With public officials in disagreement over how well the village is following its budget, commissioners and taxpayers can expect the content of financial reports received regularly at council meetings to change. Exactly what information may be withheld or added is not yet clear, but according to those responsible for Forest Park’s financial affairs, projections that have historically been offered by Finance Director Judy Kovacs will likely be scratched.
“I don’t believe the concern is Judy is misinforming the public,” said Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who oversees the finance department. “It’s just that we have to change the style of the reports and not be so heavy on the projections, because projections are an imprecise art.”
In her last report to commissioners on March 10, Kovacs said the village should brace itself for a $1.6 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year on April 30. But Mike Sturino, the village administrator, said he disagreed with Kovacs’ year-end projection and pointed to a similar report given last year in which Kovacs predicted Forest Park would end the fiscal year with a $1.1 million deficit. The village ended the year some $84,000 in the red, a significantly smaller figure than Kovacs had expected.
Kovacs anticipated her latest deficit projection would change as additional property tax receipts rolled in and she was preparing to give an updated report at the April 14 council meeting. Instead, the spreadsheet typically received by council members was not on the agenda and Hoskins delivered an abbreviated report during which he offered assurances that the village is not going broke.
Sturino, Hoskins and Mayor Anthony Calderone confirmed that Kovacs did present something in writing to be discussed at the April 14 meeting, but each said that to varying degrees the report wasn’t complete. Calderone declined to make a copy of that report available to the public.
“Not until I feel confident that the projections depict an accurate picture of all the income and expenses that we’re expecting,” Calderone said.
The mayor said there has been no talk of replacing Kovacs. Whatever changes are made to the finance director’s reports will be the result of greater oversight from the village administrator and perhaps the elected officials, he said.
“The public needs to have accurate information,” Calderone said. “It needs to be factual information. There’s no good public service in putting projections out there that are erroneous.”
Future updates on the village’s finances may be provided at council meetings by Hoskins. The commissioner said he’s not exactly sure what changes will be made, but he intends to have a larger role. However, Sturino said the data cited in any report on municipal finances would be provided by village staff.
“Rory doesn’t really prepare the finance report, so it will come from staff,” Sturino said.
Hoskins was in agreement with the mayor that trying to predict where the budget will land months in advance can give a false impression.
“It doesn’t always paint the most accurate picture,” Hoskins said. “Someone who doesn’t understand might think we’re in really dire straits.”
Kovacs declined to comment on why she did not give a report on the village’s finances to the council at its last meeting and said she can longer speak with members of the press. She referred questions to the village administrator.
According to Sturino, municipal employees are free to speak with the media, but he would “like a heads up” before they do so.
“We want to make sure the information is accurate,” Sturino said.
With the fiscal year closing at the end of the month, Sturino said commissioners will receive an update from Kovacs’ department at the April 28 meeting.