Just in time for the village’s first public budget hearing on Thursday morning, Commissioner Chris Harris has posted the budget for village public property on Facebook.
Under the commissioner form of governance, each of Forest Park’s commissioners is in charge of a specific department and Harris oversees Public Property.
Making the budget more transparent and asking for community input is something he tried last year around this time with a “participatory budgeting” meeting at the Forest Park Public Library.
This time, Harris wants to make the numbers available online, “so people don’t even have to leave their house,” he said.
The idea, championed by some Chicago aldermen the last few years, is to ask citizens to vote on how they want money spent for specific discretionary projects and areas.
Most of the money in the $2,018,733 proposed 2015 budget is already accounted for and there really isn’t any wiggle room, Harris said. Areas of the budget where there might be room for negotiation are highlighted in yellow on his posted budget document.
These include maintenance of several village-owned buildings, including village hall, the police department, the detective building at 501 Desplaines Ave., the fire department, the Community Center, and the Public Works building.
Other areas open for comment are the public playgrounds (not run by the park district) and dog park expenses.
Harris acknowledges that it takes some journeying through the weeds for citizens to provide meaningful input about repairing and maintaining public buildings.
Last year, for example, the village hall roof was in need of replacement and budgeted. The council voted to award the contract at the April 28 meeting. Harris had championed trying to acquire a grant for a green roof or solar panels, but the council voted for a traditional roof, awarding a contract for $179,000 to Glenbrook Group Inc. of Northbrook.
Harris said there was more room in budget talks for the playgrounds and dog park.
The Forest Bark Dog Park is due for a complete cleaning and replacing all the wood chips this year, so the village has budgeted $4,000, about 40 percent higher than last year.
“When the budget was online for a couple of hours, I already got dog park questions,” said Harris.
Last year at the library, some participants suggested trying to give the Community Center a facelift, or perhaps make it look less dated with a colorful awning. Harris said emergency leak patching ate up much of the Community Center repair budget last year.
The recreation board, he noted, has a small budget and the advisory board has not decided whether to redo some of the playgrounds. Last year some participants suggested turning the pocket parks over to the park district for maintenance. Harris said the village is hoping a grant may be found that would help them overhaul the pocket parks.
The budget he posted does not break out costs for the village-owned Altenheim property. Harris has suggested preserving the 11-acre parcel as open land with a sculpture walk. But there is nothing budgeted specifically for the land.
“[Altenheim] falls under regular public works landscaping budgets because all we do is mow the grass,” he said. “We really haven’t maintained the buildings at all.”
To see Harris’ public property budget summary on Facebook, check out his commissioner page or the Forest Park Town Hall page.