North Riverside trustees passed the village’s appropriations ordinance on July 17, two weeks before the state deadline, as has been their practice for as long as anyone can remember.

The fiscal year began May 1, so the first quarter has come and gone without the village deciding exactly what it would be budgeting to spend. The final version of the budget has still not yet been released to the general public on the village website. The original preliminary budget anticipated a $1.3 million deficit. After several budget workshops, that deficit had reportedly increased to about $1.5 million.

On July 10, a week before passing the appropriations ordinance, the board met in an administrative committee session to set legislative priorities for the fiscal year, ones that would have an impact on spending in 2023-24.

The three priorities they settled on were the most glaring – the need to complete a comprehensive plan for the village, overhauling the village’s zoning code and addressing the village’s police and fire pension obligations.

Of the three, the two most straightforward ought to be completing a comprehensive plan, which will provide future boards with essential direction for future commercial and residential development in specific areas of the village – the central commercial core near Harlem Avenue, Cermak Road west of First Avenue, 26th Street and, yes, the National Guard Armory property.

Overhauling the zoning code will be a key ingredient in making the direction in the comprehensive plan realistic to accomplish.

We are loath to predict the future, but we can already read a few tea leaves when it comes to coming to a consensus on how to guide future development in the commercial core area, particularly the North Riverside Park Mall property.

It’s no secret that the mall’s owner wants to redevelop the west side of the property after acquiring the former Carson’s parking lot. They may also be interested in picking up the former Sears property, which is back on the market after being sold earlier this year.

That’s going to take planning expertise the village simply doesn’t have right now. For a village with such an important commercial base in flux, it would seem that North Riverside is going to need an actual community development department, with full-time staff dedicated to planning and economic development.

For more than a decade, the department has been staffed by a series of contractors brought in to address the need of the moment. North Riverside isn’t like other small towns of its population; it can’t be run like one.

And that gets us to the $4 million annual pension obligation. The costs are real and they are permanent. They need a permanent solution.