The village of North Riverside nailed down its 2019-20 operating budget last week, with trustees agreeing on a final document that shows a roughly $313,000 operating deficit, which will be covered using cash reserves.

Residents can comment on the budget at a special public hearing that has been called for Monday, July 1 at 6 p.m. at the Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave. Trustees are expected to vote to approve the budget and pass an appropriations ordinance at their meeting on July 15.

State law requires municipalities to pass an appropriations ordinance, which sets spending limits, by the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year. North Riverside’s fiscal year began May 1.

“It’s very lean, considering what the village has gone through with the fluidity of stores coming in and out,” said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “But we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.”

Overall revenues are projected to be flat year over year, with officials budgeting conservatively on sales tax income based on recent uncertainty in the retail sector.

With the loss of Toys R Us, Carson Pirie Scott, Fallas and Tony’s Finer Foods in 2018-19, the village saw its sales tax receipts fall about 5 percent from the previous year. Despite that weakness, the village’s 2018-19 operating budget posted a slight surplus, according to unaudited numbers for that year.

One of the reasons for that was the village’s efforts in recent years to diversify its revenue streams. In the past decade, the village has installed red-light cameras, imposed a places-for-eating tax, allowed video gambling to flourish and amended its amusement tax structure to capture revenue from places like Round One, which in just six months of operation in 2018-19 brought in $104,000 in amusement tax revenue alone.

“I’m most proud of that,” said Hermanek of those efforts. “We started in 2013-14 to diversify and spent a lot of time trying to figure out avenues to expand revenue without affecting local taxpayers.”

Amusement tax revenue is expected to grow in the future with the opening of Urban Air Adventure Park in the former Tony’s space in 2020 and a planned expansion of the movie theater at North Riverside Park Mall. 

The 2-percent places-for-eating tax now accounts for more than $1 million annually and red-light camera ticket revenue continues to be strong despite some indication that it is declining slightly.

Red-light ticket revenue in 2018-19 dropped almost 30 percent year over year in 2018-19 to about $980,000. Part of that drop was a continuation of slow payers, but much of it was explained by a three-month period where the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road was under construction. Red-light camera enforcement is halted during construction projects.

In 2018-19, the village also collected $1.3 million in fines, most of it from red-light violations, through the state comptroller’s Local Debt Recovery Program, which deducts local fines from state tax returns.

Between those who pay the violations in 2019-20 and the money the village expects to collect through the comptroller’s program during the present fiscal year, North Riverside expects to collect $2.4 million.

For the fourth straight year in 2018-19, the village saw a double-digit percentage increase in tax revenue from video gambling. Last fiscal year the village collected about $266,000 in video gambling income, up from $211,000, a 26 percent jump.

With the state proposing to allow establishments an additional gambling terminal, and at least one more gambling location in the pipeline, the village is planning for a 27.5-percent increase in that revenue stream in 2019-20.

Officials are projecting a 3 percent increase in operating expenditures, to $18.8 million. That increase will largely go to pay for village employee salaries and benefits, which make up about 71 percent of the operating budget. 

Police officers and non-union village employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay raise in 2019-20. Firefighters will not see an increase in pay for the fifth straight year, since they are still working under the terms of the contract that expired in April 2014.

The budget has little in the way of capital expenditures, except for the ongoing water main replacement effort on the west end of the village. That work is being paid for through the water fund, whose revenues have been bolstered in recent year by aggressive rate increases to water customers in North Riverside.

The village will forego purchasing new police squad cars in 2019-20 and has put off the purchase of new heaters for the public works garage. There is a $235,000 line item in the budget for the purchase of an ambulance, but that will be dependent on the village receiving a grant to finance its purchase, said Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti.