Riverside will go into 2012 with an operating budget that has zero wiggle room. Trustees on Dec. 19 passed the spending plan – where $8,056,160 in planned expenditures matches projected revenues exactly – by a 5 to 1 margin.
For the third consecutive year, the budget was balanced in large part by deferring planned expenditures. The biggest deferred line item is $242,600 the village board won’t contribute to the vehicle replacement fund from the general operating fund. It’s the second straight year the board has declined to make that contribution.
The board also decided to cut $32,000 from the budget for tree trimming. The board also trimmed planned expenditures for employee training, equipment replacement and seasonal public works employees.
However, the budget includes no cuts to full-time positions and does include a 2 percent pay raise for non-union employees. In 2011, the pay of non-union staff was frozen.
Jean Sussman, the lone trustee to vote against the budget, did not speak on Dec. 19. However, she laid out her rationale for voting against the budget at the board’s prior meeting on Dec. 5.
As she has the past two years, Sussman supported much of what was in the budget document, but criticized the budgeting process, which she considers incomplete and short-sighted. The budget, Sussman said, fails to account for expenditures for vehicles and pension obligations that will have to be made in the future.
“Put quite simply, the proposed 2012 budget does not accurately represent estimated expenses,” Sussman said. “This budget is a deliberate misrepresentation to our residents of our expected expenditures. I cannot support it.”
In a separate interview, Sussman said she wants the board to talk about its future obligations and craft a policy on how to fund them.
“We don’t talk about the future,” Sussman said. “The board should be having these discussions and we’re not.”
Trustee Ben Sells also criticized the budget, although he ended up supporting the final product. His reason for doing so, Sells said, was because of the decision this year of awarding 2 percent raises to non-union village employees. He said that was possible because village staff held the line on costs in 2011.
According to the budget document, Riverside predicts it will finish 2011 with revenues outpacing operating expenses by $317,989. Last year, the village board passed a budget that projected a deficit of more than $250,000 but instead will end up with a surplus.
“The two reasons that swayed me [to vote for the 2012 budget] was staff – the savings they generated from 2011 – and I supported the raise for the staff.”
But Sells also disputed the notion that the 2012 budget was truly balanced, when it doesn’t take into account deferred expenses.
“It sends a false impression of where things stand,” Sells said.
Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, who is the village board’s finance chairman, has disagreed with Sells in the past over the charge that the board is hiding deferred expenses. He also criticized votes against the budget as being spiteful. The budget was the result of compromise on the part of all trustees, he said.
“Not every trustee is happy with it, I know. It doesn’t have everything I want in it, either,” Sacchi said. “But I don’t think we should take our bat and ball and go home. I think we have to realize that it’s primarily … the direction for the staff to spend money for the fiscal year and I think once again it’s a good work product. It’s not perfect; no budget ever is.”
However, he did agree with Sells that the board has to find a way in the future to fund capital expenditures, like vehicle replacement, which are inevitable.
“I’d like to see some kind of funding put in place for regularly occurring capital needs,” Sacchi said.
In the past year, the board has come to a general consensus that in 2014, when bonds issued in 2004 retire, a new bond issue for capital expenses could replace it. But Sells said that decision won’t be the answer to the many capital projects facing the village in the future.
“It might approximate, kind of, our usual capital needs, but it doesn’t take into account, for example, our vehicle needs,” Sells said. “Let’s not pretend that the 2014 bond issue is some kind of panacea.”