Inside Village HallFile 2011

The Village of Oak Park hopes to start actively filling vacant positions for the first time in four years, as part of its $114 million spending plan for 2012.

Oak Park Village Hall had been bleeding positions during that same time span, shedding 70 employees since 2007, or 20 percent of its workforce.

However, the village plans to create five new positions next year and fill a number of vacancies in its ranks, which will amount to a net gain of only one new full-time employee, according to Chief Financial Officer Craig Lesner.

“We’re not all of a sudden saying, ‘Things are looking a little bit better, let’s start spending.’ That’s not what this is about,” he told trustees last week. “It’s about spending money in a very smart way.”

The five new posts include an economic development coordinator and someone to oversee inspections in the fire department. Village hall is also cutting a handful of vacant positions from its budget, which will balance things out to a net increase of only one employee, year to year. No layoffs are contemplated.

Lesner said Oak Park felt comfortable filling vacancies next year because of its swelling reserves. Four years ago, village hall had a negative $3.7 million fund balance, because of millions in debt it had taken on to build public garages. But that has swung in the opposite direction to a $4.8 million reserve at the end of 2011.

Village Manager Tom Barwin said one of Oak Park’s focuses in next year’s budget is trying to bolster economic development. As such, they’re adding the economic development coordinator position into the mix, as well as budgeting $75,000 to start a Main Street program in Oak Park.

Such an effort would involve hiring advisors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who would help to build more “cohesive” business districts, Barwin said. Businesses would coordinate on everything from hours, to marketing efforts, window displays and holiday decorations.

“After four years of basically gutting the in-house village economic development staff, the time is right to tip-toe back into it, maybe using a bit of a different strategy than the past,” Barwin said.

Oak Park is also budgeting for street upgrades in 2012, similar to the ones happening on the 100 block of South Marion, on Madison Street and Lake Street from Harlem to Euclid.

As far as tax and fee increases, Lesner said Oak Park plans to raise its water and sewer rate (by 2 percent), trash pickup fees (12 percent), and some parking rates. The major change on the latter would involve eliminating the first free hour in public garages, instead asking motorists to pay $1 for the first two hours.

The village board plans to hold three public meetings in October and November to discuss the budget, with hopes of adopting it by Thanksgiving.

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