The Oak Park village manager’s office came in under its budget by more than $144,000 in 2010. That was the report at Tuesday’s first of the season budget review meeting with the village board. And Village Manager Tom Barwin said, “We’re working harder and leaner.”

But looking ahead to the 2011 budget, Trustee John Hale said Barwin’s office was asking for too much money in the first place. “We want to have a budget that is realistic. In this economic environment every dollar counts and needs to be accounted for,” he said.

Hale took exception to several items in the village manager’s proposed budget. Hale, who is not running for reelection in the spring, proposed $85,000 that could “easily” be cut by halving Barwin’s requests.

Specifically, Hale referred to

Association dues memberships: $66,000 up from $45,000 reported so far in 2010

Special Events: $20,000 up from $895 spent in 2010

Employee Events: $20,000 up from $6,915

Contingencies: $20,000 up from 0 ($783 was spent in 2008)

Contractual Services: $50,000 up from $591 last year

“It doesn’t make sense to have a line item where you haven’t spent anywhere near that in the past couple years,” said Hale at the meeting.

Barwin said after the meeting that over five years his office has developed a reputation for frugality. “We don’t spend money just because we have it.”

As to Hale’s objections, Barwin said that by year’s end, the membership costs will be almost identical for 2010. Concerning special events, Barwin said that money for Oak Park festivals like Oaktoberfest helps market the village to visitors. “I have no problem if the board majority does not want to participate in special events,” he said. Barwin defended feting his employees occasionally with a “picnic” or recognition ceremony because they’re all working harder with less staff. As for “contingencies” Barwin said that sometimes an opportunity or a crisis presents itself which must be acted on right away. The village manager’s office needs to be “nimble” and not “wait two weeks for a board meeting.”

“We meet almost every week. That issue has very seldom come up in the past four years.” said Hale. “He just wants to have discretion. If he has contingencies, he can ask us about it.”

As for $50,000 for outside contractors, Hale told Wednesday Journal, “We don’t want the manager hiring outside contractors without coming to the board first.” He referred to the thousands of dollars in consultants’ fees that the PeopleSoft software program cost before the board knew what was happening. “The manager wants to spend as he sees fit.”

Barwin said that $13,500 of the outside contractor funds requested were for a community-wide International City Manager Association survey—done periodically. The remaining amount was in reserve in case the village got the chance to participate in a municipal renewable energy consortium, or put solar panels on the parking garages. “For strategic issues we might need analysis and help.”

“Then put it in the budget,” said Hale.

Barwin says his budget approach was a matter of philosophy. “My belief is that managers have to have room to be creative,” he said at the meeting. Later he said, “This is a healthy conversation to have. The board’s role is to scrutinize [the budget].”

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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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