Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who’s been in his position for over a decade and served as a village commissioner for 12 years prior to that, says he’s never seen the village face a financial crisis like it faces now.
“There have been some tough financial situations, but nothing like this where we’re looking at an almost complete stoppage of everything,” said Gillian.
While it’s difficult to get a precise idea of how dire the situation is – revenue received in March, for example, is partially comprised of receivables from previous months – Gillian said it’s a “huge problem.”
“Between all the models we’ve looked at, it’s apparent that village revenues will be down 30 to 40 percent in March, April, May and June,” Gillian said.
That’s with the village still operating with almost-normal expenses, 70 percent of which is payroll. Gillian said overtime and community center expenses are down right now, but for the most part, everything else has remained the same.
“We’re trimming expenses wherever we can,” said Gillian. The recent hiring of a contractor to create and maintain a village Facebook page, although an additional expense, was done only after ending a $12,000 annual contract with CodeRED, the system the village previously used for disseminating information to residents. The Facebook contractor only costs $375 a month for the first year, less than half of the amount of CodeRed.
Other cost savings include cutting out new planting for the spring and summer, as well as monthly landscape maintenance, normally contracted by McAdam Landscape, now being done in-house.
Gillian declined to discuss the possibility of layoffs. But he said he’s been talking with the village’s labor groups about concessions, including limited overtime and more flexibility between job functions, which would allow employees to move fluidly between tasks, thereby ensuring necessary jobs, which might fluctuate due to changes in how village services are provided, are being fulfilled.
Gillian said someone with an office job, for example, would be able to assist with senior services if need dictated under a loosening of job restrictions under certain contracts.
Most of the biggest sources of revenue for the village have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including sales tax, income tax, utility taxes, commuter parking, and parking permits.
With businesses closed, sales taxes are down. Walmart and Portillo’s, two of the village’s biggest sources of sales tax revenue, are still open. “Thank God they’re still here,” said Gillian. But car dealerships, another source of income for the village, are barely operating.
As for income taxes, as unemployment grows, the village will get less. And utility taxes are problematic too.
“If people have to choose between buying groceries for their family or paying a utility bill, it’s not hard to see where the money will go,” said Gillian. “People are in a tough spot right now.” And because of the pandemic, turning off most utilities for failure to pay, including the water bill, has been suspended.
Parking revenue, too, has dried up. The commuter parking lot near the CTA line used to have between 300 and 500 cars a day at $5 per car, said Gillian. “Now, you drive by and there are about six cars there,” he said.
Ticketing for night parking has been suspended, as has permit parking, which was “a good monthly revenue.”
Fines for not having new vehicle stickers aren’t being enforced right now, and Gillian said he’s not sure when the village will decide to require the stickers.
As for metered parking, which had only been in effect for about two months before paying was suspended due to the pandemic, was bringing in $25,000 to $30,000 a month, revenue that stopped abruptly when the village suspended it.
And even when the pandemic is “over,” things won’t go back to normal immediately.
“It won’t be like a light-switch turned on again when the economy opens up,” Gillian stated. “It will take a long time for things to catch up.”
“Let’s say the governor says, ‘Open up the economy in June!'” said Gillian. “Our local businesses and the village council might decide to say no to requiring people to pay to park right away because the businesses will want it to be as easy as possible for customers to shop again.”
Gillian said while he’s not happy that other towns are going through similar crises, it helps to know that Forest Park isn’t alone.
“It’s somewhat comforting that all towns are in the same boat right now,” said Gillian. “Wealthier communities might have more reserve, but nobody’s doing well through this.”
And Gillian is talking daily with Leticia Olmsted, village finance director, and the department heads, constantly looking for ways to save money and see Forest Park through the pandemic and its financial effects on the town.