On two fronts, both financial, the Forest Park village council has the opportunity to move smartly ahead. A budget proposal from new Village Administrator Michael Sturino is on the table and reflects worthwhile goals. Meanwhile, the village has also approved the sale of $10 million in new bonds to fund basic and overdue infrastructure repairs. This improvement was made possible by the wisdom of local voters/taxpayers at the ballot box last year.
First the budget. Sturino’s budget, in its initial blush, accomplishes three things. It sets an absolute goal of rebuilding the village government’s financial reserves. Like any household, the village needs a cash cushion. With financial challenges of the past several years, that reserve needs replenishing over the next several years. This budget starts that process.
The budget proposal also focuses on making several fee-based funds such as water and trash collection pay for themselves. They should; they need to. Yes, it involves hikes in the fees paid by residents but the village has been too timid in recent years in making sure that such services pay for themselves. It ought to be a fundamental goal of any municipal budget that user services”the amount of water a person uses to water their lawn, the number of lawn bags they use for their garden”should be paid for by the user not by the general property taxpayer. Rightly, too, the budget calls for passing through added water costs to the Brookfield/North Riverside Water Commission which uses the Forest Park water system to transport its water. The starting point in that negotiation is increasing their annual fee by $185,000. These talks are likely to be successful, because as Mayor Anthony Calderone points out, we’ve got their water.
Finally, the budget proposal holds the line on property tax increases which is a welcome thing as added park district taxes from the past referendum come on line on tax bills. The village has many more options for raising revenue than schools and parks and so relying less on the property tax is wise and fair.
The village is also ready to sell $10 million in bonds to start a significant program of infrastructure repairs. Anyone who drives Forest Park streets and alleys knows the need is great.
Bonds, of course, are debt which must be repaid. Wisely, these bonds will be backed by the revenues coming from the newly installed half-cent increase in the local sales tax. That hike was approved by voters last November after the village board convinced them of two things: First, the brunt of the money would come not from Forest Parkers but from every person who visited Forest Park to make a purchase. That makes this a rather painless tax. Second the board locked the money up exclusively for infrastructure. It can’t be used for general operations.
It was a smart plan, and it is good to see it get underway.