Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Previous political experience:
Mayor, Village of North Riverside 2013-present
Trustee, Village of North Riverside 2009-2013
Previous community experience:
Village Zoning Board, 2003-2009
Village Ethics Board, 2005-2009
B.A. Loyola University, Cum Laude 1980
J.D. DePaul College of Law 1983
What is the present state of the village of North Riverside’s financial situation? What is being done and what can be done to ensure its long-term viability and make it more resistant to downturns in sales tax revenues?
During my first term as Mayor, the Village’s financial outlook has improved substantially and is considered stable. This was independently confirmed by an outside bond rating agency this past October when they rated the Village’s credit worthiness as stable. Over the past four years, my administration has passed a balanced budget each year, improved the financial health of all our major operating funds, replaced aging infrastructure, expanded our public services with new and improved recreation programs and a bus service for senior and disabled residents, consistently paid its annual pension costs for the Police and Fire Pension Funds and eliminated costly retirement health care benefits for employees moving forward. Most importantly, my administration has addressed the deteriorating financial state of the Water Fund, which was losing money every year for the past 25 when I first took office. Today, the Water Fund has stabilized and posted positive gains in past three consecutive fiscal years. This is significant as it now allows the Village to shift its focus to planning for upcoming improvements and replacement of its 80 year old water infrastructure system rather than struggling to meet its annual operating goals.
What is the realistic long-term solution for the North Riverside Fire Department? Does that future include a hybrid contract paramedic/union firefighter model? Wholly union? Wholly contract? How do you think your preferred model can be accomplished given the experience of the past two years?
Although the pensions have been fully funded for the past three years, the Village’s pension debt continues to grow at a rapid and unsustainable pace. This complete and uncontrollable spike in pension costs needs to be addressed or it will implode the Village’s finances and cause a complete elimination of other services our residents need and deserve. It is important to remember the Village has no control over the pension plans offered for its workers as these are State mandated plans. Until the State addresses and solves this statewide pension crisis, realistic but innovative ways to control pension costs must be considered. Limiting the number of full time firefighters eligible for these costly pension plans and supplementing our workforce with paid on call or contract firemen will not only help us reduce costly overtime but also keep our out of control pensions in check. This solution, although unpopular to some, is a realistic solution and needs to be considered for the long term financial health of the Village. However, to be successful, this concept must be agreed to by the Union Firefighters, which, so far, it has not. We continue to remain open to working with the Union to find a long term solution to this problem – one that will not jeopardize the other services offered to our community or the long term financial health of the Village.
Who is in charge of the building department right now? How are building department matters being managed right now, and how should they be managed in the future?
Our building department continues to be staffed by contract personnel and part-time workers that alleviate the need for costly full-time employee benefits and pension costs. This solution has worked well for the Village the past eight years and should continue.
Now that a major road improvement project has been completed, what is the next important public infrastructure project for the village? How should it be funded?
With the completion of our largest Street Program in Village history, we can now turn our attention to enhancing and replacing our aging water delivery infrastructure next. The main goal four years ago was to regain control over the Water Fund’s financial performance – which we have. During that time, the Village began a comprehensive surveying program to televise and inventory all our water and sewer lines so we could easily identify weaknesses in our system and plan for future improvements while rebuilding our negative net position in that fund. A comprehensive water rate analysis was performed to ensure our rate structure could support both current and future operating and capital costs. We have identified specific deficiencies in our water delivery system that will need improvement in the next three years and will begin planning for those replacements within our regular budgeting cycle.
Would the village benefit from a comprehensive planning process, perhaps as part of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning a la Riverside and Brookfield? If not, why not?
Our Village is so very different in its residential and commercial makeup than Brookfield or Riverside. We already have a designated business district along Cermak and Harlem Roads which includes the Mall, car dealerships and Costco development and have formed viable partnerships with those owners to ensure development and commercial activity remains in the Village’s best interest. We annexed the national armory many years ago and created a zoning plan for redevelopment of that property should it ever become vacant. Some acceptable zoning uses for that property should it become available for redevelopment include a mixed use of senior residential housing, light commercial uses, and a hotel to accommodate patients and family from Loyola.
Do you support red light cameras? If so, why? If not, how would you replace the revenue from cameras now earmarked for pension obligations?
Red light cameras, although unpopular, are beneficial in assuring drivers obey current traffic laws. They also have been a benefit by solving crimes by having extra “eyes” at those heavily traveled intersections. The revenue derived from them is an unintended benefit which has been used 100% to fund our public pensions. The revenue collected from these cameras is not enough to cover all our pension costs, so without this revenue, the Village would be looking to increase other fees or eliminate vital public services to meet is growing annual pension costs. In theory, our pensions are being paid by non-residents if ours obey the laws. This keeps residents’ taxes low and services high.
What are the other important issues facing North Riverside in the next four years? How should those be addressed?
Keeping our services high and taxes low is a challenge which must be faced on a daily basis. However, our biggest challenge for the next four years will be to find a long term solution to reducing the Village’s growing pension debt without it affecting the level of services offered to our community or the Village’s tax base, which is the foundation of our financial health.