Revenues are flat, but the city is financially stable and continues to attract industrial growth, Mayor Mike Thoms said during his annual State of the City address Monday.
Thoms spoke during a combined meeting of the Rock Island Rotary and Kiwanis Club at the Quad City Botanical Center, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island.
He said the city had a number of success stories in 2019, including the arrival of several new commercial businesses and expansion of others, resulting in more than $30 million in investments by private companies.
"These projects have added hundreds of jobs this year, with more to come in the future," Thoms said, noting the city still has not had success in finding a developer for the vacant Watchtower site on 11th Street where a proposed Walmart deal fell through in Sept. 2016.
Despite strong industrial growth, the city is struggling to attract retailers to provide goods and services not currently available in the city.
"We are finding that brick and mortar retail growth is slow and the (Watchtower site) location does not have the traffic or demographics that most retail providers are looking for," he said. "The city may have to start looking at opportunities other than retail for this site, but we will continue to work diligently to find the best option for that location.
"Revenue for the city has been flat for the past several years. A significant source of our revenue is state sales tax and state income tax. But several years ago, the state took a good portion of this away and has since reinstated only a portion of that."
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Thoms said that despite the additional $30 million in private investments, it will take time before the city sees revenue from it.
"We've had some success in cutting expenses over the last several years, partially with personnel reductions. Unfortunately, expenses are still going up faster than our revenue."
Thoms said personnel costs take up more than 70 percent of the city's general fund budget, but money has been saved by not filling some vacant positions and delaying hiring for others. He said that while the city has reduced its work force over the last several years, it has become more efficient without reducing core services.
One of the biggest financial burdens to the city is the funding of police and fire pensions, he said.
"This is an earned benefit the employees have also contributed to," Thoms said. "A promise made should be a promise kept. But the state made these promises, not the city, yet the city has to pay the tab."
He is hopeful new legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that combines police and fire pensions into one fund will eventually save the city money.
Thoms named a number of projects the city was able to complete in 2019, including completion of a new $20 million water filtration plant; the resurfacing of 38th Street from Blackhawk Road to 7th Avenue and 18th Avenue; completion of phase 2 of the Douglas Park renovation; and many property owners who took advantage of the city's facade grant program.
"Our city is on solid financial ground," Thoms said. "We have a number of projects scheduled for 2020 that will increase revenue and reduce expenses. Our vision is 2020 focused on the future."