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With millions in looming debt, East St. Louis lays off two more employees, increases property taxes

East St. Louis City Manager Alvin Parks leans over the city council table Thurs. Nov. 12, 2015 to speak to Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks.
File Photo |Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
East St. Louis City Manager Alvin Parks leans over the city council table Thurs. Nov. 12, 2015 to speak to Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks.

Updated Nov. 20 to clarify current layoff numbers-East St. Louis City Manager Alvin Parks has notified two more city employees that they are losing their jobs. Tuesday, Nov. 24 will be the last day of work for the public safety director and the superintendent of streets.

Parks said Thursday the positions are being eliminated in order to reduce the city’s millions of dollars of debt. He previously laid off eight police officers and six administrators. He also eliminated one unfilled administrative position.

The city council also approved a measure Thursday night that will bring in a few more dollars to the city coffers: a property tax levy increase for 2015. Parks said the portion of property taxes funding city government will increase by 2.2 percent.

“If your portion of your tax bill going to the city of East St. Louis was $500 before, it will be $510 going forward,” Parks explained.

The tax levy is expected to give the city an additional $39,420 in fiscal year 2016.

The city council was originally slated to vote on the 2016 budget Thursday night, but the vote was delayed to Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6 p.m.  Parks said the budget department is trying to bring revenue in line with operating expenses.

“We won’t do that in one year, but what we’re trying to do, though, is that when you look at those things like pension and worker’s comp, when you pull those out of the equation, we’re trying to make sure that the revenues from that point do exceed expenses,” Parks said.

The current draft of the 2016 budget has a $6.4 million deficit. When pension costs and worker’s compensation are removed the budget has a $1.3 million operating deficit.

Parks continues to promise to find a way to make payroll, despite a looming deadline to find more funds.

Two weeks ago the city’s assistant finance director said East St. Louis would run out of money before the end of the year unless something changes. At the time Parks said he was looking at getting a short-term loan, but Thursday he said the loan wasn’t a sure thing.

“I don’t think we’ll have a payless December,” Parks said, adding that “We are going to have to make some pretty dramatic kinds of decisions here between now and March on how we’re going to make sure we continue to meet payroll. And again we’re unfortunately not finished with layoffs.”

Parks said one reason the city’s bank account is nearing empty is because Illinois has withheld gaming taxes for the past four months due to the state budget stalemate. He said Illinois owes East St. Louis about $2 million from the Casino Queen.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.