It took an odd while, but all eyes at village hall now seem focused on finding a combination of ways to cut costs and raise revenues in order to avoid an end-of-fiscal-year budget deficit.
Meeting last week, the mayor, village council, administrator, finance director and department heads reviewed spending cuts. Many of them are small — reducing the number of calendars the village prints — but others were more substantial, such as overtime in the police department.
Beyond these immediate trims, other more foundational ideas were shared, including restructuring the village's paramedic and fire staff. That's a big and complex concept but it is the sort of idea that, if it vets out, could avoid perpetual nickel-and-dime choices at budget time.
We will make our usual plug that, in this time of what will be neverending budget stress in small communities such as Forest Park, the actual idea that needs to be explored is merging Forest Park's fire department with River Forest and Oak Park. Until that blue-ribbon committee is formed and charged with a deep exploration of the pros and cons, then we're not really serious about fixing the abiding challenges of local governments.
In three weeks, the same crowd will gather to consider options for increasing revenues via fees and fines. This is an inevitable aspect of closing this budget gap. But as in cost cutting, the options tend to be small and limited.
Finally, as we cover three special budget meetings in a month, we just do not understand how Forest Park allowed itself to get four months into a tough fiscal year without convening decision makers to fix its budget. With every day that passes, the need to cut deeper or increase fees more sharply increases as we near the halfway point in the fiscal year.
Complex cop story
Forest Park's small police department has a history of drama, and not in a good way. Too much aggression toward suspects. Too much testosterone toward everything that moves.
We were impressed last November when Police Chief Tom Aftanas, the best chief the village has seen in some while, fired veteran officer Roberto Salas after charges of sexual assault were leveled by a citizen.
Since then this case gets complicated. The Illinois State Police investigated and did not recommend charges against the fired Salas. The alleged victim filed a federal civil case against the village government and the officer. That case is now near settlement; in fact, the village council approved its end of the settlement last week.
Perhaps as part of those negotiations, the village council last week rescinded the firing of Salas and then immediately accepted his resignation. The outcome? Salas gets a pension for the rest of his life, courtesy of Forest Park taxpayers.
We should know more and the Review has filed FOIA requests for additional documents. We accept that such cases are complex. But this chief and this village government need to take every opportunity to send a message of culture change to its police department so these troubling stories come to an end.