Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Previous community experience: Treasurer of the Hispanic Organization of North Riverside (HONR), Former Vice-President of Mater Christi Membership and Active Member, Financial Board Member for Mater Christi Church
Occupation: Electrical Inspector at ComEd
Education: High School
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?
The financial outlook of the Village has improved substantially and is considered stable. This past October an independent outside bond rating agency rated the Village’s credit worthiness as stable. During the past four years Mayor Hermanek’s administration has passed a balanced budget every year, improved the financial health of all our major operating funds, replaced aging infrastructure, consistently paid its annual pension costs for the Police and Fire Pension Funds and eliminated costly retirement healthcare benefits for employees moving forward. Public services for the Village were expanded with new and improved recreation programs and a bus service for senior and disabled residents. The deteriorating financial state of the Water Fund was also addressed. The Water Fund was losing money every year for the past 25 years before Mayor
Hermanek’s administration, today the Water Fund has stabilized and there have been positive gains in three consecutive fiscal years. We should continue to explore creative revenue streams to ensure our long-term viability.
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?
The pensions has been fully funded for the past three years, but the Village’s pension debt is growing at a rapid and unsustainable pace. This issue needs to be addressed in order to ensure that the Village can continue to provide the services our residents need and deserve. The Village has no control over the pension plans offered to its workers as these are State mandated plans. We need to explore realistic but innovative ways to control pension costs. A realistic solution is limiting the number of full time firefighters eligible for these costly pension plans and supplementing our workforce with paid on call or contract firemen. The future would include a hybrid paramedic/union firefighter model. Even though this solution is unpopular to some, it will not only help us reduce costly overtime but also keep our out of control pensions in check. We remain open to working with the Union Firefighters to find a long term solution to this problem.
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?
The building department is overseen by Karyn Byrne, our Code Enforcement Officer, and a Village Administrator. For the past eight years the building department has been staffed by contract personnel and part-time workers that alleviate the need for costly full-time employee benefits and pension costs. This current structure has worked well for the Village and should continue in the future.
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?
The largest Street Program in Village history was recently completed successfully. The next important public infrastructure project for the Village is enhancing and replacing our aging water delivery infrastructure. We have regained control over the Water Fund’s financial performance, and a comprehensive water rate analysis was performed. We have identified specific deficiencies in our water delivery system and we 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?
A comprehensive planning process would benefit our Village not because our Village is very different in its residential and commercial makeup than the surrounding communities. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency’s goals are more geared towards inter county transportation issues. Our Village already has a planning process in place. We 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. The national armory was annexed many years ago and a zoning plan for redevelopment of that property, should it ever become vacant, was created. That property could be redeveloped into 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?
Isupport red light cameras for a variety of reasons. They are beneficial in making sure that drivers obey current traffic laws. Red light cameras also help fight crime because they provide extra surveillance at heavily traveled intersections. The cameras were not installed with the intent to generate revenue from them, but this unexpected benefit has been used 100% to fund our public pensions. This revenue is not enough to cover the costs completely, but it has helped substantially. Without this revenue the Village would have to increase other fees or eliminate essential public services in order to meet the growing annual pension costs.
What are the other important issues facing North Riverside in the next four years? How should those be addressed?
Our biggest challenge for the next four years will be to find a long term solution to reducing the Village’s growing pension debt. We hope to find a solution that would not affect the level of services offered to our community. Our primary goal is to keep our services high and taxes low.