Village Manager Tom Barwin, last week, asked every department head to cut 10 percent of their expenses to help balance the 2008 budget. In response, staff eliminated over $3 million in costs, including several layoffs.

In addition, Barwin targeted three of the village’s “partner agencies,” which get a slice of the budget pie from the village each year: Oak Park Development Corporation, Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Oak Park Area Arts Council.

The board approved a roughly 10 percent cut to all three Monday, which will be adopted tomorrow as part of the 2008 budget.

OPDC-a catalyst organization providing financial perks for businesses to open in Oak Park, thus increasing sales and real estate tax revenues-suffered the largest cut, a $53,000 reduction.

“It means fewer grants and loans,” John Eckenroad, OPDC president, said. “It’s kind of like taking $53,000 worth of seed away from the farmer; you can’t grow as much.”

All but $100,000 of OPDC’s budget comes from the village. They had a $630,000 budget projected for 2008 before the cut.

“I think the village has a major financial set of circumstances they’ve got to work with, and we all get to share that,” Eckenroad said. “But I think, in some ways, to reduce expenses that generate jobs and sales tax may be a little counter-productive.”

Barwin recommended a $20,000 cut for the Visitors Bureau, which the board approved Monday. Tom Lynch, vice president of finance and administration for the bureau, said he believes that amount is too high. Based on his calculations, the 10 percent should be $13,000. Less than $160,000 of their budget comes from the village general fund, while over half comes from the hotel tax.

Lynch said marketing and advertising, which makes up over 60 percent of their $962,000 budget, will take the biggest hit. That would mean fewer ads touting Oak Park in a variety of publications. Lynch said the bureau could live with the cut if necessary.

“We understand the concern the village has and its desire to balance the budget,” Lynch said. “I think it’s the appropriate action. … They’ve been supportive since we formed in 1993, so if this is a year they have to cut back, we understand that. We don’t want to do it, of course, but that’s another issue.”

The Arts Council seemed to be most affected by the cuts. The board had already approved a $35,000 cut to the arts emergency fund, which the council pulls from, and an $18,000 cut to their operating budget.

The council had a proposed budget of about $288,000, which factored in money from the emergency fund. Illinois Arts Council funds are also decreasing next year, by 29 percent or $4,800.

“It’s a double whammy,” Executive Director Camille Wilson White said, noting that their arts grants and the Off-The-Wall program, which hires teenage students full-time to work on an arts project, will absorb the damage.

“That’s going to have a huge impact on both of those programs,” White said. “I’ll have to cut them back significantly.”

Off-the-Wall will be cut from eight to five or six weeks, and the apprentices in the program will be cut from 20 to 10. The Council has 33 applications for “ArtsFunds” for next year, which range from $500 to $3,000.

Organizations applying range from Wonder Works to Village Players, White said. She declined to comment on what she thought of Barwin’s budget reductions. Originally, the proposed cuts were 25 percent, but they were reduced to 10 percent.

“We’re trying to take a balanced and reasoned approach to this,” Barwin said. “Everyone has to share in this challenge.”

President David Pope said he feels uncomfortable about the partner agency cuts, and in the future, would like to see a strategic approach applied to that part of the budget.

“This gets to the idea of why surgeons use a scalpel and not a meat axe,” he said. “Across-the-board reductions are not where we ideally want to be because they’re not strategic; they don’t anticipate what the prospective revenue is that comes back as a result of investments in tourism or investments in economic development.”

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