Village Administrator Michael Sturino presented his proposed 2006 budget to the village council last week. The proposed budget includes a small reduction in property taxes but includes increases in several fees. Sturino also proposed bumping up what the village charges the Brookfield/North Riverside Water Commission for passing water through to those communities. Along with budget cuts in several departments, Sturino says a key goal of the budget is to create a financial reserve for the town.

Other goals for the administrator in reviewing this year’s budget, Sturino said, are to question assumptions about expenditures and revenues, to creatively approach village finances and to protect taxpayers’ interests while expanding services.

The proposed budget, Sturino said, would provide $14,647,700 in revenue for the village, a 7 percent increase over the 2005 budget. However, expenses are projected to increase by 10 percent, to a total of $14,612,131. Sturino and commissioners, though, said revenue projections in the proposed budget are projected conservatively.

Chief among the administrator’s revenue boosting recommendations is a modification of the village’s commercial water supply agreement with the Brookfield/North Riverside Water Commission. Sturino is recommending fees be increased by $185,000, subject to agreement by all interested parties.

“We would begin a dialogue,” Sturino said, explaining to council members that the fee has not been increased in a long time, yet the cost of carrying the water from Lake Michigan and through Forest Park’s system has.

“We cannot afford to have increasing costs without passing it on to them,” he said.

Mayor Anthony Calderone told fellow council members that the increase would likely be accepted as he doubts the other towns could make up the difference in the volume of water Forest Park provides them by using other sources.

Also recommended is an increase in refuse collection charges and yard waste fees, a 10 percent increase in each case. “I am always reluctant to recommend increases in fees, but the recommendation is based on the fact that it is a user fee system,” Sturino said. Currently, he said, the village is not covering its costs with the existing fee structure. The recommended increases, Sturino said, still keep the fees below that of surrounding communities.

The budget also includes a five percent increase in water fees to residents.

“Our cost from Chicago has been increasing,” Sturino said. “We have not passed [this] on to residents for some time, so I recommend a 5 percent increase in rates.”

While the proposed budget includes increases in several fees, no new fees are created in the proposal.

The projected budget does, however, show significant increases in expenses. In the Mayor’s section of the budget, the big ticket expenses reflect the proposed installation of a new security system at village hall as well as a new system for videotaping council meetings, which could be broadcast in Comcast in the future”at a cost to the village of $8,000.

There are also added costs in the technology arena, to the tune of $3,000, as the village seeks to move towards e-commerce with its web site, allowing residents to fill out forms and pay bills online.

Also added to the budget is a $10,000 expense, slated for reinstating the village’s participation in the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Arts Council and the Housing Center. These reintroductions, Sturino said, would “reflect [Forest Park’s] commitment to regional participation.”

In the administrator’s budget, the biggest ticket item is the installation of a new phone system in village hall, at an estimated cost of $140,000. “The phones are 11 years old,” Sturino said, adding that they are not reliable. “We are trying to stay up to speed on technology.”

In the police department, some of the bigger expenses projected for 2006 are the purchase of new police vehicles for $85,000. Of this, $18,576 is slated for upgrading vehicles. There is also a $30,860 increase projected for the addition of one more patrol officer for the department for nine months.

Sturino had recommended cutting the department’s participation in a mediation program which had been provided at no cost to the village through Proviso Township’s Mental Health Board.

The council, however, reinstated the program, with commissioners stating they support of the program.

“I don’t believe regular patrol officers have time to do what the mediator does,” Calderone said. “We think now that it is a service Proviso Township’s Mental Health should provide.”

Doolin agreed with Calderone on the need to keep the program in town. “It is one of the programs I’ve had problems with in the past,” he said. “But if you read the reports, a lot of it is two neighbors who don’t get along. But when you talk through it, you can solve the problem. Unfortunately a patrolman doesn’t have time to [do that].”

The program will be kept in the proposed budget at a cost of $25,000 to the village, while the Proviso agency seeks alternative funding sources.

Sturino also suggested additional funds be allocated for an actuarial survey of the village’s pension funds, which Commissioner Timothy Gillian said might be over funded.

“This is to ensure the tax levy is geared towards providing an appropriate level of services, rather than over funding both pension funds,” Sturino said. “Over funded funds do not benefit [anyone] and divert needed money from other services.”

In the fire department budget, the largest new expense recommended is the purchase of a new ambulance. “I recommend stretching $133,000 financing for five years at $30,000 a year [for that],” Sturino said.

Sturino recommended cutting the training fund for the department by $4,200. He also recommended cutting the protective equipment fund by $6,000. Also discussed were the outsourcing of some of the inspection services the department provides.

Sturino also proposed that $140,000 be placed in a separate account to fund the eventual construction of a parking structure somewhere along the Madison Street corridor.

The proposal will be reviewed by the council and discussed further at an upcoming meeting.