Last week’s Riverside budget workshop felt a little like a harbinger of spring – i.e. a healthy debate on village finances as part of a contested April election.
Village President Michael Gorman and his three majority colleagues won their election three years back on a promise to remake “out of control” Riverside finances for a new austere age. We actually haven’t seen great leadership or great change in spending priorities. Mainly we’ve seen small-ball decisions aimed at outlasting this grinding economic downturn.
The constant minority trio on the board alleges smoke and mirrors and says Riverside cannot continue on its current “unsustainable” financial path. We’d agree, except that the village seems to continue with minor budgetary tweaks year after year while retaining a reasonably healthy financial reserve.
Our conclusion would be that, while the rhetoric in Riverside has heated up in recent years in ways that have been both entertaining and uneducating, the actual governing in a small town takes place within the 40-yard-line markers and for good reason. Local finance, when handled responsibly is pretty much about incremental gains and losses.
It is good that modest raises are again possible for non-union staff. Beyond that, the debate is over notable small matters and priorities. Does the village spend its limited resources to staff up the north fire station by a few hours a week or invest in the future of the Historical Commission and its landmark water tower? Is it the right choice that staff development funding always is the first cut to make and what, mid-term, are the implications of that choice?
These are the immediate choices of the fall and, come spring, we’ll have a somewhat wider debate over the village’s future financial path.