The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Landmark’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.
Name: Deborah A. Czajka
Previous Political Experience: Komarek School Dist. 94 School Board for 22 years, including 4 years as president; current North Riverside Village Trustee
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Mater Christi Women’s Guild, Komarek PTA, member, North Riverside Village Berm Committee; member, North Riverside Planning Commission, religious education teacher, Mater Christi Church
Occupation: Retired, District 96 Riverside, IL
Education: A.A in Early Childhood Development/Child Psychology
During the past two annual budget discussions, North Riverside trustees have been faced with steep general operating fund deficits. In 2021-22, federal COVID relief funds offset a projected $1 million deficit, but those funds are not available in 2022-23, a year in which North Riverside projects an approximate $900,000 deficit. Village staff have projected operating budget deficits of more than $2 million annually for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years.
With that as a backdrop, how would you as a village trustee approach the following financial issues:
1.With paramedic services coming back in-house and the village poised to hire six additional firefighters/paramedics over the next three years, North Riverside will be adding to its long-term pension burden. How will that additional pension burden be absorbed in future budgets?
Since my tenure on the village board began, I have committed myself to making sure that the village pays it required contribution towards pension payments. With these new hires in place, I will work to ensure that the village avoids taking pension holidays and continues to fund the ongoing pension costs year over year. With the onboarding of these new hires, the cost will be minimal due to these employees just starting their careers with North Riverside. As we continue to keep funding the pensions every single year at the required level, we should be able to keep up with our pension payments, so there will not be as much a strain on our annual budget.
2. Red light cameras, which produce more than $1 million in revenue for the village each year, will be removed from the Harlem/Cermak intersection this spring and could be permanently gone if the state does not approve a new application for their installation. Would you support reinstalling red light cameras at Harlem and Cermak once the intersection is improved this year? If not, how do you believe North Riverside can make up for that loss of revenue?
Yes, I am personally in favor of the red light cameras being reinstalled at that intersection once the improvements have been made. They seem to be generating revenue because there is an influx of drivers who are frankly disobeying the law and continually avoiding stopping at these lights. We don’t have the resources to position an officer at this intersection at all hours of the day. As much as people don’t like the concept of red light cameras, it’s been determined that the intersection of Harlem and Cermak is one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in the state of Illinois. This is why IDOT is committed to changing out the signals and rework lane configurations in an attempt to make the intersection safer as a whole. Looking at the amount of violations handed out by the cameras at that intersection alone, you can clearly see that traffic control methods like this are essential for the safety of residents. Placement of a red light camera at this intersection will hopefully continue to assist with deterring drivers from not stopping / speeding through these lights and hopefully avoid serious accidents in the future.
3. From 2017-19, the village embarked on a major project to improve its Cermak Road water main west of First Avenue. The project got as far as 11th Avenue before coming to a halt in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you believe that it is important for the village to continue this project and, if so, how can the village fund this work, which has cost almost $500,000 for each of the first three phases?
It is important for the village to continue this project. A project of this undertaking is essential for creating the right amount of pressure needed on the farthest section of town away from the stand pipe. We discussed as a board this project and we knew it would be a multi-year commitment. That is the reason why our current water rates are high. The board discussed the increase in water rates in order to cover those capital expenditures. Our water rate has been set to take care of the operating deficit in that fund. We have been operating this fund for 20 years and this is the first time we are operating in the black, as opposed to the red. Not only have we replenished our deficit, we have actually built up a surplus of funds to cover unexpected projects. So with that being said and with this project in mind, I feel we are able to handle the remaining phases of this project.
4. If the village were in a position to gain an adult-use cannabis dispensary, would you support such a use in the village? If yes, in what area of the village do you think it should be located? Do you believe that there are any specific village expenses that the village should prioritize using cannabis tax revenues?
Yes, I personally voted to change the zoning laws to allow for the establishment of a dispensary within our village. I feel that we have several possible locations in town as long as they maintain an acceptable distance from both residential areas and school zones. In terms of revenue generated from these business and how it should be allocated, I feel that we have a long list of large capital projects that the board has already identified. We have beautification projects, much needed reexamination of lead based pipes in the village, infrastructure projects, etc. Our town is 100 years old and we have 100 years of infrastructure that we’ve have only been able to piecemeal repair and this would give us consistent funding to focus in on areas of our infrastructure that need attention.
5. In the absence of a cannabis dispensary, would you support an expansion of video gambling parlors? How would you respond to those who believe video parlors should be limited to the existing 10?
I believe that a well run village is able to diversify its various revenue streams. We can’t focus all on one area (ie. video gaming parlors), despite the substantial amount of revenue they generate, which has taken off the pressure in some areas. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket. We need to continue to look at other ways to generate consistent funding, and i don’t believe additional gaming parlors is the answer.
6. Would you support placing a referendum on the ballot asking for the village to become a home rule community? Why or why not? Would you support seeking home rule status for the village?
Frankly, I’m not in favor of being a home rule community, but I’ll admit I need to further educate myself on the concept and its implications, just as the members of our community should as well. Ultimately, it’s up to the residents to make the choice and I hope they would do so only after fully understanding what it all entails. The key to home rule status is having a cohesive board that understands the operations of the village and one that is willing to listen to the professional staff at its disposal to help guide them in hard decision making.
7. Would you support placing a referendum on the ballot seeking to impose a tax levy to fund police and/or fire pension obligations? Why or why not? Would you support a pension levy referendum?
Possibly, but only if it’s done correctly and it’s phased in and manageable for the residents to absorb.
8. The village in 2020 bought the former Presbyterian church property at 24th Street and 8th Ave. How do you believe the village should determine the best use for that property? Should the village keep it? If so, for what purpose? If not, why not?
I believe that how the space is developed should really be in the hands of the village residents and not up to the board to fully decide. New, undeveloped green space is historically rare in land locked communities like ours, so the ability to capitalize on available space and transform it through a possible “green initiative” type project might be one of the better options. I personally feel that the best use of the land AS OF NOW would be to allocate it to the Rec. Department for outdoor activities, sports, etc. This allows us to maintain control of the property. Land does not depreciate in value. When the time comes to consider further development of the space through the use of our Economic Development Committee, THEN I feel it would be the time to turn to the residents to get their input on how the space can be utilized in the future and allow them a voice in the matter.