By Bob Uphues
The village of North Riverside postponed its annual budget workshop last month after its predicted share of costs for funding a new consolidated emergency dispatch agency came in higher than anticipated.
Members of the village board had expected to hammer out its budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year at workshops on May 30 and 31, but that exercise now has been pushed to July 5 and 9 at 6 p.m.
North Riverside's village board must pass an appropriations ordinance, which sets the legal spending authority for the village, by the end of July.
Initially, North Riverside officials believed their share of the cost for West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) for fiscal year 2018-19 would top $1.1 million,
That figured was dialed back somewhat – Mayor Hubert Hermanek says it's more like $900,000 for fiscal year 2018-19 -- after North Riverside officials met with Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances, Finance Director Karin Johns and President Ben Sells on May 21 to seek clarity on costs. Riverside's finance department is handling financial accounting of WC3 at this time.
While North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti said she had included in her budgeting some capital expenditures that have already been paid, North Riverside's share of total operation expenses is still being nailed down.
Part of the problem is that WC3 and North Riverside's partners in the joint agency, Brookfield and Riverside, are on calendar fiscal years while North Riverside's fiscal year runs from May 1 to April 30.
"We're still trying to sort through all the numbers and verify everything," Scarpiniti said. "Our number was a little high, but it was a starting point until we could get better numbers from WC3."
Eventually, the village of North Riverside, like its partners, ought to see a cost reduction for operating the joint dispatch center, compared to running its own operation. But during 2017-18 and 2018-19, in getting the center up and running, the partners have taken a bigger hit.
"We're in agreement with Brookfield and Riverside that at some point in the future, it'll just be operating costs," Scarpiniti said.
That is having a direct impact on North Riverside's budget, which is already reeling from the upcoming loss of three top sales-tax revenue generators in Toys R Us, Carson Pirie Scott and Tony's Finer Foods and from the state of Illinois continuing to claw back a portion of state shared income taxes and the village's non-home rule sales tax.
North Riverside is also planning for its police and fire pension obligations to rise by another $400,000 in 2018-19.
"It's a perfect storm," said Hermanek. "You've got the three stores, the WC3 and plus another $400,000 in pensions. It's all at once, so the telecommunication issue couldn't come at a worse time. It's hard to swallow."
Scarpiniti said she and village department heads are combing through departmental wish lists, reviewing and prioritizing them.
The village has also instituted a hiring freeze for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Two police officer positions still vacant will remain unfilled this year, and three open firefighter positions will also not be filled. Scarpiniti said the positions would be eliminated from the 2018-19 budget completely in order to avoid budgeting for vacancies. Hermanek said replacing employees who retire during the 2018-19 fiscal year also won't be automatic.
"The goal is that hopefully we can do this budget without having to lay off any full-time people," Hermanek said. "We're doing whatever we can to accomplish that."
Residents and business owners can expect to share the pain as well. Modest increases can be expected for liquor licenses, vehicle stickers and water rates. The village will also explore raising its E911 surcharge, a fee charged to every phone line in the village to fund emergency dispatch services.
Of the three WC3 partners, North Riverside's E911 surcharge is the least at $1.25 per line per month. North Riverside will seek to increase the surcharge to $1.50 to match its partner communities.
"The village will be looking into evening the playing field with WC3 on that issue as well," Scarpiniti said.