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:
Trustee, Village of North Riverside 2013 – Present
Board Member at the North Riverside Library 2010 – 2013
Previous community experience:
Illinois Department of Human Rights Chairperson
VP of Residential & Clinical Services
UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago
Education: Bachelors Degree in Business Administration University of Phoenix 2006
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 Village’s current financial condition has improved greatly since I was elected four years ago and our healthier financial outlook goes along with improving, enhancing and adding services to our residents. I have to say that our financial situation keeps getting stronger each year. We have passed balanced budgets over our four years in office, looked to innovative revenue sources to help bridge any financial shortfalls and have worked diligently with department heads to impose cost saving measures as necessary. This includes making 100% of our pension payments each year since taking office. While the expected cost for our public pensions and post-employment insurance benefits have doubled in four years, this situation is more the result of retirees and their spouses living longer and drawing more demands on the plan’s benefits than originally anticipated. Unfortunately, these costs will continue to grow until there is some sort of reform to our current pension system by the State. Every time the pension funds fall short of expectations, the Village and not the employees or beneficiaries are on the hook to make up that difference. These shortfalls ultimately revert back to our residents. I am proud to say that through our hard work we have been able to establish financial safeguards should something unforeseen happen such as any downturns in sales taxes or the State of Illinois stops paying its bills on time.
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?
Unfortunately, the Village’s pension debt continues to grow at a pace that cannot be sustained and therefore until there is true pension reform within the state, we need to look to our own cost saving measures and make unpopular choices without risking other services. I believe we need to work with the Union Firefighters in crafting an agreement that would truly reflect the savings needed by the Village to maintain its financial integrity while maintaining the department as a whole. This will take a give and take by both sides and I am committed to meeting with Union members and Village administration to bring this agreement to fruition.
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 remains staffed by Karyn Byrne, a part-time contractor, and a mixture of other part-time contract inspectors and village employees allowing us to keep costs down. I believe this is the best way of staffing this department since the majority of large-scale construction is over with. There is no longer a need to have employees in the department on a full-time basis.
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?
Now that the road improvement project, sewer lining and televising are complete, it is time to focus on our aging water delivery system. This current board voted unanimously to pass along water rate increases from the City of Chicago and initiate the monthly maintenance fee to all residents so that our water fund could operate in the black with fees going towards future improvements. Although unpopular, this decision was absolutely necessary to save the Water Fund from further financial stress and allow us the means necessary to fund future costly repairs and replacements.
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?
The Village is a member of CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) currently and that has allowed us to address inter-county transportation issues with the installation of a Village wide bike path. The overall objective of CMAP is to provide comprehensive regional planning for seven vastly different counties in the Chicagoland area, with a large focus on inter-county transportation issues. Since we live in a very unique village that is landlocked with little room for growth, this makes actively trying to work with CMAP on development projects almost unnecessary. We already have residential and business areas carved out. The only future zoning issue would be the national armory annex which has some acceptable zoning uses already identified should this property become available.
Do you support red light cameras? If so, why? If not, how would you replace the revenue from cameras now earmarked for pension obligations?
Yes, I am in favor of red light cameras. Red light cameras make motorists slow down at busy and crowded intersections where accidents typically happen. Red light cameras provide an added safety measure on our congested roadways. Second to safety is that the revenues generated by these violations allow us to earmark those funds directly towards paying our pension obligations. If this source was eliminated, we would have to find approximately $1.5 million dollars annually from other taxes and sources and/or possibly cut or eliminate services.
What are the other important issues facing North Riverside in the next four years? How should those be addressed?
I believe that the important issues facing the Village over the next four years will be maintaining the high level of services we provide to our residents while at the same time keeping costs down. One major area to watch will be what the City of Chicago does with their water rates since those seem to be going up annually and have to be absorbed by each and every one of us living in town. Another area facing the Village is coming up with a solution to the growing pension debt. I believe that this is something that needs to be addressed by the state and our legislatures in the form of some sort of pension reform bill. Small villages like North Riverside cannot spend all our tax dollars on pensions and forgo all other needed services and if a solution isn’t found, some communities will find that their pension obligations outweigh their tax revenues similar to what we are currently experiencing.