North Riverside officials whittled down a projected general operating fund deficit in its 2021-22 fiscal year budget by about half, which means the village can expect to eat into its cash reserves to the tune of about $1.6 million by the time the fiscal year ends next April 30.
If that comes to pass, it will be the third straight year North Riverside has finished in a negative position, after general fund deficits of about $40,000 in 2019-20 and $1.2 million in 2020-21.
On July 26, the North Riverside Village Board voted to approve its 2021-22 appropriations ordinance, setting the village’s legal spending authority, by a 4-2 vote. Voting in favor were trustees Jason Bianco, Deborah Czajka, Fernando Flores and Terri Sarro. Voting against were trustees H. Bob Demopoulos and Marybelle Mandel.
The expenditures outlined in the ordinance mirror those in the budget, said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti.
“Although we’re projecting those types of deficits, it’s really hard to predict with certainty when you have such volatile revenue streams such as sales taxes and places-for-eating taxes,” said Scarpiniti, referring to the village’s most important revenue streams funding operations.
“As a result, you adopt budgets with extremely conservative levels of funding, so you’re in a position to be flexible as the year goes on. If you over-project, you wind up putting yourself in a worse situation.”
That said, Scarpiniti was able to close what had been projected as a roughly $3.1 million general fund deficit using a combination of accounting strategies, including raising projected sales tax revenues by about $400,000.
Sales tax receipts this year have been higher than anticipated, Scarpiniti said, and the village also now has a better idea of when a new Amazon Fresh grocery store, which has been under construction for the better part of a year, will open.
Scarpiniti said the grocery store hopes to open either in time for the holidays or shortly after Jan. 1. They have already applied for a sign permit and liquor licenses.
The village hopes to increase the amount it collects in fines issued by police by more aggressively pursuing collections with a third-party company.
Within the past month or so the village has also rolled out its new truck scale, which they’re employing to catch overweight trucks and issue fines. The fines from those violations is hefty depending on how overweight the trucks are. Police have issued several citation already, with fines totaling around $90,000 total.
Scarpiniti said she hopes after court costs and the like, the village can realize 50 to 60 percent of those overweight truck fines.
Village officials were also able to reduce general fund expenditures by estimating just how long certain new positions — village engineer, deputy fire chief, assistant village administrator, finance director and two new firefighters – will be unfilled.
A new public works director is expected to be named in early September, but it could take some time before others, such as the deputy fire chief, are filled. The budget also reduces the amount projected in police and fire department overtime, and shifts about 60 percent of public works personnel expenditures to the water enterprise fund, based on the amount of work the village intends to do in that division.
Officials also eased the strain on the general fund by earmarking about $250,000 annually in motor fuel tax funds to pay the debt service on alternate revenue bonds issued in 2016 for a major road repair project. Up to now, that debt service has been paid via the general operating fund.
The budget does not yet reflect any funds the village will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic to assist municipalities recover related costs.
North Riverside has been allocated about $875,000, but it’s unclear what will qualify for reimbursement using relief funds. The village would like to earmark most of their funds to go toward the water fund, which ate a residential water credit totaling about $700,000 meant to give relief to homeowners.
The village may also reimburse the general fund for relief it gave business owners in the form of no-cost business and liquor licenses in 2021.