Around this time last year, Forest Park was staring at a pool of red ink and village officials were arguing over how bad it might be. It was bad. About $800,000 worth of bad.
Today, despite an enormous downturn in the economy, municipal coffers could actually have some cash left in them at the close of the fiscal year on April 30. In fact, the finance director has raised the possibility that the surplus this year could be equal to the deficit of last year. It’s worth noting, however, that one council member challenged that projection as being “a little rosy.” The response was that the budget is very fluid and that forecasting isn’t an exact science.
It’s difficult to gauge the conviction with which these numbers are offered.
The big-picture issue within these year-to-year fluctuations is that Forest Park is operating by the skin of its teeth. Should this fiscal year end with a surplus of even $200,000, it would be a credit to the department heads, not the council members. If you’ll remember, the budget was adopted with a cushion of only $26,000. That’s negligible and gives absolutely no breathing room for contingencies. It also makes it impossible to build reserves or pay for innovations such as a revised and logical zoning code.
Next year’s proposed budget will likely escape having a built-in deficit only because state officials agreed to cut our local government some slack. This isn’t exactly sound financial planning.
Elected officials need to bite the political bullet and find ways to increase revenue. This point was harped on by the previous village administrator and was emphasized by the finance director during an April 8 budget meeting.
Department heads certainly should be asked to rein in spending during tough times, but it’s not their job to create surpluses out of thin air.