When it comes to the fiscal health of North Riverside, trustee candidate Deborah Czajka acknowledges that it has been a challenge to balance budgets, but she says that she has confidence in the management of North Riverside under Administrator Sue Scarpiniti and Finance Director Ryan Lawler.
“Sue has been very frugal with rainy day funds and stuff like that, so I think Sue has a little bit of a game plan,” said Czajka during a one-on-one interview with the Landmark at the Village Commons on Feb. 8. “I trust her and her guidance with the board so we can make these big financial decisions.”
Scarpiniti officially was named village administrator in May 2021 after serving in an interim capacity for more than a year. She had served as the village’s finance director since 2001.
With respect to concerns about future village revenues, particularly with the impending loss of red-light cameras at Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road for an unknown period of time when reconstruction begins there sometime this year, Czajka said the village had already made some decisions to offset that loss.
She pointed to a new fire department initiative to seek a greater share of Medicaid reimbursement through the state for ambulance services as a revenue generator. She also said the village’s decision to bring paramedic services in-house and hire more firefighters would cut down significantly on overtime expenses.
Czajka also pointed to an economic development plan currently in development as a linchpin for future success. The management at the North Riverside Park Mall has reached out to the village in the past week or so to inform them of potential redevelopment of the former Carson Pirie Scott property, said Czajka.
She also, while declining to reveal any details, said plans were in the works to redevelop the former bank property at the corner of First Avenue and Cermak Road.
“I’m telling you, we’re going to have some irons in the fire,” Czajka said. “I have really high hopes. And I really think with a cohesive [village] board we’re going to move this village forward. We’ve heard the voices [of residents] and it’s time to act.”
Czajka said the village could perhaps exert pressure on the owners of the North Riverside Park Plaza shopping center, where Urban Air is now the anchor, and the former Frank’s Nursey and Crafts property across 25th Street to invest cleaning them up or in redeveloping them.
“Look at all that potential there,” Czajka said.
Optimistic that the village’s finances are not in jeopardy, Czajka said she was not in favor of exploring home rule.
“I don’t see that that’s going to fly,” Czajka said. “It puts a lot of power into the government, and if you don’t get the right people in there, that’s going to hurt.”
She also ruled out exploring a tax levy to fund pensions at this time, saying she would consider it only as “a last resort.”
Czajka also said she is not in favor of creating TIF districts.
“I’m not a big fan of them,” Czajka said, adding that she feared large investments by the village in a TIF district could have a negative impact if the economy turned bad and redevelopment didn’t follow.
If Czajka is elected on April 4, it will be for her third term as village trustee. She is running on the North Riverside United slate, along with Nicholas Tricoci and Tony Santucci for one of the three trustee seats up for grabs.
Czajka, 62, was first appointed to the village board in 2013, replacing her ailing husband, Randall. She was elected as part of a VIP Party ticket for her first full term in 2015 and re-elected as a VIP candidate in 2019.
Prior to serving on the village board, Czajka served on the Komarek School District 94 Board of Education for 20 years. She retired from a 21-year career as a paraeducator at Hauser Junior High School in Riverside in June 2022.
Asked why she wants a third term as trustee, Czajka said, “I saw what’s happening in the town and thought, ‘I can’t let it go.’”
“Sue is really good about projecting the future – red-light cameras and all the financial minefields and how are we going to navigate through these minefields,” Czajka added. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to give it a shot and see if we can get through this.’ People paint an awful picture, but Sue and Ryan have been an amazing team, and I know we can do this.”
Raised on the west end of the village, Czajka was introduced to North Riverside politics early on. Her grandfather, Joe Broucek, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in the 1960s.
She and her husband, Randall, got involved in local issues on the 1980s after moving to Lathrop Avenue, across the street from the North Riverside Park Mall. They were active in what was known as the “berm committee,” pushing mall officials to build a landscaped berm along the shopping center’s west border to provide a physical and visual barrier from the neighborhood.
Due to that involvement, the late Mayor Richard Scheck suggested Randall run for a seat on the North Riverside Library Board, which he won. The couple moved back to the west end of the village and Czajka successfully ran for the District 94 school board.