North Riverside faces budget squeeze in 2018-19

Most recent fiscal year ended in the red; officials trying to close gap

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

As North Riverside officials prepare for their two days of budget workshops later this month, they'll be faced with stemming the flow of red ink that characterized the 2017-18 fiscal year, which ended on April 30.

Sue Scarpiniti, the village's finance director, said expenditures outpaced revenues in the general operating fund by about $477,000 in the recently ended fiscal year. The general fund pays the day-to-day expenses of village operations, like employee salaries and benefits.

North Riverside's village board and department heads will convene on Tuesday, May 30 at 5 p.m. to finalize a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which began May 1. Trustees must pass an appropriations ordinance, the document providing the legal spending authority for the village, by the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year, July 31.

With police and fire pension costs expected to rise another $400,000, and with sales tax revenues, at least temporarily, expected to take a hit with the impending losses of Toys R Us, Carson Pirie Scott and Tony's Finer Foods, the new budget is expected to be a challenging one.

That doesn't include what financial impact the new West Central Consolidated Communications dispatch agency will have – though an early estimate late last week had Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. seeing stars.

Hermanek said estimates indicated North Riverside's contribution to WC3 during the 2018-19 fiscal year would be $1.1 million, which put the first draft of the village's operating budget in a $2 million hole. 

"I'm flabbergasted by it," said Hermanek, who added he has called for a meeting with WC3 Executive Director Jason Rodgers this week to clarify the cost estimate. "This will just cripple the village. How do you come up with that kind of money? You can't nickel and dime $2 million."

Reached on May 11, Rodgers said he was trying to nail down those cost estimates.

"I need to get better information to them," Rodgers said. "It doesn't seem right to me either."

WC3 will work on a calendar fiscal year. The agency went live on May 8 and is working off a partial budget for 2018. During the last 12 months, all three partner communities in WC3 have split more than $1 million in costs, much of it for information technology infrastructure and remodeling the North Riverside police station to accommodate the center and its activities.

The $1.1 million referenced by Hermanek would indicate annual costs for WC3 of more than $3 million, since each municipality shares costs equally. That kind of outlay would be alarming for Brookfield and Riverside officials as well.

During North Riverside's 2017-18 fiscal year, the village saw higher-than-budgeted expenditures for both police services and general village administration. Fire department spending was right at plan, though that department has seen its staffing levels fall in recent years due to retirements and terminations.

A comparison of expenses since fiscal year 2013-14 shows that costs for general administration have increased by 100 percent since that time, from $1.37 million to $2.75 million annually.

That increase far outstripped the increase in costs for police (29 percent) and fire (36 percent), despite the village beginning to pay its full pension obligations in those departments during those years.

The reasons for the large jump in costs for administration, said Scarpiniti, is that operating transfers all fall under administration, in addition to paying salaries and benefits for administrators.

Removing the transfers from the equation results in personnel cost for administration rising by 35 percent since 2014, more in line with other departments.

"The transfers to other funds were $705,000 in 2014 and just over $1.8 million in 2018," Scarpiniti said.   

Also counted in that 35 percent figure, said Scarpiniti is an expected payment of $66,000 in new state fees on the village's non-home rule sale tax and a new municipal telecommunications tax.  

The fees "account for approximately 10 percent of the 35 percent increase just by itself," Scarpiniti said.

As costs have risen, the village has also found a couple of new sources of revenue.

North Riverside's annual property tax revenues have increased 16.5 percent in the past four years. After two decades of freezing its tax levy, the village in recent years has levied additional property taxes allowed by Illinois law, adding about $75,000 to its coffers compared to 2014.

But the village has seen much more dramatic increases in its revenues from its places-of-eating tax, which has almost tripled since 2014 to nearly $1 million in the most recent fiscal year.

North Riverside in 2017-18 collected about $205,000 in video-gambling revenue, a source of income that barely scraped $30,000 in 2014.

Red-light camera citation revenues also remain a critical source of revenue for the village. In 2017-18, red-light camera citations brought in about $1,375,000. The village collected another $1,333,500 in revenue from the Illinois Comptroller's Local Debt Recovery Program, which allows the village to go after unpaid red-light camera tickets.

Total fine revenue in 2017-18 was estimated at $3.2 million. For 2013-14, revenue from fines accounted for $662,000.

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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