North Riverside trustees are all in agreement that they would like to hire three additional police officers and three additional firefighters during the 2022-23 fiscal year, which started May 1.

Doing so would create an additional expense of roughly $556,000, an amount that will fairly rapidly increase as the new emergency personnel receive contractually negotiated step raises. 

Those new personnel would also add to the village’s pension obligation, which for the fiscal year – without adding in the new officers – is already projected to be a little more than $4.2 million – almost 20 percent of the village’s entire budget, according to the 2022-23 preliminary budget, which elected officials have been wrestling with since late May.

On June 20 at a budget workshop scheduled after that night’s regular village board meeting at 7 p.m. at the Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave., trustees are expected to finally make a decision about what new expenses and revenue streams or budget cuts they will make prior to adopting the budget and passing an appropriations ordinance in July.

The desire to beef up the roster of police officers and firefighters is in conflict with the reality of North Riverside’s preliminary budget, which – before adding in any wish-list items such as more personnel and other big-ticket items — projected a deficit of nearly $1.7 million.

At the most recent budget workshop on June 6, Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti told elected officials that she had made adjustments to sales tax projections that have taken that projected deficit down to roughly $920,000. 

The hiring of additional police officers and firefighters would result in significant savings in the $1 million paid out to current staff in overtime, but that benefit would fade as those personnel earn higher salaries.

As of June 6, trustees had not ventured many suggestions for raising the additional revenue needed to fund new personnel or capital items nor did they suggest possible cuts in services to offset the new costs. And their reluctance to do so has frustrated Scarpiniti, who needs policy direction from elected officials to produce a final budget document.

“We’ve been asking the board to make some of these hard decisions for years,” Scarpiniti told trustees at the end of a nearly three-hour workshop on June 6. The budget workshop on May 21, which lasted almost five hours, produced little in the way of direction.

Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos suggested that perhaps the budget projections were not that dire given Scarpiniti’s track record of conservative revenue budgeting. The village board, for example passed a 2021-22 fiscal year budget that showed a general operating fund deficit of $1.2 million. The village ended the fiscal year about $370,000 in the black.

“The cash receipts reports are phenomenal. Our businesses are rocking and rolling,” Demopoulos said. “Sue budgets for a catastrophe, but most of the time we don’t have worst-case scenarios.”

Scarpiniti argued that she budgets revenue projections she knows are certain and that retail sales and other sales taxes collected can be volatile.

“I have no idea when to expect inflation at 7 or 8 percent or if we go into a recession,” Scarpiniti said. “This is what I know and can guarantee what we collect. It is imperative we stay conservative on revenues.”

The surplus the village experienced in 2021-22 was unexpected and achieved only though a one-time $1.1 million injection of cash through the federal American Rescue Plan Act in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Take away that revenue and we would’ve been right on in our projection of an operating deficit,” Scarpiniti said.

Some new revenues already agreed to by trustees – increased vehicle sticker fees, a new fee charged for the village’s new rodent mitigation program and charging the maximum license fee of $250 for each video gambling machine in the village – have already been incorporated into the general operating fund projections.

Trustees in their workshops held on May 21 and June 6 also agreed to increases in water rates and waste hauling fees in order to pull those funds, which are separate from the general operating budget, out of the red.

The one tangible suggestion for raising operating revenue floated by Trustee Jason Bianco was lifting the village’s cap on the number of standalone video gambling cafes, which is limited to 10.

“It’s in our best interest to look into that again,” Bianco said on June 6. “The moratorium is only cutting us out of revenues.”

Video gambling has become a fairly lucrative revenue source for North Riverside. The more than 100 machines in the village’s bars, restaurants and gambling parlors brought in about $440,300 in 2021. In April of this year alone, the most recent month for which there is data, the village collected $42,000, putting the village on course for collecting close to $500,000 in 2022.

But trustees were not wholly receptive to Bianco’s suggestion. Trustee Terri Sarro, who has been leading the budget workshops and is the chair of the village’s board administrative committee, said the proliferation of gambling parlors has been a sore spot for many residents.

“We have all as elected officials received complaints from the residents not wanting more,” Sarro said. “We have to take that into account.”

The village board is required by state law to pass an appropriations ordinance by the end of the first quarter of the fiscal year, which is July 31. While the board is on pace to do that, there are fundamental questions that remain unsolved going into the board’s June 20 workshop.