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Dixon looking at debt come budget season

More than $7M owed to its own funds after Crundwell theft

DIXON – As City Council members continue to meet for budget talks, they are reminded of the financial burden left by former comptroller Rita Crundwell.

While the city’s general fund is $12 million in debt from loans, the additional $7 million owed to a handful of its own funds is of special concern.

The debt is spread through several accounts: motor fuel tax, downtown development, band, Oakwood Cemetery, civil defense, working cash, water, sewer, Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Social Security, and emergency vehicle funds.

The shortfall is a direct result of Crundwell’s theft of nearly $54 million from city funds over two decades.

The former comptroller transferred money from those funds to the capital development fund and made payments, using fake invoices, into a secret bank account for her personal use.

The city expects to receive, several months from now, about $10 million from the sale of Crundwell’s assets, and it has seen more than $3 million in extra cash flow since Crundwell was arrested nearly a year ago. Paying back the city funds was the No. 1 priority suggested by city consultants Dave Richardson and Stan Helgerson.

In December, they recommended that, first, $1.3 million be paid to the motor fuel tax, downtown development, band, Oakwood Cemetery, civil defense, and emergency vehicle funds.

Then, they suggested, the city should pay back about $600,000 owed to the working cash trust fund and $700,000 owed water and sewer accounts.

Next, the city should reimburse more than $5 million owed the IMRF and Social Security, they said.

The city must pay an average of nearly $976,000 a year for the next 6 years from its general fund to cover five outstanding loans, totaling more than $12.6 million.

Even then, the city still will owe $6,801,145 to the general fund.

In comparison, the city of Rock Falls will pay $118,000 a year from its general fund and Sterling $140,796.

Helgerson said those loans from the general fund are not of such great concern, because they were used for larger capital projects, such as the city’s police and fire station.

“You’d like to have as little debt as possible,” Helgerson said. “’Would all of this had been issued had they not had [Crundwell’s theft]?’ Probably not. In other towns, this debt is not necessarily bad, unless it’s overextended.”

The city’s statutory debt limit is set at almost $15.5 million, according to its 2011 audit. Finance Director Paula Meyer said the limit controls what the city can borrow for other capital projects.

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