‘This is the scary slide,” said River Forest Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez last week as he slogged through a thoroughly discouraging Power Point presentation on the current status of River Forest finance.

It was, we assume, a performance being repeated in wood-paneled municipal board rooms across America as the great trickle-down excesses of past years land with a thud on financial reports with sliding revenues and fixed-to-rising expenses.

As Tolstoy wisely noted (with some updating), “Even when the bottom is falling out, all happy villages are alike; but your unhappy villages, when the economy tanks, well, they’re unhappy in many and varied dysfunctional ways. Look out!”

He might have been describing River Forest, where until last week’s finance committee meeting it looked like it would take a graver threat than million-dollar shortfalls to bring any unity of purpose to this unhappy village board.

No need to describe further the infighting and discord that have marked the past two years. And with a mightily contested election just weeks away, it seems an unlikely time for a show of unity in addressing the financial wall that River Forest has clearly been steering toward at full speed for some time. But at last week’s finance committee meeting, Gutierrez’s warning that a $600,000 budget shortfall is looming, and that a hole twice as large is just a year away, seemed to sober up the discussion. The administrator said his March budget proposal would detail a raft of possible budget cuts. Despite our criticism of their manners and their descent into personal peccadilloes, we’d note that River Forest has traditionally been run in a spare manner. Cutting its way to financial safety is going to be a painful process.

So we were pleased when Trustee Susan Conti, the closest thing to a swing vote on this divided board, suggested last week that the full board consider a new look at a one-percent sales tax hike referendum. We’re not endorsing such a hike at this time but we are endorsing unified action – action that watches out for River Forest broadly and not particular political interests. The sales tax hike, an increase that would bring River Forest even in the sales tax derby with Oak Park, was considered briefly two years ago. It needs to be considered again as part of a thoughtful approach to village finance.


Taking green for granted

You won’t get much of an argument over the virtues of being green. Most everyone has bought into the basic concept that the planet is in peril. We know the solutions are both global and local. We are relieved Obama’s EPA secretary is already reversing Bush’s destructive environmental policies. We feel good about diverting our household trash into the recycling bins each week.

So far so good. But what happens when the commodities market turns against recycling and the cost of hauling paper and glass and tin no longer pays for itself but becomes a municipal cost we need to share in a hard budget year? We’re intrigued by rain barrels but are we really ready to call the handyman to mess with diverting our gutters? A gas tax makes perfect sense but are you ready to back Congress in supporting a buck a gallon for energy innovation?

The feel-good aspects of environmentalism are self-evident. More challenging demands, however, will test our commitment.

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