The village of North Riverside will host a public hearing on its 2021-22 appropriations ordinance on July 12 at 6 p.m. at the Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave., but work to close a preliminary general fund budget deficit of about $3.1 million is likely to continue all the way until trustees vote to adopt the ordinance later in the month.
Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti told the Landmark she would have firmer numbers sometime this week but said it’s likely trustees will need to dip into the general fund cash reserves to balance the final budget.
“We’ll still be in a deficit position [after making final budget amendments],” Scarpiniti said in an interview last week. “By the time everything is adjusted, [the deficit] will probably be under $1 million.”
If that’s the case, it will be a second straight year where the village was forced to take a good chunk out of cash reserves to balance the budget. The village’s 2020-21 fiscal year, which started May 1, 2020, just after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, ended with a general fund shortfall of about $1.1 million.
The general fund reserve of nearly $6 million at the start of the last fiscal year was more than enough to absorb that blow, but the preliminary 2021-22 budget showing a more than $3 million deficit would have put the village on the road to a negative general fund reserve in 2023.
Scarpiniti, who has been handling the dual roles of administrator and finance director since early 2020, also is projecting general fund deficits of more than $2.5 million in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
While general fund revenues are projected to be about $1.7 million more in 2021-22 than the most recently completed fiscal year, a good deal of the projected deficit in that fund is due to some significant proposed increases in operations, particularly police and fire services.
Police operations in 2021-22 are projected to cost the village $9.6 million, about 43 percent of total expenditures in the village’s $22 million preliminary budget in the general fund, which pays for day-to-day operations of the village, such as salaries and benefits.
Of that $9.6 million police budget, about $2.5 million of the expense is the village’s police pension obligation.
Village trustees at their June budget workshop also gave tentative approval for spending about $130,000 to replace two police squad vehicles; $34,000 this year and $30,000 annually over five years to outfit police officers with body cameras; $9,500 to replace the department’s 20 Taser weapons; $23,440 to purchase an automated e-ticket/crash report system to automate adjudication of those incidents and reduce paperwork; and $8,500 for a portable truck scale to enforce weight limits for semi-tractor trailers traveling through North Riverside.
The preliminary budget also projects a roughly $800,000 increase in fire department expenses, which are expected to be about $6.3 million in 2021-22. Part of the plan is to hire two new firefighters and to bring back the position of deputy fire chief. The new position is a $128,000 line item, a cost that will be offset somewhat by having that person perform fire inspections now handled by the part-time fire marshal, a position that will be eliminated, according to Scarpiniti.
Like police expenses, pension obligations represent a significant chunk of fire department expenses. In 2021-22, the village contribution has been estimate at about $1.7 million.
Together, police and fire pension obligations account for 19 percent of the 2021-22 preliminary general fund expenditures. Overall, police and fire operations amount to roughly 72 percent of the budget’s general operating expenditures.
Scarpiniti also plans to continue to reorganize village hall staffing, with administration expenses projected to increase year over year by about $325,000.
Scarpiniti has gotten the go-head to begin advertising for a new finance director, freeing her up to concentrate on the administrator’s post to which she was hired permanently in May.
Trustees also tentatively have agreed to Scarpiniti’s proposal to hire an assistant village administrator, whose roles would include overseeing the building department, which could be more closely aligned in the future with the public works department.
Scarpiniti is evaluating the best organizational structure for public works now that two of its most senior employees, Public Works Director Tim Kutt and Water Supervisor Ed Durec, are retiring this fall.
Trustees have given a preliminary OK for Scarpiniti to create the new position of village engineer, who would also be under the direct supervision of the assistant village administrator and have some duties related to the building department.