East St. Louis ended 2018 on a hopeful note, with a 42 percent drop in homicides from the previous year – something positive (outside of high school sports) to celebrate in a city known more for its crime and poverty rates than its successes.
So, it’s both disconcerting and disappointing, as we begin 2019, to learn that East Boogie may be teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, with a budget deficit of $5.5 million.
The issue was addressed in an executive session during a recent special City Council meeting. According to my sources, three options were considered.
The first option would entail laying off 32 police officers and 32 firefighters. The second option would involve gutting the entire fire department, while retaining the fire chief and essentially creating a volunteer fire department. The third option would be to renegotiate the city’s loan and possibly increase the gaming and casino tax for the Casino Queen.
There are no pretty options, according to ESL Councilman Roy Mosley. Mosley said he was informed that, minus any adjustments, the city would run out of funds within 10 months.
Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks told me that she “inherited a budget deficit” and that “no one wants to reduce our police or make personnel cuts.” She said she is “working to bring alternatives to keep the city fully operational.”
With a mayoral election in April, the solvency of ESL is a hot topic. Running to unseat the mayor will be former ESL mayor Carl E. Officer, Councilman Robert Eastern III and activist Darnell Thompson. This election could be decided based upon traditional East Boogie/ St. Clair County “poli-tricks” and the candidate who crafts the best solution to prevent ESL from spiraling into the abyss of bankruptcy.
For now, the City Council has aborted plans to lay off police and firemen, especially after word leaked to voters, who packed council chambers during their executive session.
Meanwhile, the deficit isn’t going away, nor is the need to protect the community from crime and fire. To layoff police or firemen will increase the cost of insurance for both citizens and businesses and signal to criminals that it’s open season on the most vulnerable citizens.
For those who can afford to move, it will cause a further exodus of those middle-class citizens who have chosen to remain out of pride, loyalty or hope that things will eventually change for the better.
Whoever becomes mayor in April could hitch their wagon to the star of newly elected Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, in hopes of soliciting assistance for ESL, although Illinois has financial problems of its own.
This should be the topic of debate that determines who deserves to become the next mayor, though I expect the decision will be postponed until after the mayoral election, because politicians rarely choose to go on record as being for laying off personnel prior to an election.
But something drastic must be done and fast, for if this problem is not addressed head-on, then ESL may cease to exist as we know it.