oil & chip project for Diamond Grove Cemetery. Senior Vice President James Burke said that the Hardin & Michigan project continues to progress at a steady pace and that local residents in those areas can expect the streets to possibly open up within the next few weeks if things remain on schedule.

During the official meeting, the council approved the appointment of Kristin Jamison to the Jacksonville Airport Authority to replace former chairman Brad Ware. Ware had recently resigned from the authority due to a move to Springfield. Tim Heady of South Jacksonville has been assigned as the chairman while Jamison will fill the vacancy left by Ware. The authority consists of 3 appointees from the city, 1 from the county, and 1 from the village of South Jacksonville.

During committee reports, the board heard more from the special studies committee on the progress of broadband coming to Jacksonville in the future. Ward 3 Alderman Brandon Adams explains the progress he’s made for bringing information and possible grant opportunities to the council. “I’m trying to coordinate closely with the city planner about the recent updates for funding for fiber optics from our Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth’s staff and getting those grants coordinated with our planner and Dusty Douglas. I’m trying to get those grants to the point of having results of what those plans would look good and have them ready to go on the shelf. When the funding does come available, we can be ready to go. There is an idea that we can do this fiber optic project in increments, which I am fine with as long as the increments are done in a timely manner. I don’t want them too far down the road when it wouldn’t matter anymore. The funding for this project can be achieved, it’s just by grant all at once or via increments.”

Adams also said that he has talked to an independent firm that does audits for both broadband and solar energy infrastructure to bring both to the city in the near term. Adams is also currently working with the special studies committee to bring Jeff Cox of the Illinois Department of Agriculture to town to answer direct questions about bringing a growing facility or dispensary to Jacksonville for either industrial hemp or legalized recreational cannabis or both. The council and mayor agreed that a proposal to opt-in to bringing a facility needs to be officially brought before the council so it can choose its direction once the bill is signed into law.

The next Jacksonville City Council meeting will take place on June 24th beginning at 6PM.