FULTON, Ill. — Facing a number of challenges and a $107,000 deficit, Fulton city leaders entered this year’s budget season with weary expectations.

When Fulton City Council meeting was called to order earlier this week, there was a direction for the future, though City Administrator Ed Cannon cautioned how confident that future should be.

With unanimous approval and support from the community, the council passed the balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2016. That unanimous approval was quickly followed, however, by Cannon’s warnings for tackling long-term debt that will continue to hinder the city’s finances, especially in the 112-acre Fulton Industrial Center.

“It’s definitely been a challenge this year with trying to get expenditures under control,” Cannon said. “One area I’d like to call attention to is that of long-term debt. Our total debt service on two loans (for the Industrial Center property) is $90,937 just in this year alone. When we purchased that land it was purchased with the plan of paying the debt service by selling city-owned property. However, in this past year there were no land sales.”

With a projection of a mere $24,000 for next year’s land sales, Cannon is concerned with how the city will continue meeting its debt service obligation. At this point the only way to cover those payments is through the city’s general fund reserves, something Cannon suggested should not be utilized on a regular basis.

Because of that, he is encouraging the city to increase efforts in the promotion and marketing of city-owned property. While that has been a priority for city leaders since the purchase of the 112 acres, now, he believes, is the most crucial time to solicit development opportunities in Fulton.

“Without sufficient non home-rule sales tax, Fulton is forced to draw on reserves,” explained Cannon in his budget summary. “Fortunately, Fulton has sufficient reserves to pay the deficit for the next four years; however, without significant retail growth in the city, (we) will need to consider raising the NHR to 1 percent. Barring this, the city will have no other choice to pay the debt service out of the general fund once reserves are depleted.”

Monday’s meeting wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Following his presentation of the budget, Cannon went on to explain that in part because of the city’s partnership with the Clinton Regional Development Corporation, it is in the second round of options with a state site selector which, if Fulton is selected, could result in the purchase of 90 or more acres in the Fulton Industrial Center.

As the process continues to move forward, Cannon informed the council that he plans to revisit some of those long-term debt concerns, updating it along the way, until a solution is discovered and the city can continue its slogan “Fulton Forward.”

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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