The Village of Oak Park might be facing a $1 million shortfall in its general operating fund next year, according to the first glimpses at the 2007 budget staff members presented last week.

New Village Manager Tom Barwin warned that the budget is very preliminary, and that this is the first Oak Park budget for him and Gloria Gibson, the interim finance director. The process of gathering information for the budget normally would start mid-year, but was delayed by Barwin’s August arrival.

Barwin said the budget staff has prepared to date does not include funding for Elementary School District 97, nor for a parking garage planned for North Boulevard.

“There is some uncertainty as to whether the resources are even available” for the garage project, Barwin said.

That’s because much of what’s expected to be in the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund has been already claimed by other projects and to the carve-out agreement that removes newly constructed buildings from the TIF to benefit schools and other taxing bodies.

Barwin said the village has $500,000 payments remaining to Whiteco over each of the next four years, a balloon payment coming on the bonds sold to pay for the purchase of the Colt building, and the Holley Court garage expansion and improvement costs. Marion Street improvements are the next priority, estimated to cost $5 million.

Last year’s budget shows the Downtown TIF was expected to have roughly $6 million at the end of 2006.

Village staff members are working on a TIF analysis, which should be finished later this week. The report is expected to include a look at what’s in the TIF now, as well as the TIF’s future earning potential.

But Trustee Ray Johnson took “strong exception” to the idea that funding would not be available for the North Boulevard garage.

“It’s premature” to cross the garage project off the list, Johnson said. A planning process is underway for the proposed garage and other downtown infrastructure improvements. Nothing can be done-including engineering work, or other preparations for street improvements or a garage-until the plan is finished, Johnson said.

In any case, Barwin said the planning process for the garage is well-timed so that the village can develop a list of upcoming projects that have realistic cost estimates attached to them.

Revenues in the village’s General Fund are projected to climb about $2 million to just more than $47 million. Barwin said the village’s levy-money the village gets from property taxpayers-will be about $15.7 million, close to last year’s amount.

He’s not projecting a tax increase, and trustees said last week that they would like to see spending reduced to balance the budget. The board will study the budget over a half-dozen or so meetings in coming weeks.

In a memo to the board on the budget outlook, Barwin said that to help cut the deficit the village might consider selling some of the properties it owns.

“A high priority of the board in early 2007 would appear to be to initiate a process to sell surplus village-owned property,” he wrote.

In an interview, Barwin said “surplus” properties might include buildings such as the long-vacant 826-28 S. Oak Park Ave., three buildings on west Lake St., or even the Colt building.

“It’s not like any of these will result in winning the lottery,” Barwin said. The added income-and possible resulting market-led development-would benefit the village.

The board has discussed selling off property, and would pick which properties to sell.

Trustee Robert Milstein said cutting costs this budget cycle will require a tough look at what services the community is willing to do without.

“Let’s be blunt. You can’t cut police services,” Milstein said. “It’s going to be interesting, this budget.”

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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