For the first time in memory, the Village of Oak Park is looking hard at staff layoffs to balance a 2008 budget burdened by a $4 million deficit.

At the request of the village board, Manager Tom Barwin brought a proposed balanced budget to the table Monday, incorporating extensive cuts to staff, programs and services totaling over $4.2 million.

The board didn’t accept every recommendation. However, trustees approved downsizing that would include reducing the Oak Park/FYI newsletter to six issues per year to save $40,000 in printing and postage costs, laying off one of two animal control officers ($43,000), cutting a Peoplesoft consultant ($180,000), reducing the village’s Dutch Elm removal program ($50,000) and possibly keeping five positions in public works vacant next year ($365,000).

The board was set to review each department’s budget, on a line-by-line basis, in a meeting last Thursday. New trustees Ernest Moore, Jan Pate, Jon Hale and John Hedges, however, balked at that approach. Instead, they asked Barwin and his staff to return Monday with a balanced budget, cutting expenses to meet revenues.

“There’s a gap, and we want a balanced budget,” Moore said. “Therefore, let staff go back and determine how to close this gap. … They can do that better than we can do that.”

Senior board members Ray Johnson and Greg Marsey preferred the line-by-line approach but were voted down by the four new trustees.

“The reason we find ourselves in the position we are tonight, and the position we’ve been in for the last 45 days, is because prior boards have gone on the faith that everything was being handled based on the direction that was given to staff,” Marsey said. “Well, look what we got for our faith-no fund balance. We have a major problem here we have to address.”

Barwin responded by asking each department head to cut 10 percent out of their budgets. In an interoffice memo obtained by the Wednesday Journal Monday, Barwin broached the likelihood of layoffs just before going to the village board with the budget presentation.

He pointed to the sagging real estate market which reduces transfer tax revenues, a parking fund severely in the red, and already depleted reserves as the main contributors to the village budget crisis.

Local taxpayers are still reeling from tax-fed projects like two new junior highs, a new main library and and new public works facility, Barwin noted, and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the budget burden.

In the memo, Barwin even asked if anyone on staff is willing to be voluntarily laid off. Oak Park will also make other communities in the Chicago area “aware of the availability of our trained and professional staff who may be available due to our fiscal circumstances,” the note said.

The board didn’t accept every recommendation though, rejecting a proposed layoff of six police officers and firefighters. The measure would have saved hundreds of thousands from the largest expense in the village budget-public safety-but could compromise Oak Park’s well being. Barwin agreed, suggesting a more modest 5 percent cut in fire and police.

The board also frowned at a reduction in meeting tapings to twice per month (saving $9,000), among other cuts.

President David Pope and other trustees also disagreed with Barwin’s suggestion of keeping the Community Planning and Development director position vacant, saying it’s too important a leadership role in the village. Barwin agreed the position is important, but emphasized the potential $168,000 cost to fill it.

Staff will return with an adjusted budget draft Thursday for trustees to discuss. The board is scheduled to adopt a 2008 budget on Dec. 10.

Garage security on chopping block

Village Manager Tom Barwin is proposing cuts to garage security next year to help close the $3 million gap in the parking fund.

Last year the village paid $1.2 million for 34 security positions in its five garages. In 2006, 14 incidents of crime were reported in Oak Park’s five garages, a rise from nine the previous year.

So far this year, there have been 16 incidents. The number of employees was cut to 16 this year, at a cost of roughly $900,000. That cost will dip to $500,000 in 2008 if Barwin’s cuts are approved, although reduced position numbers weren’t available for this story’s deadline.

Barwin said all five garages have cameras and police patrols could make up for the security reductions. He also plans to start billing the library for security costs because under an overlooked contract clause, the library hasn’t been paying that fee since the garage opened in 2003.

Library Executive Director Deidre Brennan says the agreement between the library and the village states that her organization must pay security costs when expenses exceed revenues at the garage. She declined to comment on the library paying the expenses until she received more detailed numbers on the situation.

Barwin also hopes the high school will assume control of security at its garage, since they already have a security force in place. Only six incidents occurred at the garage in the past three years.

“There are very few incidents in garages-very, very few,” Barwin said.

Under the current 16-employee configuration, roughly 13 full-time employees work in the Holley Court garage, Deputy Village Manager Ray Wiggins said. Two employees patrol the other four garages and the other roves the village hall lot during late-night meetings, along with helping out at the other garages. The 2008 reduction is predicated on the village being freed of providing security at the library and high school, Wiggins said.

“The village’s effort is to ensure that our parking structures are safe as possible, and it’s been our effort to do everything we can in security measures to accomplish that.”

-Marty Stempniak

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