Oak Park village manager asks for too much money, says trustee

In tight budget, issue of discretionary funds for manager sparks discussion

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By Jean Lotus, Contibuting Writer

The Oak Park village manager's office came in under its budget by more than $144,000 in 2010. That was the report at Tuesday's first of the season budget review meeting with the village board. And Village Manager Tom Barwin said, "We're working harder and leaner."

But looking ahead to the 2011 budget, Trustee John Hale said Barwin's office was asking for too much money in the first place. "We want to have a budget that is realistic. In this economic environment every dollar counts and needs to be accounted for," he said.

Hale took exception to several items in the village manager's proposed budget. Hale, who is not running for reelection in the spring, proposed $85,000 that could "easily" be cut by halving Barwin's requests.

Specifically, Hale referred to

Association dues memberships: $66,000 up from $45,000 reported so far in 2010

Special Events: $20,000 up from $895 spent in 2010

Employee Events: $20,000 up from $6,915

Contingencies: $20,000 up from 0 ($783 was spent in 2008)

Contractual Services: $50,000 up from $591 last year

"It doesn't make sense to have a line item where you haven't spent anywhere near that in the past couple years," said Hale at the meeting.

Barwin said after the meeting that over five years his office has developed a reputation for frugality. "We don't spend money just because we have it."

As to Hale's objections, Barwin said that by year's end, the membership costs will be almost identical for 2010. Concerning special events, Barwin said that money for Oak Park festivals like Oaktoberfest helps market the village to visitors. "I have no problem if the board majority does not want to participate in special events," he said. Barwin defended feting his employees occasionally with a "picnic" or recognition ceremony because they're all working harder with less staff. As for "contingencies" Barwin said that sometimes an opportunity or a crisis presents itself which must be acted on right away. The village manager's office needs to be "nimble" and not "wait two weeks for a board meeting."

"We meet almost every week. That issue has very seldom come up in the past four years." said Hale. "He just wants to have discretion. If he has contingencies, he can ask us about it."

As for $50,000 for outside contractors, Hale told Wednesday Journal, "We don't want the manager hiring outside contractors without coming to the board first." He referred to the thousands of dollars in consultants' fees that the PeopleSoft software program cost before the board knew what was happening. "The manager wants to spend as he sees fit."

Barwin said that $13,500 of the outside contractor funds requested were for a community-wide International City Manager Association survey—done periodically. The remaining amount was in reserve in case the village got the chance to participate in a municipal renewable energy consortium, or put solar panels on the parking garages. "For strategic issues we might need analysis and help."

"Then put it in the budget," said Hale.

Barwin says his budget approach was a matter of philosophy. "My belief is that managers have to have room to be creative," he said at the meeting. Later he said, "This is a healthy conversation to have. The board's role is to scrutinize [the budget]."

Reader Comments

9 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 6:05 PM

Ms. Melara,I don't think the story provides the impression that money budgeted is always spent; to the contrary. The funds allocated in this particular line item were not spent beyond some of the examples you provide.I am not aware of any 'management retreats' and there are no expenses related to that which I've seen. The point the board is making relates to creating a budget which does indeed more truly reflect actual and expected expenses.

Liz Melara from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 5:18 PM

many of us Village employees were surprised at the amount budgeted for employee events. aside from clean up day pizza, and tokens for employee anniversaries - where does this money go? Maybe it's for Management Retreats because the rest of us are not seeing it.

Tad Wefel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 30th, 2010 12:19 AM

Its time to stop talking about having public money available if something arises. Its the public's money. We as a village need to stop thinking about a Village and start remembering who it is that IS THE VILLAGE.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 7:55 PM

The issue is zero based budgeting, an accounting process that was good in the 1980's, but does not make much sense in the 21st Century. While zero based drives managers toward being cost effective and sometimes detects inflated budgets, it is a slow response process that take the executive eye off the budget strategy and places it on the minutia. Using zero based budgeting is a morale destroyer. No manager wants a bean counter looking over HisHer shoulder when they have proven frugality.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 4:54 PM

Ray Johnson, if I recall correctly, Mr. Barwin seemed to indicate next year the real estate market may improve and it would be a good idea to knock down the parking lot at Forest and Lake street. Do you think that would be a good idea, since you say we're still in tough economic times? Maybe things should hold off until the developer can really secure funds to begin their hotel project.

Ray Johnson - Village Trustee from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 1:11 PM

A broader view of Monday's meeting shows majority board support for additional spending reductions. A majority of Trustee's asked ALL departments to go back through their budget and review discretionary spending. Certainly, no one at the board table suggested canceling Village participation in special events, but rather have staff rationalize spending increases. We're still in tough economic times and while the Manager and Board have worked together to reduce expenses, we can do more.

Ray Johnson - Village Trustee from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 1:02 PM

Mr. Scharre - we were able to make adjustments in last years budget and increase plantings for 2010 to previous years levels and for 2011, a $50,000 Forestry increase is currently proposed.

Tom Scharre from Oak Park, Il  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 11:29 AM

So in the last 24 months the Village has spent $783 in contingencies, but Mr. Barwin feels he needs $20,000 next year? And even though the Forestry Dept. cut the tree planting budget from a modest 100K to a laughable 50K, he wants 20K for employee "picnics"? Hey, put those bucks into some trees; the crew can stop by my house afterwards for some weenies & beans. On my dime. Consultants...outside contractors...long range strategic planning...how about some short-term common sense?

Teresa Powell from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 10:59 AM

Special events like Oaktoberfest are funded by local business associations. The Village hosts Day In Our Village and the Annual Fourth of July Diversity Parade.

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