Village hall’s new roof, the police department’s first-ever “sally port” and a variety of infrastructure projects, including sidewalk extensions, alley improvements and street construction headlined Village Administrator Tim Gillian’s 2015 fiscal year recap during a special budget meeting, held June 24 at Forest Park Village Hall. Attendees included commissioners, village support staff and Mayor Anthony Calderone.

Forest Park operates on an appropriation ordinance system, with the village’s budget document serving “as a tool used for receipts and disbursements and developed to allocate resources that will provide public services efficiently,” according to the report. The annual budget meeting is an informal forum for commissioners and village staff to discuss each municipal department’s financial outlook for the upcoming year.

In election years, including 2015, new commissioners do not participate in the early stages of budget development. As Calderone remarked, the election “throws us out of stride” and creates what Gillian described as a “state of flux.” And indeed the results produced a village council with a new look: three first-time commissioners. 

The swearing-in service often happens only weeks before Forest Park’s fiscal year concludes on May 30. The deadline for the appropriation ordinance, however, allows for some leeway. It must be approved by the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year.

“We’ve already pretty much got a [budget] document prepared,” said Gillian. “In the years to come, elected officials will be very involved in the building of their line items. It is just impossible to do it in a year like this.”

Prior to last Wednesday’s gathering, Gillian and his staff met one-on-one with each commissioner to discuss a “general outline” of the budget.

Joe Byrnes, the new commissioner of Accounts and Finance described his meeting with Gillian as “very informative.” Streets and Public Improvements Commissioner Dan Novak added, “I sent them six pages of notes and questions and they answered them all. … I truly appreciate it.”

Gillian’s remarks ranged widely. After reporting that the village’s “General Fund” ended at 91% of budget expectation, he emphasized several initiatives, including $36,000 in savings as a result of the village’s American Express Corporate Rewards membership. After calling the program “amazing,” Gillian explained that the village pays its monthly water bill, upwards of $1 million, using a credit card and accumulates points that are then redeemed for necessary purchases.

The village also successfully utilized another program, he said. Through a partnership with the Secretary of State’s Office, the village realized $233,000 in revenue from a program that withholds state income tax returns from individuals who have outstanding parking tickets. Gillian touched on other revenue generators as well.

After announcing a 13% increase in local sales tax revenue, which he described as “huge,” Gillian reminded attendees that because Forest Park is not a home-rule community, the village cannot easily create new revenue streams through taxes on fuel, for instance, or property transfers.

The Village Improvement Plan (VIP) fund, created after a referendum in 2014, yielded $852,000 in revenue which was “right on” projections, according to Gillian.

He concluded his remarks with a preview of the next fiscal year. 

Madison Street construction, already underway, will continue to progress, along with preliminary work on the Roosevelt Road corridor. The village is also partnering with neighboring Oak Park and River Forest to renovate the dilapidated viaduct at Circle and Harlem avenues. Gillian called the crash data at that intersection “significant.”

He also mentioned the creation of a “capital improvement fund,” which has been a goal of the mayor for some time. With the economy trending upward and the village’s debt obligations improving, he said, “I think for the first time since I’ve been here, it is achievable because we are starting — slowly — through really good fiscal management over the last several years to crawl out of a really deep hole.” 

The fund’s purpose is to avoid borrowing sizeable sums of money for large purchases like fire engines or police vehicles.

One area of concern is the village’s contract with the Hines V.A. Hospital complex. For the last nine years, the fire department has provided fire suppression services. The contract is worth $500,000 but the company has avoided officially renewing the agreement. Gillian suspects another municipality outbid Forest Park for the contract.

Losing the contract would be a big hit, he acknowledged. 

“When you see the kind of margins we operate on, losing a half-million dollars in revenue is a big number.”

Commissioners then had an opportunity to ask questions.

Novak asked those assembled, “Are there any new revenue engines out there that can be explored?” before mentioning video gambling as an option. Calderone responded that video gambling could be a discussion topic moving forward.

As reported by the Review in 2013, residents voted nearly 2 to 1, in a non-binding referendum, against allowing video gambling.

Aside from the gambling issue, Calderone also mentioned the need to discuss the state of the village’s “aged” municipal buildings. Large-scale construction projects “are expensive. We need to start planning for them because we won’t be able to just all of a sudden just say, ‘OK, let’s build a new village hall,'” he said.