THE LANDMARK VIEW
Both North Riverside Mayor Ken Krochmal and Trustee Rocco DeSantis were right last week in a sometimes contentious back-and-forth about the village’s present budget woes.
Throughout the past two decades, said Krochmal, the village was very good to its residents. That is true. As the village’s commercial base grew – adding retail giants such as Best Buy, car dealerships and a host of others – the village saw sales taxes as a way to allow residents to avoid increased property taxes.
That’s one thing. The village also saw it as a way to subsidize residents’ utility and garbage hauling bills. The village threw big parties for itself. The Fourth of July festivities lasted almost all day and were capped with an extravagant fireworks display. And North Riverside celebrated itself in the fall of each year at “North Riverside Day.”
If there’s such a thing as a free lunch, North Riverside was buying it.
And residents were undoubtedly happy about the arrangement. The town’s dominant political party never lost an election.
Then the unthinkable happened. The gravy train pulled out of the station. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the economy tanked just as Mayor Richard Scheck decided it was time to leave office after two decades. His timing was prescient, because immediately upon leaving office the village board was faced with canceling its parties and asking residents to actually pay more for services they had been receiving for free (or partially free) all these years.
That’s where DeSantis comes in. He had it about right when in response to Krochmal’s statement that the village was good to its residents, DeSantis replied that, in reality, the village was being good to a political party.
Times were good for residents from 1989 to 2009 in North Riverside. They were great for the VIP Party. And now it’s time to clean up the dirty dishes and empty glasses.
The board made the right call last week in agreeing that the longtime practice of not increasing the village’s tax levy should cease beginning this year. It has made the right call in the past few years by rolling back subsidies for water and garbage pickup.
And, if it can be done, it would be the right call for the village to begin levying tax dollars to pay for its increasingly de-funded pension obligations.
Politicians at all levels get caught up in the “no tax” rhetoric that is always more pervasive when economic times get tough. No one has more money for taxes and people resent paying more, especially when they feel they’re getting less.
The reality is that property taxes are necessary to pay for essential services – clean water, garbage hauling, public safety. And the truth is that believing that someone else will pay your way – like all those businesses in town – is a mirage.
North Riverside government is in transition, morphing from a paternalistic model where one man ran the show, to a collaborative one, requiring the mayor, trustees and residents to make hard choices.
In many ways, it’s refreshing to see a village board not in total agreement on the issues. It paves the way for change, which is on the march in North Riverside.