Aurora lays off city employees

Septmeber 3, 2009 (CHICAGO) The employees found out they were out of jobs after showing up at the office on Thursday.

Aurora faces more than a $5 million budget shortfall. By next year, the city could be closer to $20 million in the red, according to the Aurora finance chief, which led to the drastic cuts.

Critics say the state's second largest city could have avoided the budget crunch and saved the jobs of almost 6-percent of the city's workforce.

Salaries of municipal employees account for more than 80-percent of Aurora's expenditures, which is why bridging the budget gap means cuts to the workforce, according to the mayor.

"Well it is always a hard decision to make, not something you like to do," said Mayor Tom Weisner.

Drastic reductions in revenue from state and local sales tax, real estate transfer tax and from The Hollywood Casino have altered the fiscal landscape for a mayor, now in his second term, who took office in better times

"Now what we have really, with the national economy the way it is that growth isn't happening and all our revenue sources are greatly reduced just from a year ago," said Mayor Weisner.

But critics such as Alderman Rick Lawrence -- who has often been the only vote against such proposals as the now mothballed Shodeen Development project on the Fox River, where the city has given land and spent $7 million and only has a hole to show for it -- says big project spending like that -- and paying up to $120 million for a new police and communications headquarters-- has put the city in a bind.

"We've been predicting this for four years that this was coming. But we were going to face really financial situations that were going to really jeopardize our business. And now it's coming to light. Maybe the economy escalated that a little bit further than it would have been, but not by much," said Rick Lawrence, alderman.

"We balance our budget every year. We have one of the highest bond ratings in the state. Yes, in the state. If we had been that irresponsible, I think that would be obvious," said Mayor Weisner.

The mayor says his reelection confirms the people's support. For some though, Aurora's reputation for bloated government fits.

"They need a lot of improvement. There could be a lot of cutbacks and they could still handle it to get stuff done," said Ed Kirch, Aurora businessman

At 63 out of 1,100 city workers, the city says its layoffs will be across all city departments, especially those having to do with real estate planning and administration.

With about 37 people taking buyout packages earlier, the city hopes to save $3 million.

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