What stories will we be following in 2011? You can bet these issues will be at the top of our list:

Stories about Riverside-Brookfield High School have been consistently the most read and commented on in the Landmark the past three years. And no wonder, because the high school has been in a state of constant flux since mid-2008 and has been a hotbed of controversy since at least 2006 when voters passed a tax referendum for a major construction effort.

Voters in April will face another tax referendum, this time to fund school operations. It was a vote residents were promised they’d see someday. Such a tax request was inevitable, school officials told the communities. It might have passed back then.

In 2010, officials painted various scenarios of what can be expected at the high school should the referendum fail. None of the scenarios is pretty.

No matter the outcome of the referendum, RBHS will continue to feel its way along. It will have a largely inexperienced school board, a new board president, a principal still in her first year, and a brand new superintendent.

And budget issues will remain. How the high school leadership deals with financial matters will have an impact on the school and these communities for years to come. We predict events at RB will be the most compelling story for both towns in 2011.

Brookfield was able to weather 2010 financially by tightening the belt and getting all village employees, union and non-union, to agree to wage freezes. Next year’s budget depends on that same kind of shared sacrifice.

Early in 2011, residents will get a good idea of just how receptive police and firefighters are to going another year without pay raises and just how precariously the village’s now-balanced budget sits.

The village is just beginning to rebuild its financial reserves and will be loath to spend them away. No consensus on matters of pay from its union employees means staffing cutbacks, pure and simple. And in 2012, public works clerical employees – fresh off two years of frozen pay – will likely take their lead from police and fire negotiations. The tough times aren’t over.

Riverside officials have been warning residents of an inevitable financial shortfall for so long, it has begun taking on the air of myth. But the day of reckoning is slowly approaching and officials have really not begun to deal with the root issue of revenues growing slower than expenditures.

With an uncontested election in April, the debate won’t happen in a campaign setting, but with the prospect of spending much the village’s cash reserves within the next few years, we’re guessing this is the year elected officials will take this bull by the horns once and for all.

If not, it’ll be up to the next board to do the work promised two years ago.

Also beginning early in 2011, Riverside will see the first step in a fundamental change in the landscape ¡ª the removal of Fairbank Dam on the Des Plaines River.

Will it have a dramatic, lasting, negative impact? The answer is we probably won’t know the full impact for many years after the Hofmann Dam is notched in 2012. It’ll be fascinating to watch how that story develops.