Five years ago, right here on this page, we argued that Riverside’s downtown water tower and its attached pump house ought to be the eventual permanent home for the Riverside Historical Museum.

At the time – as we now know – the village was on the verge of getting a $5 million donation to fund a new recreation center. When that fell through, the recreation department needed a home and the pump house was declared the place. At least temporarily.

Any plans to change that set up were mothballed until recently, when village trustees once again dredged up the idea of perhaps rehabilitating the old Youth Center next to the fire department and transforming Centennial Park and its attendant buildings into a hub for history and tourism.

We still think that’s a good idea. But we also think it needs to be part of a comprehensive plan for the downtown. Riverside’s downtown is too small and too critical to its future to deal with these issues on a one-off basis.

Trustees Lonnie Sacchi and Ben Sells were tasked with digging deeper into the possibility of rehabbing or rebuilding the Youth Center, which is the key for any major realignment of service use for recreation or the museum.

As part of that investigation, we’d encourage the village board to re-embark on a comprehensive planning process for such a large-scale effort and to also investigate and present ways of funding such an endeavor. Otherwise, this latest idea, like so many before it, is doomed to be shuffled into the deck of wishful thinking that has characterized downtown planning in Riverside over the years.

Clock ticking on revenue

Speaking of revenue, Riverside’s 2011 preliminary budget is available for those interested in slogging through it. It looks a lot like last year’s budget, which proposed cuts in personnel and services, most of which were avoided by spending reserve funds (the bottom line was also helped by not having to spend about $100,000 in salary and benefits budgeted for a recreation director who left in February).

For 2011, the village manager is recommending spending down $700,000 in general operating reserves to avoid losing two police officer, another public works employee, and salary freezes for non-union employees, among other items. If staffing levels don’t change in 2012, that deficit number will grow to $1.2 million.

The point is, and has been for many years, that Riverside will reach the day where revenues have to increase or those services will end up being cut. There will come a day – oh, sure it’s a few years in the future and this board can simply ignore it and dump the responsibility on a future board – when Riverside reaches its financial day of reckoning.

Will this village board be content with riding off into the sunset, spending reserves while saying it never had to raise anyone’s taxes? Or will it confront the kinds of tough financial decisions, the ones that the board’s current majority said needed to be confronted, two years ago?

The clock is ticking.