The mayors of some of Illinois’ largest cities on Wednesday expressed frustration at the strain on their municipal budgets caused by the new coronavirus pandemic and the governor’s stay-at-home order.
The leaders also stressed the need for financial assistance from the federal government and how best to reopen so-called nonessential businesses that have been shuttered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’re seeing more and more cases out of long-term facilities," Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said during a Facebook live meeting that included the mayors of Aurora, Champaign, Springfield, Joliet and Waukegan. "Also very concerning to us is we’re seeing more and more cases for our essential workers. Those folks on the front lines. The grocery store clerks, the nursing home staffs.That’s very concerning to us and it’s something we’re monitoring very closely."
Each of the mayors expressed the need to expand COVID-19 testing to get a more accurate picture of the spread of the disease.
Aurora will face a $30 million budget deficit if the city is not allowed to reopen its economy by early June, Mayor Richard Irvin said.
"The question becomes where do we get money to fill that big of a hole," Irvin said. "We don’t print our own money here at the local level. We don’t print it at the state level. So, we’re looking to the federal government to get some assistance."
A bipartisan coalition of 10 Illinois mayors, including McNamara, sent a letter to members of the state’s congressional delegation asking them to "fight for flexible direct funding for municipalities to help limit the crippling economic damage to our cities."
"We, by law, have to balance budgets every year so we can’t wait a year and have a two-year budget," McNamara said Wednesday. "We need the federal government to stand up and help us."
It’s time to consider reopening small businesses under certain conditions, said Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder, who said he thinks the governor’s stay-at-home order will be extended until mid-May.
Small businesses "can operate while keeping the social distancing in mind, where you can have a pickup while not coming in contact with anybody or delivering services by wearing gloves or masks," Langfelder said. "I think that really needs to be looked at."
The reopening of the state’s economy should be phased in and should be contingent upon increased COVID-19 testing and a sufficient amount of personal protective equipment for health care systems and first responders, McNamara said.
"If our restaurants can offer curbside service, so can some of these other local retailers as well," he said. "But, I also think this idea that every single city should do their own thing is not a good idea. I think we’re too mobile. Some sort of larger regional aspect I could get behind if I had a better idea of what that region looks like."
Ken DeCoster: email@example.com; @DeCosterKen