After three years of presenting budgets that froze salaries and laid off or furloughed employees, Riverside Village Manager Peter Scalera and new Finance Director Jessica Frances offered a budget that steered clear of such harsh measures.
During a budget workshop on Sept. 25 that lasted a little less than two hours and came a month earlier than usual, village trustees spent most of their time sparring over budgeting policy. Very little in the way of proposed expenditures in the proposed 2013 budget was debated by trustees.
The village board intends on approving its 2013 operating budget in November. The document is typically passed at the board’s final meeting of the year in December.
According to the budget document, non-union employees are in line for raises of 2 percent, which equals the raises they received in last year’s budget. For the second straight year, non-union staffers will not receive merit pay increases. Union employee raises are guaranteed by their contracts.
In addition, the village will increase daytime staffing of its north fire station in 2013. Presently, the village schedules three paid-on-call firefighters to man the north station from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Beginning in 2013, the daytime staffing hours will be expanded to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. According to Fire Chief Spencer Kimura, the additional hours are needed to ensure greater coverage during the evening hours.
The village has a mutual aid agreement with the village of Lyons, which also employs paid-on-call firefighters. Lyons staffs their station at night, said Kimura, beginning at about 9 p.m. Adding two hours to the Riverside daytime manning closes the gap between the time Riverside firefighters leave the north station and Lyons firefighters come in to work.
The south station in Riverside is manned 24 hours a day by paramedics who are also firefighters.
“Ultimately, my goal is to increase that staffing [of the north fire station],” said Kimura in a separate interview.
As a result of their discussion on Sept. 25, village trustees are looking at a preliminary budget that predicts a deficit in its general operating fund of about $10,000. That deficit could be erased, however, pending the outcome of a discussion regarding some funding earmarked for the village’s Historical Commission.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine questioned a $5,000 increase in the commission’s budget, saying that the village’s operating funds shouldn’t go toward fundraising for the museum, effectively turning general operating funds into funds sequestered for use by the commission only.
The commission has its own cash reserve, estimated at about $73,000, which the commission could use for fundraising purposes, said Ballerine.
“It seems strange that we would use [general fund] money for them to then go get donations, and then those donations come back and are restricted,” said Ballerine, who is also uneasy about spending general operating funds on the commission’s efforts to determine whether it would be feasible to open the water tower’s observation deck to the public.
First, said Ballerine, the village board needs to create a master plan for renovating or building facilities, from fire and police facilities to recreation and the historical museum.
“Until we know where the top is, we can’t deal with the bottom,” said Ballerine.
Members of the Riverside Historical Commission are expected to present their case for the increased funding from the village in October.
The 2013 budget does include cuts to staff professional development, training, supplies and some equipment purchases.
Trustee Jean Sussman argued that the $27,000 in staff development cut from the budget should be reinstated, but her proposal was voted down 4 to 3, with Village President Michael Gorman and trustees Lonnie Sacchi, Mark Shevitz and James Reynolds voting no. Ballerine and Trustee Ben Sells voted yes along with Sussman.
Shevitz successfully called for reinstating $10,500 in cuts that would have reduced maintenance of village-owned properties, including a fire station, the recreation building and village offices. Sells, Sussman and Ballerine joined with him to reinstate that funding.
Both Sells and Sussman, however, criticized the majority’s mandate that staff present a strictly balanced budget. Sells argued that the budget document was not a true reflection of the village’s budgetary obligations.
“I think some of these numbers were given under duress,” said Sells. “I want a realistic budget that gives the actual numbers of what it takes to maintain the village.”
Sussman agreed and said that mandating a strictly balanced budget and giving the impression that the village was on track financially was misleading.
“This is an unsustainable budget,” Sussman said.
“I think that’s important for people to know,” she added. “By giving you the directive of a balanced budget, given current revenues and current expenditures, it’s an unsustainable budget.”
Scalera admitted that the village’s current level of expenditures would outpace predicted future revenues.
“It will become impossible for me to reduce all of these items because, doing so, I would [limit] their ability to provide services to the community,” said Scalera.
The greatest savings in the 2013 budget was realized by the village’s paramedic contractor agreeing to freeze the rate it charges Riverside for another year. The decision will reportedly save the village $100,000. In October, the village board is expected to agree on a new contract with its paramedic service provider.
The contract reportedly also allows the village to request proposals for paramedic service, with a possible change in providers as early as 2014.