Mayor: City on track to be debt-free

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

JOHNSTON CITY, Ill. - On the mend. The mayor of Johnston City, Illinois believes the city could be out of debt in 18 months.

Mayor Jim Mitchell sent all non-essential city workers home two summers ago, saying there wasn't enough money to pay them. Mitchell said years of over-spending left Johnston City about $850,000 in the red and on the brink of collapse.

Since then, the city's slashed police and fire services. Now they owe about $230,000 to their creditors.

Circumstances are very different now in Johnston City, Illinois than they were two years ago.

"We lost a couple of grants because we were in such bad financial shape," said Mayor Jim Mitchell.

Mitchell said there's more work to be done, but he can see a debt-free future.

"We just kept fighting it, kept going. Now we think seriously we could be out of debt in 18 months," he said.

The city got rid of its street department for a year and reinstated it last summer.

The fire department became all volunteer, except for the chief. The police force downsized.

"You make people mad, but I only had one agenda, and that was to get this town in the black," he said.

The mayor put police on Interstate 57 checking for speeders. He credits speeding tickets with saving the department.

Gayla Godbey bought a downtown building two years ago when the city hit rock bottom.

"It was a downtime. A lot of people felt depressed," she said.

Her store is one of eight new shops in town.

"We won out with having faith that the city would pull in the reins and make some changes for the better," she said.

Mitchell said the next goal is getting rid of blighted buildings. There's also a push to move the police department into city hall. The building that houses the police department has structural issues and may have to be demolished.

The mayor said if it's gone, the city can save on insurance and electric bills.

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