By Anna Lothson
Rebuilding its finances and planning for the future are the hot-button items at the heart of Oak Park's 2013 budget, which was introduced to finance committee members Monday for first review.
An in-depth discussion about the details didn't take place since it was the first time the committee has seen the 165-page, $51.5 million draft budget, the group did bring up one expense that was approved for the 2012 budget but never implemented.
Interim Village Manager Cara Pavlicek explained that an economic development director position discussed during last year's budget and approved by the board was left on a backburner.
Monday night, however, Pavlicek told the board it would be beneficial to implement such a position so departments could be better connected when addressing the village's economic health.
The role of an economic development director, an administrative level employee with a salary in the range of $110,000 plus benefits, drew some discussion about what type of person should fill that position.
Trustees Bob Tucker and John Hedges said they'd like to see someone who is a specialist in the economic field and who would be out in the community more than at their desk. Tucker hit on the point that he wants a "doer" instead of a manager.
Pavlicek said the challenge of the economic development director position is finding a person with a broad set of skills who understands the intricacies of the many departments in the village.
The position has been discussed for several years but finally filling the role could help the ease the burden on other departments where resources could be better collaborated.
"The [village] manager [for example] actually gets to manage," Pope said.
Pavlicek said that without an economic development director, there remains a disconnect on a number of items outlined in Oak Park's municipal code. Many divisions in the village are related, she said, but not all are consistently connected with the village manager.
"We need to address these inconsistencies," she said.
Budget management remained the theme during the committee's meeting, particularly the fund balance and aiming for more efficiency. Trustees recently passed a measure calling for the village to maintain a 10 percent fund balance, a number that has yet to be achieved.
"We really want to get to the point where we are getting ahead," President David Pope said. That includes being more intentional about where funding is going, he added.
"We really should budget what we should spend," Hedges commented. He, along with Tucker, agreed that it's important to have a better plan for where the village's finances are headed.
Pavlicek said a review of the past few years, as well as looking forward, will certainly be part of the budget planning process.
"Looking back has given us some good thinking," Pavlicek said.
Pope said the concept of having a five-year look back and five-year look forward isn't a new concept for the village. He also stressed the connection between economic development and planning for the future.
"It's a continuum," he said.
A public hearing on the 2013 budget will be held in October, and the final budget is expected to be adopted by the board in November.
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