We are about 75 days out from an election that will bring Forest Park a new mayor and, at a minimum, two new members of the village council. Campaign mode rightly brings optimistic visions and bigger ideas. Forest Park can surely use those virtues.
But come April the election will be over, farewells said, and opening statements made. Then our new mayor and the remade village council will need to face the sobering and immediate challenges of Forest Park’s troubled municipal finances.
There is no blame being cast here. Things are tough all over for small, non-home rule towns where sales taxes are challenged, pension obligations are ballooning and options for raising fees and fines are about exhausted.
Last week Crowe Horwath, the village government’s financial auditors, offered the good news that Forest Park’s financial systems are clean as a whistle but that the financial results are slipping as revenues are challenged, costs increase, financial reserves are about spent, and the option of dipping repeatedly into the village’s water fund to balance the books isn’t really a fix and limits necessary investments in the water infrastructure.
As Mayor Anthony Calderone said at the end of the auditor’s presentation, “The numbers are what they are. The community will have significant challenges ahead.”
Those challenges will have to come on both the economic development side in a necessary bid to hike revenues but painfully also on the spending side. Forest Park appears to be a skinny operating machine but there will need to be creativity and some capacity for pain to take costs out.
As the election nears, residents need to expect cogent answers on finance from all candidates. Hopes that the redo of Roosevelt Road will lead to a magical funding source won’t cut it.
Police fully staffed
Might be a moment too soon to celebrate as multiple future members of the Forest Park Police Department wrap up training or are about to enter the Chicago Police Academy. But it is a notable accomplishment that our police department is on the verge of being fully staffed for the first time since 2017.
A combination of retirements and duty disability claims has left the department undermanned. The result has been more overtime than any officer would want, a situation that creates both budget strains and overtaxed officers and supervisors.
The 38-member force has added 11 probationary officers since early 2017. Chief Tom Aftanas said last week as two officers — Chris Chin and Nick Petrovic — were promoted to supervisory posts that the number of officers with less than five years of service has spiked from two to 10 since 2016.
Everything has pros and cons but we’re glad to see new officers join this department and new supervisors rising in the ranks. Under Aftanas, we see nothing but renewed focus on strong and connective community policing. These new supervisors and officers will allow that energy to grow.