Commissioner Rory Hoskins went after the sacred cows in Forest Park’s budget, igniting a tense and prolonged discussion on how council members ought to be mapping the village’s financial future.
During an April 30 meeting held to review the new fiscal year’s budget, Hoskins was berated by Commissioner Mark Hosty after suggesting money for various special events be cut. Groovin’ in the Grove, Rib Fest and other seasonal soirees are costly, said Hoskins, and philosophically it’s difficult to justify those expenses when discretionary spending has been all but wiped out by the recession. Hoskins also targeted other line items in the Department of Public Affairs, which is controlled by the mayor, that pay membership fees to various organizations or allow elected officials to attend social functions.
Those recommendations had the support of Commissioner Marty Tellalian, but none of the other council members. The harshest criticism came from Hosty, who pointed to wild fluctuations over the last six months that pegged the fiscal year ending with a deficit of $1.2 million and, most recently, a surplus of $150,000.
“Don’t talk down to me,” Hosty shouted. “Please don’t talk down to us when your projections on the revenue side suck.”
Fundamentally, the disagreement between council members comes down to the village’s reserve fund. Mayor Anthony Calderone has disagreed with auditor’s recommendations in past years that Forest Park needs to shore up its reserves. The village has about enough cash on hand to cover five or six weeks’ worth of expenses. Auditors have said Forest Park should have double that.
Hoskins and Tellalian posited that there hasn’t been enough consideration for long-term financial planning. Hosty and Calderone countered that Forest Park is projecting a surplus for fiscal year 2009 and 2010 while other communities are announcing layoffs. Those year-end balances are the result of making spending cuts as needed, they said.
The village’s good fortune, argued Tellalian, is haphazard.
“You can say all you want to about making all these cuts, but we’re still looking at a trend of expenses exceeding revenues,” Tellalian said.
In fact, Finance Director Judy Kovacs told council members that the net result of 2008, 2009 and 2010 will be a deficit of $400,800 in the general fund. Fiscal year 2008 ended with a deficit of $845,000.
Across all funds, Forest Park will have a net deficit of $462,000 in 2010, according to Kovacs.
“It’s hard with less than a month-and-a-half’s worth of cash in the bank,” Kovacs said.
Calderone found fault with recommendations to further reduce the budget, in part, because the changes were coming so late in the process, he said. For months, department heads and council members have gone back and forth on spending requests in an effort to have the budget adopted by July. To begin making line item changes without a specific surplus amount in mind, said Calderone, would be arbitrary.
“I fully understand your position,” Calderone said to Hoskins. “I just don’t agree with it.”
The village’s fiscal year runs from May 1 to April 30. State law allows municipalities to approve a budget well into the first quarter. Council members have outlined $21,979,000 in expenses and are projecting $22,238,000 in revenue.