By Bob Uphues
Officials in North Riverside indicated they would like to launch the village's first-ever strategic planning process as it looks to manage its financial future in a world where relying on sales tax revenues from big-box retailers increasingly is a risky strategy.
In August, the village board's Finance, Health and Appropriations Committee recommended naming a strategic plan steering committee which includes trustees Joseph Mengoni and Terri Sarro, along with representatives from the Community Development Department and the general managers of both the North Riverside Park Mall and the North Riverside Plaza shopping centers.
The strategic planning steering committee has not yet convened, but Mengoni said he hoped to get the process rolling this month.
Mengoni said the village sets budget objectives each year, but that those objectives don't tie into a larger plan for the future. And while the main shopping district near Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road and those property owners are vital to include in the conversation, the strategic plan will have a wider focus.
"I see this as being village-wide," said Mengoni. "If [Robert Kallien] is contracted to [lead the strategic plan process], they are going to have to tap into everybody."
The village's budget set aside $10,000 for consulting services for "economic development." Whether that will be enough to fund a full strategic plan remains to be seen but likely could be amended by the village board.
"I think this will give us a road map of where the village needs to go in the future," said Mengoni.
Sarro volunteered to be part of the strategic planning steering committee after Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos declined a seat at the table, citing a possible conflict of interest as the owner of a business that leases space at North Riverside Park Mall.
With separate initiatives – a possible code update, tabulating more than 400 responses from a recent online economic development survey and an ambitious recommendation by a newly formed advisory commission to turn the shopping district into a mini-Rosemont
-- going on at the same time, Sarro said the strategic plan is a way to set, prioritize and implement goals.
"We really need a plan to help guide us in a direction and go out into the future," Sarro said. "I'm hoping the planning process helps us with business development in the business district, but we have the whole village to look at."
Both Mengoni and North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti met last month with Robert Kallien, a consultant who in May provided the village with a study of existing conditions and a range of options for pursuing future planning projects.
Among those recommendations was commissioning a strategic plan that could guide officials in a comprehensive way as they approach development proposals. He also suggested an overhaul of the village's code, which hasn't been updated in almost 30 years, among other things.
Kallien said he's scheduled to meet this week with Village Administrator Guy Belmonte and Scarpiniti to get a better understanding of what the officials want to accomplish with a strategic plan and just how comprehensive they'd like it to be.
"I don't think it's set yet," Kallien said in a phone interview last week. "We've had very preliminary conversations. We need to get everybody on the same page."