Though he never mentioned the projected $700,000 deficit in the municipality’s operating budget, Mayor Anthony Calderone alluded to Forest Park’s financial woes during his state of the village address, which he delivered last week during a luncheon with members of the Chamber of Commerce and Development.
“We try to do the best we can with what we have, and I think that’s the general theme I want to share with you this afternoon,” Calderone said.
Playing to his audience of small business owners, the mayor spoke of the nation’s slumping economy as having had an impact on several fronts. When cash registers go silent, a crucial pillar within local government takes a hit as revenues from sales taxes decline. A report on the village’s finances delivered to the council earlier this month shows that only 71 percent of what government officials expected to receive in state taxes this year had materialized by the close of the fiscal year on April 30. Additional receipts are expected, but it’s unlikely they’ll be enough to bring the budget into the black.
“Governments are not recession proof,” Calderone said. “Government’s rely for the majority of its revenue … on sales taxes, which we thank all of you for, and property taxes.”
Of the anticipated $4.13 million in property taxes expected to support village spending in the last year, more than 98 percent were realized, according to municipal records.
Commissioner Mark Hosty, the only council member to attend the mayoral address, said comparatively Forest Park is in a better position to endure this economic slump. The village has fewer commercial properties sitting vacant and is still seeing relatively steady growth within the residential market. Hosty would not name those west suburban communities he has analyzed for fear of embarrassing those towns, he said.
“I think the state of affairs [in Forest Park] is excellent,” Hosty said.
Commissioner Mike Curry was less cheerful in his assessment of the village, but nonetheless said he has every reason to be optimistic. Fluctuations in the revenue stream are not unusual, but Curry acknowledged the current state of affairs as particularly difficult.
“We’re progressing and moving forward in these tough economic times,” Curry said.
Calderone’s May 13 comments before the chamber were delivered somewhat casually and he spoke with only a list of bullet points to guide his remarks. From the economy he moved to upcoming improvements in the village’s infrastructure to anticipated cooperation with the park district, library board and the schools. In addressing crime in the village, Calderone pulled two props from under the podium – a pair of menacing looking handguns recently recovered by police.
“This would scare any of us in here,” Calderone said, demonstrating the chamber action of what appeared to be a 9 mm.
Both of the weapons were actually BB guns, but their convincing design is evidence of just one of the many pressures facing the police department, said Calderone. Exacerbating matters is the juggling act that department administrator’s must perform now that, for the first time in nearly a decade, there are consistent gaps in staffing levels, said Calderone.
That handicap, however, has not been allowed to jeopardize the safety of Forest Park residents, said the mayor.
“We do have a very professional department,” Calderone said.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian, who said he was unaware that the mayor was giving a state of the village address, agreed with Calderone that, taken as a whole, the police department is “very good.” However, Tellalian pointed to a guilty plea recently offered by a 17-year veteran to federal charges that he abused a suspect and lied about his actions as troubling. Also concerning, he said, was the May 2 ruling in another federal case in which the judge went to great lengths to criticize the department’s chief and the Fire and Police Commission, which oversees discipline and other personnel matters.
“I have spoken with the mayor on the issue and made my position clear,” Tellalian said. “Obviously, changes have to be made.”
Tellalian said that the Fire and Police Commission is where he would begin any overhaul.
“We have to have people on our commissions who understand what is appropriate,” Tellalian said.
Though controversial in their own right, the mayor held up two large-scale developments as major accomplishments within the last year. Construction is underway to renovate the former Roos factory on Harrison Street into condominiums and townhouses, and in the next 12 to 18 months residents should expect to see significant progress that breathes new life into that area, said Calderone.
Also a crowning achievement in the last year is the inking of a deal that would bring the West Cook YMCA to Forest Park, according to the mayor. There are still a number of hurdles for that project to overcome, including fundraising and design approvals, but Calderone called on the business community in particular to champion the effort.
“The village of Forest Park is not just its homeowners,” Calderone said. “I believe the village of Forest Park is also its business community. We would like you to embrace the YMCA.”
Once constructed, the YMCA should draw newcomers to Forest Park and those visitors could prove to be a significant customer base for retailers and restaurants. Such a lift would benefit not only those businesses shopped by this untapped market, but the village’s coffers would see new sales tax revenues.
“Local government is going to start cheering this on, louder and louder, and we hope you will help us,” Calderone said.