By Thomas Vogel
Work continued, Aug. 31, at Forest Park Village Hall as elected officials and village staff met again in an effort to reconcile a budget deficit, which now sits at around $1.2 million, Village Administrator Tim Gillian estimated.
Thursday's meeting, which focused more on trimming expenses rather than increasing revenues, was the second public budget gathering of village leadership in August. The same group met Aug. 17. Those assembled, including Mayor Anthony Calderone and Finance Director Letitia Olmsted, made plans to meet again in three weeks on Sept. 21 to discuss possible new revenue streams.
"The department heads looked really hard at each line item," Gillian said. "It's still a problem that needs to get resolved, but it's not as dire as a couple of weeks ago. I see a light at the end of the tunnel."
No official action was taken Aug. 31, only suggestions and possible cuts. Between the Aug. 17 meeting and Aug. 31 meeting, Gillian said department heads like Police Chief Thomas Aftanas had met with Olmsted to find additional reductions, which totaled around $250,000. Those cuts brought down the $1.6 million deficit as discussed at the Aug. 17 meeting.
Illinois law requires non-home rule communities, like Forest Park, to pass an appropriations ordinance, which authorizes all municipal spending, by July 31, the end of the first fiscal quarter. The village council passed it on July 24. A village budget — wholly separate from the appropriations ordinance — is used more as a planning document for staff to help with day-to-day operations.
Commissioners on July 24 authorized spending $27,976,018 in the general fund, an increase of 4.8 percent over last year. The overall appropriation is $49,242,563, an increase of 4.6 percent over last year.
As reported by the Review, Commissioner Dan Novak abstained from the unanimous vote, citing lack of transparency.
At the July 24 council meeting, Calderone acknowledged that budget workshops had not been held but said at least one would be scheduled. Following the Aug. 31 meeting, there have now been two, with another one scheduled.
Several ideas were tossed around Aug. 31, including changes large and small. Commissioners and Mayor Calderone went line by line through the budget, peppering department heads with questions about everything from overtime wages at the police department to printing fewer village calendars.
"Can department heads live within these means?" Commission Dan Novak asked. "Are we painting you guys into a corner?"
Gillian said the department heads were "well aware" of the reductions.
Changes to the police department, community center, the fire department and the department of health and safety were all workshopped.
Olmsted said at the meeting she could have updated and concrete numbers on all the suggested changes and cuts to the commissioners by Sept. 8 at the latest.
It's not clear, for instance, if reducing the number of printed calendars would have any effect on total cost, depending on what the printing business charges.
"I don't think we have a [final] number on what was cut today," Dan Novak said.
Some areas were more difficult than others.
"I don't know what else you could cut," Novak said, referring to the community center.
One idea floated by Fire Chief Bob McDermott was reconfiguring the village's paramedic services to an in-house operation and hiring three new firefighters, who would also be certified paramedics. The move, which Gillian acknowledged sounds "counterintuitive," would save the village money for about a decade, in part through grant funding.
Commissioner Tom Mannix called it a "good first step" but asked for further clarification and more year-to-year projections.
"What I'd like to see is how all those numbers look mapped out," Mannix said.
Mayor Calderone asked about incorporating the responsibilities of the village's part-time fire inspector into the duties of everyday fire personnel.
"We did that in the past and there was no continuity with inspections," McDermott said. "It was very difficult to manage for businesses. [The inspectors] would be in there, they'd get a call, then they'd have to go back."
Glinke said "historical context" was key to any discussion of cuts. Just a few years ago, for instance, the village eliminated its full-time fire inspector and administrative assistant when it shifted to the part-time arrangement, which Glinke said is a fixed cost of about $50,000 per year.
"It's a bargain any way you slice and dice it," said Glinke, director of health and public safety said. "It's money well spent."