Technology at Oak Park village hall is improving productivity and allowing a leaner staff to function. But budget balancing efforts are being undermined by rising pension and insurance costs.

That was the message Tuesday evening as the Oak Park village board discussed the first draft of its $125 million budget for 2011. Stories told by village department heads were similar.

“We’ve eliminated 75 positions in three years and we’re dog-paddling to stay in place,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin.

Breaking the budget review into three meetings, the board focused Tuesday on the “internal cluster” of village departments.

Some of the new technological advances that save money and streamline operations include:

The success of online parking permit sales (60 percent of all sales).

  • Plans to process overnight parking requests on the web.
  • A digital suggestion box on the village hall website.
  • The installation of “virtual hardware” in village computers – which saves money on hardware repairs.
  • The abandonment of PeopleSoft payroll software (requiring costly updates and consultants) and contracted services with Automated Data Processing (ADP).
  • A wireless POS machine installed at the Farmers’ Market allowed Link card users to buy fresh produce and permitted use of debit and credit cards.
  • Web-based training for human resources.

But while the machines were saving money, benefits for the humans were burning through it. The cost of fringe benefits rose for the village’s 360-plus employees. Trustee Colette Lueck noted that even in departments such as Information Technology – which lost four employees last year – payroll costs fell by $1,000 but total benefit costs rose by $13,000. She told the board that benefits were averaging “more than 35 percent of salaries.” She doubted private sector-benefits were that generous.

Barwin pointed out that fire department pensions averaged 50 percent of salaries.

“We are producing that information at the bargaining table (when negotiating with the village’s 10 unions),” he said.

Payments to the police pension fund are expected to be $894,518 higher in 2011 than last year. Fire pension funding is budgeted to increase $146,911.

Another expense increase in the budget is $100,000 worth of bank fees assessed by US Bank–which inherited the village’s banking business after the FDIC closed locally owned Park National. Craig Lesner, the village’s chief financial officer, said the village has $7.5 million deposited with US Bank and that new fees appeared when the bank acquired the assets of Park National.

“What they do charge us for they charge us more,” he said.

Lesner and Trustee Ray Johnson agreed that the village should bid out all, or parts, of the village’s banking business.

“There’s nothing to say we have to give it all to one bank,” said Lesner.

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Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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