Freeport Budget Woes

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The Freeport City Council is considering cutting services and raising taxes to combat a nearly $2 million deficit.

A city-appointed task force has made some recommendations. It looks like either way Freeport residents will pay, as the city prepares to cut more than a million dollars from an already tight budget and proposes a hike in the telecommunications tax.

Freeport is like most U.S. cities, battling a budget crunch, as state and federal funding drops off and tax revenues continue to fall. City leaders say they're left with few choices and popularity is no longer an option.

"I think the days are gone when we can just wink and nod and continue to run on a deficit. We have used what I think is an acceptable level of rainy day money and corporate revenues," Mayor John Gitz, City of Freeport.

Mayor Gitz says band-aids and quick fixes aren't going to work anymore and city services will likely be effected. Though most aldermen hope to protect the jobs of essential firefighters and police officers.

"We do not want to cut public safety. We do not want to take bodies off the street. Especially in these dire times, that's the last thing we want to do. We'll sacrifice other departments and other services before we do something like that," said George Gaulrapp, Freeport 1st Ward.

Aldermen are not only facing a budget crunch, they're also battling a time squeeze. An changes to the city's telecommunications tax will have to be approved by March 1. And selling a tax hike in Freeport isn't always the easiest task.

"Hopefully at the end of the day the public will agree that certain services ought not be cut further," Gitz said.

The mayor stresses that the proposal isn't written in stone and they have until June 1 to pass a final budget.

What's the reaction from fire and police officials? 23 News talked to the union president for the Freeport fire department and he says the department cannot tolerate a reduction in staff.

But everyone wants to give aldermen time to digest the recommendations before presenting their cases or criticizing.