It's the annual rite of passage for the City of Rockford's yearlong budget. Saturday, city leaders as well as police and fire chiefs weighed the pros and cons of the 2005 plan.
Rockford's police force is back if 2005's budget holds up. After years of local recession, the proposed budget of $181 million would bring the force back to full staff and add 19 new squad cars. That was a big topic discussed during Saturday’s budget retreat.
Rockford Police Chief Steve Pugh says, "You have to keep your rolling stock in good shape. If you don’t have that obviously you can’t respond to the call. It’s not so much an efficiency issue as it is a safety issue."
The 2005 budget would also add three positions for Rockford's fire department from 2004. Chief Bill Robertson said he felt good about this year's budget but cautioned leaders that its older equipment won't be perfect forever.
Robertson tells 23 News, “We need a budget that starts to address some of those capital issues that deal with fire stations, apparatus and maintaining our trucks."
Rockford Mayor Doug Scott says while public safety could always use more dollars he argues the recent economic upturn boded well for toughening up local fire and police protection.
Mayor Scott states, "When we had really difficult budget times we didn't make the cuts in public safety that we made in other places. When we are able to bring a couple of positions back like we are doing in police it really does get them up to full compliment."
Another discussion point came from the mayor's proposal to add three new city positions which include a special projects coordinator. With Barber Coleman, North Main and Trim-Rite in the fold, most city leaders agreed the time is right for one person to focus on multiple project ideas.
Alderman Nancy Johnson said, "It is needed. You can have a lot of exciting projects but if you don't have one person who is very talented in pulling them together they kind of get lost without there."
This is a budget that is intended to restore public safety and help restore the city's identity.
Part of this year's budget plan will be put in our hands. The 2005 proposal calls for an $8.6 million referendum for city street repairs. We will vote on that in April. The budget must be approved by the city council by March 31.