While final figures are not in yet, Finance Director Letitia Olmsted said last week she expects the final numbers to show a deficit of approximately $1.6 million in the village’s general fund.
Fiscal year 2019, which began May 1, is also likely to end in a deficit.
“It’s probably over a million again,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian in an interview with the Review on Monday.
Gillian and Olmsted said the deficit will likely decrease from this year because of increased sales tax revenue the village receives from the new HOBO store and the recently opened Living Fresh Market store.
“My anticipation is that at the end of fiscal ’19, it will again be more expenses than revenues,” Gillian said. “The outlier in all that is what things like the HOBO store and the new food store are going to do in terms of revenue. But I don’t think they will be enough to fully balance the budget.”
Olmsted said the village only has reserves of about $500,000, so it is not clear how the village would fund a deficit of more than that.
The village council met last week with Gillian and department heads in a budget workshop to figure out how to control costs.
The council will soon vote to increase water rates, but that will just pass on the increases the village has received from the city of Chicago. Water rates in Forest Park have not increased since 2015. Last year Chicago increased the price of the water it sells to suburban communities such as Forest Park by 1.83 percent, and next month Chicago is imposing a 1.54 percent increase. Forest Park residents can expect to see an increase in their water rates of more than 3 percent.
The water fund currently has reserves of about $400,000, Olmsted said, but the village is looking to do major sewer infrastructure improvements in the not-too-distant future. Before that can be done, the village will need to conduct a study of its sewer system.
One piece of good news is that the village’s contribution to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) is expected to decrease by about $100,000 in 2019 because of good investment returns generated last year.
But the village will lose some revenue because it will no longer sell water to Brookfield and North Riverside because those towns will be getting all their water directly from Chicago.
In January the village council approved a number of fee increases to try to cut into the deficit. They raised the garbage collection fees by 3 percent annually for each of the next three years. The council also raised parking fees and fines.
At the budget workshop Mayor Anthony Calderone suggested looking into buying cars rather than SUVs for the fire department but the general consensus was that Ford Escapes better fit the needs of the fire department’s fire prevention unit because of their greater space.
Calderone also suggested that the village council might have to issue a mandate to limit overtime to control costs.
“We have never given a mandate to trim overtime, but maybe we need to,” Calderone said. “Until you force the issue, you never know.”
But the fire department is short-staffed right now which makes limiting overtime difficult.
Given its budget situation Calderone said that the village might need to look at “out-of-the-box solutions” to control costs. Commissioner Tom Mannix threw out a few ideas, suggesting that the village look at whether it could save money by getting a debt consolidation loan from Forest Park Park. He also said the village could save money on utilities by having village hall open only four days a week and having village hall employees work four 10-hour days a week.
Gillian said the village has already cut costs everywhere.
“We’re just going to continue to do our best to cut expenses and recognize any revenues we can find,” he said.
Other than a water rate increase no other fee increases or new taxes are on the table right now, he noted.
The council must pass an appropriation ordinance and submit it to Cook County by the end of July. It is not required to pass a formal budget.
“The village is not required to, nor do we, pass or adopt a specific, line-item budget,” Gillian said. “We’re required by law to pass the appropriation ordinance and that’s what we do. The budget is really an internal working document that myself, the finance director, the elected officials and all our department heads use to keep track of our annual and day-to-day expenses.”