Just weeks after council members were warned that this summer’s construction projects could sink the village’s budget, public officials are instead forecasting a tight but balanced spending plan for the new fiscal year.
During an April 8 budget meeting with department directors, Mayor Anthony Calderone explained that the Illinois Department of Transportation has agreed to allow Forest Park to pay its share of two road projects over the course of 36 months. Initially, it was understood that Forest Park would have only six months to make these payments, and that bills would start coming in when the work began.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins, who oversees the Department of Accounts and Finance, said after the meeting that no interest charges would be tacked on.
“We asked for flexibility and we got flexibility,” Hoskins said.
Projected spending per capita
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 still has a deficit of about $274,800 built into it. Public officials said that shortfall occurs within the water fund and is tied directly to installing a new water main on Harvard. The project is expected to cost some $500,000, according to February estimates.
However, because of the state’s willingness to defer payments on the two road projects, council members are optimistic that the water main can be paid for out of the Village Improvement Plan fund. The VIP account is replenished by a local sales tax, and revenues must go toward infrastructure improvements.
“We can absolutely pay those projects out of the VIP,” Calderone said. “There’s no question.”
In February, Finance Director Judy Kovacs projected that Forest Park could default on its debt payments if council members voted to go ahead with nine construction projects this summer. An estimated $2.26 million would be needed to pay the village’s share of those projects, said Kovacs, though construction bids are expected to be extremely competitive. The bulk of that – roughly $1.47 million – is tied to reconstructing Jackson and Harvard streets. It is these projects for which public officials received the 36-month payment plan from IDOT.
“That’s the key factor,” Hoskins said, in making next year’s budget work.
Earlier this year, all four commissioners drove to Springfield to meet with senators, state representatives and others with the hope of securing more money or reaching an agreement to defer payments. At the time, said Hoskins, council members were prepared to delay work on either Jackson or Harvard. Nixing one of those projects was an unattractive option and would have cost the village $1 million to $1.9 million in federal funding.
A critical connection was made with Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7th), who is the chairwoman of the Appropriations-Public Safety Committee, said Hoskins. Yarbrough urged state transportation officials to work with Forest Park.
“I was happy to write this letter and get favorable consideration from IDOT for the village,” Yarbrough said of her role.
Hoskins credited council members for their presence in Springfield, and Yarbrough for her support, in making the difference.
“Basically, the stars aligned,” Hoskins said.
The village’s good fortune, however, does not mean that the proposed budget is without challenges. According to Kovacs, the initial spending requests from department heads left the village with about $1 million worth of red ink. Cuts, and lots of them, had to be made.
The fire department, the Department of Public Health and Safety, the Department of Streets and Public Improvements and the Department of Public Property each submitted spending plans that called for less money than their fiscal year 2009 requests.
The Howard Mohr Community Center is asking for some $651,500, which is 5 percent less than the center is projected to spend by the end of the current fiscal year.
“I don’t think we can run it any leaner than we are right now,” Mike Boyle, director of public health and safety, said.
Kovacs also stressed to council members that, in the coming years, finding new revenue will have to be a priority. Swings in the national economy have had a dramatic impact on property and sales taxes, and previous year-end deficits have sapped reserves.