Riverside trustees on Oct. 21 gave their unofficial OK to the village’s 2022 budget, which includes a number of big-ticket capital purchases funded in part by federal COVID-19 relief funds. Those funds are being earmarked to buy a new fire engine and ambulance.

The village board will hold a public hearing on the budget at its next meeting on Nov. 4 and then vote to adopt the budget at its meeting on Dec. 2.

As presented, the budget estimates a general operating fund surplus by the end of 2022 of a little less than $80,000. General operating revenues in 2022 are projected to come in at a little more than $10.6 million, just a 1-percent increase over 2021 revenues of $10.5 million.

However, that 2021 projected revenue figure ended up being far greater than the revenue estimates approved in the 2021 budget, which was crafted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and based on a pessimistic outlook that turned out to be not quite so bleak.

In 2021, the village estimated its total operating revenues at about $9.27 million, a significant drop from 2020 revenues of nearly $9.9 million. Village officials now estimate that operating revenues will come in at $10.5 million. That’s a 6-percent increase over actual revenue in 2020 and 13-percent greater than budgeted.

Among the revenue line items that came in much higher than anticipated were state sales taxes, which came in 62 percent higher than anticipated. That figure was bolstered even further by $372,000 collected in 2021 as a result of a new 6.25-percent use tax levied for online purchases.

The village’s places-for-eating tax revenues also rebounded to nearly pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and nearly 60 percent higher than budgeted. And home construction projects continued to be strong in 2021, with building permit and inspection fees coming in at $530,000. That’s the highest total since 2017 and 34 percent more than was budgeted in 2021.

Such strong revenues in 2021 were able to offset operating expenditures that were nearly 8 percent over budget and mean the village will end the year with an estimated general operating fund surplus of nearly $746,000.

Fire engine, ambulance get COVID funding

Riverside has been awarded $1,164,090 in relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on municipal budgets across the country.

All or nearly all of those funds will be used to buy a new fire engine and a new ambulance, both of which were in the village’s near-term capital improvement plan. Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley had placed the fire engine in the plan for 2023 and an ambulance in 2025.

With the federal windfall, which can be used for purchases related to public safety, the decision was made to move up those large purchases, which otherwise would likely be funded by taking on debt.

There’s also the matter of how long it will take to have the vehicles delivered. According to Buckley, it could take a year or more to take possession of the new fire truck, which comes at an estimated $750,000.

The new engine, which will become the fire department’s front-line vehicle responding to all emergency calls, will replace an engine purchased in 2003. The department will keep an older 1996 engine that was custom-built for Riverside and remains in better mechanical condition that the 2003 engine, according to Buckley.

On Oct. 21, village trustees gave the go-ahead for staff to begin mapping out specifications for the new engine and begin the ordering process for the engine and the ambulance given the expected lag in delivery.

The delay could be compounded by the fact that Riverside desires a vehicle with a shorter wheel base to navigate the village’s winding streets and sometimes tight turns.

“Finding the chassis is the hard part because of the shortage of computer chips,” Buckley told the Landmark. “It’s probably going to be a year or even up to 18 months at least, so we want to start [the process] pretty quickly.”

The new ambulance will replace what has become known in the fire department as its “COVID ambulance,” reconfigured to provide a sealed barrier between the cab and patient compartment and allow for easy repeated decontamination. Purchased in the early 2000s, the ambulance has been used heavily over the past 20 months.

New police, public works vehicles

Next year’s budget also sets aside $181,000 to purchase three new vehicles for the police department. Two will be new patrol vehicles, each budgeted at about $64,000, while the third will be a 2021 Chevy Tahoe that will become the department’s “incident command vehicle” assigned to Commander Leo Kotor and equipped to serve as a command center during critical incidents, special events and natural disasters.

The budget also includes a $90,000 line item for the purchase of two pickup trucks for the Public Works Department. Those vehicles will replace two pickups, which the village purchased in 2004 and 2008 and are used daily for landscape maintenance, snow plowing, forestry activities and general transport.

One of the pickup trucks now being used by public works will roll down to the Parks and Recreation Department. 

Village office renovation

With the 2022 budget, village officials will also begin tackling longstanding issues with municipal facilities, which were the subject of a 2018 study that concluded that just to update existing facilities would cost between $7 million and $9 million.

Next year will mark the creation of a special Municipal Facilities Repair and Maintenance Fund, with the village contributing an initial $175,000 and staff beginning the process of assessing what it will take to update/retrofit facilities such as the old Youth Center, the police department and main fire station.

Elected officials in September consented to the idea that the village issue debt to fund large renovation projects. That debt issuance will likely take place in 2023, when the debt issued to build the public works facility in Riverside Lawn retires. The new debt would replace the retired debt so as not to further increase property taxes.

In the short term, however, the village plans to tackle at least one facilities project – renovating the village hall offices located inside the Riverside Township Hall. The renovation, pegged at $150,000 in an August memo from Public Works Director Dan Tabb, would include reconfiguring the space to better align with the reorganized Community Development Department, provide more private offices and create a communal area for inspectors and interns.

The work would also include modifying the front desk/window area of the village offices and making security improvements to that area.