The news coming out of several surrounding communities isn’t good.
Oak Park cut 26 full-time positions in 22 months.
In North Riverside, layoffs have been avoided but the town is decidedly less fun. Its Fourth of July parade was nixed last summer.
Riverside, meanwhile gutted its recreation department budget and shifted that money to other areas that need shoring up.
Brookfield has probably seen the worst of the recession and is really struggling to gain solid footing. Nine people were laid off in May. Furloughs and wage freezes have been implemented and more staffing cuts are on the way.
Forest Park, however, has seemingly avoided all of this. There have been no layoffs, no service cuts and no reduction in programming. There’s also been very little said about the village’s relative success in enduring the recession thus far, and that’s because it hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs. Forest Park may be better off than neighboring towns after two years of a horrible economy, but no one is out of the woods yet.
Mayor Anthony Calderone has always touted a nimble, business-like approach to managing the taxpayer’s money and that mindset appears to have served the public well, especially of late. A budget, however detailed, is still just a game plan. Putting on paper the different priorities and strategies is an important and critical step in the beginning of any fiscal year. But the last two years have shown us that what we’d all like to see happen doesn’t always pan out.
The elected officials in Forest Park deserve a great deal of credit for recognizing several opportunities in recent months to ease the pressure of payroll expenses. By filling three department-head positions internally and letting the lieutenant spots sit vacant, taxpayers have saved a heap of money. The lengthy absence of a village administrator was also a budgetary bonus.
But there is a catch. In order to avoid painful cuts, municipal leaders have had to spend down the town’s savings. Against the advice of its auditors, its finance director and several elected officials, the council has refused to build its reserves so that a minimum of three months worth of expenses could be paid. Forest Park is running out of breathing room and there may be some tough decisions ahead.
There is also a tradeoff in letting certain desks sit empty so that money can be saved. In the absence of a village administrator, it seems there were a handful of outstanding issues that needed to be addressed. To be frank, we doubt that Tim Gillian’s arrival just happened to coincide with the village’s efforts to finally straighten out a couple of horrendously managed construction projects.
Cutting expenses is important, but only if the good outweighs the harm.