Forest Park village commissioners and department heads spent much of the June 27 budget workshop discussing new revenue sources, ways to save money, upcoming capital projects and how to spend money from Tax Increment Finance districts and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) stimulus funding.
The village is currently projected to end the upcoming 2023 fiscal year, which will begin July 1 and end June 30, 2023, with a $1.8 million deficit. That said, the projected deficit for Fiscal Year 2022 was $3.7 million and the year is expected to end with a $5.27 million surplus. As Forest Park finance director Letitia Olmsted explained during the budget report, she budgeted conservatively in several areas and the budget doesn’t reflect several grants – most notably, ARPA funds, which the village still needs to decide how to allocate. Still, several revenue sources are expected to be down, compared to last year – even for taxes that brought in more than expected this fiscal year.
Much of the discussion centered around revenue. As village administrator Moses Amidei emphasized, as a non-Home Rule municipality with the commission form of government, the village doesn’t have many revenue options, property taxes are capped and the ability to provide financial assistance is more limited. But the officials floated new taxes that would be allowed, along with other sources of revenue – most notably, the possibility of getting some kind of reimbursement for emergency services provided at the Forest Park Blue Line el station.
During the budget hearing, Olmsted suggested the village may want to consider implementing a tax on streaming services and/or the Places of Eating Tax on eateries that offer indoor dining. But she cautioned that because it wouldn’t be something that the state or the county would collect on Forest Park’s behalf, the village would need to hire additional staff.
The staff also briefly discussed potentially increasing parking meter hours along Madison Street. These meters, along the meters at the Forest Park Blue Line el station, have seen revenue increases during the 2022 fiscal year. Mayor Rory Hoskins said the current hours are set based on what the surrounding communities have set.
Commissioner Maria Maxham wondered whether there was a way Forest Park could get CTA reimbursements for police calls to the Blue Line el terminus. A look at the police reports shows that it’s one of the village’s major sources of police calls, though many calls involve minor matters such as graffiti or a broken window.
Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke said he was skeptical, noting that, if this was possible, other suburbs that have el stations, such as Oak Park, Skokie and Rosemont, would have done that already. He also wondered if it would create a slippery slope, since the same logic could apply to other major call generators, such as the Forest Park Walmart, 1300 Desplaines Ave.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes responded that “they already do it, through [their] property taxes.” – which CTA, as a government body, does not.
Police Chief Ken Gross noted that there were calls for CTA to restore its transit police, which was disbanded in the 1980s – but he argued that it wouldn’t solve the issue since such police would more likely focus their efforts on “hot spots” in the city.
Byrnes also argued that the village should look at the ways to get reimbursed for ambulance services to the Forest Park station.
“Ninety percent are non-paying people, who don’t have insurance or things like that, and we’re eating it,” he said. “I just think that somebody should be helping us out with that, whether it’s the state, the county, the federal government or the CTA.”
During the discussion of the public works portion of the budget, Commissioner Ryan Nero said the village may want to explore moving away from the current model of leaf pick-up, where residents rake them to the curb, and toward having residents put the leaves in bags.
“It keeps our catch basins clean, it’s less burden for [public works employees],” he said.
Commissioner Jessica Voogd supported the idea, describing it as a “no-brainer.”
Nero also mentioned the village might want to look at how it handles sidewalk plowing.
In a follow-up interview, Nero took pains to emphasize that he wasn’t proposing getting rid of those services altogether. He also said that, when it comes to snow removal, he didn’t have any particular changes in mind – he just wanted to “ask tough questions” to see if they spark ideas further down the line.
The officials also discussed reinstating the 50/50 cost-sharing program for public sidewalks. While public works director Sal Stella said the program died due to a lack of interest, Glinke said he still gets calls about it.
When a TIF district is created, the amount that gets collected in property taxes is frozen. When the property taxes increase, the extra money goes into the TIF fund, which can then be used for development-related expenses. The idea is that the development will increase property values, increasing property tax revenue in the long run. Once the TIF expires, any money that’s not committed to particular projects goes back to the taxing bodies, with the amounts calculated based on their share of the tax bill.
Forest Park currently has three active TIFs – the Brown Street Station TIF at the northwest end of the village, which will expire next year unless renewed, the Roosevelt/Hannah TIF covering the commercial areas on the south side of Roosevelt Road between Desplaines and Hannah avenues, which is scheduled to expire in 2025, and the Roosevelt Road Corridor TIF, which expires in 2038. All TIFs are projected to end FY2022 with surpluses.
Much of the discussion revolved around the Brown Street Station TIF, which is projected to have $4.4 million on hand by the end of FY2022. Glinke urged the village to figure out a way to spend as much of that money as possible before the TIF expires.
“I’m not suggesting that we burn the money but sending it back to other taxing bodies is not what the money is for in the first place,” he said.
Hoskins floated the idea of using GPS locators to track public works vehicles when they work within the TIFs, since maintenance is a TIF-eligible expense. Nero suggested using simple time sheets might be easier and could be implemented right away, but Hoskins said that using GPS data made more sense since, while time sheets can be fudged, GPS data is clear-cut.
Amidei suggested that the village should look at extending the Brown Street Station TIF – though, as he noted, that would require the support of all of the affected taxing bodies and the Illinois General Assembly approval.
The one great unknown is how the village will decide to spend $1.863 million in ARPA funds.
At the end of the budget meeting, Amidei passed around a worksheet detailing his suggestions for how the funding would be split. He declined to provide a copy to the Review, saying that he was reluctant to share draft documents. But based on the discussion, the expenses include fire station and public work building repairs, purchase of replacement emergency service vehicles, grants to Forest Park businesses, marketing assistance to the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and funds to retain village employees.
Amidei said that, while he would ideally like to spend more on other three, the maintenance backlog was too large to ignore.
“The Chamber — they would like marketing assistance,” he said. “What I have here is less than what they’re asking for, because we have a lot of needs.”