North Riverside’s village board wrestling annually with how to reconcile projected budget deficits of $1 million or more is such a common occurrence that you can almost set your watch to them.
As we head into the tail end of the Fiscal Year 2023-24 first quarter – the fiscal year started May 1 – trustees face a roughly $1.5 million deficit in its operating budget.
It was originally about $1.3 million, but the board has consented to hiring two additional police officers and a deputy fire chief, in addition to the six firefighters it hired in the past year.
Adding that level of staffing – with police and fire staffing coming with commensurate long-term pension obligations – is a structural change that either needs revenue behind it or a reduction in expenditures somewhere.
The village has applied for federal grants for both the new fire and police hires, which would help out at least in the short term. However, those grants are no sure bet and they are only effective for a few years before the entire expense falls on the village.
By the time those expenses fall on North Riverside, the salaries of the firefighters and police officers, due to front-loaded step raises, will have gone from about $60,000 to close to $100,000 each, not including benefits and pension contributions.
While in recent years the village board has benefitted from stronger-than-expected revenues – in 2022 from federal COVID relief funds and in 2023 by stronger state shared taxes – approving deficit budgets on the fortunes of the market is very risky business, indeed.
On July 10, the village board is expected to meet in a committee session to talk about legislative priorities. One of the topics, we’re led to understand, will be to once again broach the subject of asking voters to approve a referendum that would create a specific tax levy to fund police and fire pension obligations, which run at around $4 million annually.
That subject has met a wall of resistance in the past, both from residents who don’t want to pay more in property taxes under any circumstances and elected officials who, naturally, enjoy being re-elected and don’t like getting yelled at by their neighbors.
But, if we’ve said once on this page, we’ve said it a thousand times: If you want premium-level public services, you will have to pay a premium to maintain them.
The village’s annual operating expenditures are projected to be about $22 million. Police and fire expenditures account for $15.8 million of that number, about 72% of all village operating expenditures.
If the village ever wants to get to a point where it can budget sustainably, it’s got to address that issue. Budgeting on faith is not a plan.