Economic development and intergovernmental cooperation are among River Forest’s biggest challenges — and opportunities, according to Village President Catherine Adduci.
To keep the community she heads thriving, Adduci believes bringing in appropriate development and more businesses will help stabilize the tax base and create a more vibrant community. And working with surrounding villages will prove beneficial to residents and businesses alike.
In the second of a two-part interview with Wednesday Journal, Adduci looks at these issues and assesses her administration’s progress.
Outside of creating the ad-hoc economic commission, what else can be done to spur commercial and retail growth?
Having more of a relationship with the local Chamber of Commerce would help spur retail growth. Having relationships with developers could spur commercial growth, too. We know who some of the developers are but not all, and for those developers we don’t know, we need to tell them about River Forest, what’s available and just how great a community we are to do business in.
What about providing incentives to come to River Forest?
There are several tools available to us. A Tax Increment Financing District and Special Assessment Areas are methods we want the commission to help us think through. We should look at the corridors that should be developed — Madison Street, Lake and Lathrop, and North Avenue, for instance. Then we have to determine what we can do. We should also ask what the surrounding communities are doing. We want to have conversations with people who already own the land, and we will look at county, state and federal tools as well. That’s why we are so interested in getting the Economic Commission approved and going. Along with our staff, we need to present an efficient and professional team to assist developers
(Trustee) Susan (Conti) is moving forward at private sector speed. [The commission has] already met twice. The goal is on or about Oct. 14, it will bring its suggestions and a recommended ordinance forward and seek approval from trustees to form an Economic Commission. Later that month, I will ask trustees to approve a list of residents to serve on it.
You’ve also spoken a bit about cooperation with other communities. One example of that is forming a fire protection district.
It’s not a unique idea; there are successful fire districts in Illinois. We need to convince our residents that they still will have firehouses, fire trucks and firefighters. There can be no disruption in services currently provided. However, we may find ways to combine and reduce management costs. It will take some time to create; it will take the leadership of each mayor or village president and the community at large. Each village wanting to participate in it would have to pass a referendum for a fire district to move forward. So you can imagine the time and energy it will take, but if it can save taxpayers money then it is something we should look at.
Are you going to look at another home rule referendum?
Not under my administration.
The voters spoke. It was soundly defeated. The voters are tired of tax increases. They want to stabilize and strengthen our tax base, so that is what we will focus on as a board.
Even though home rule allows municipalities to do a lot more?
Home rule would have provided more flexibility to the community. [But] I believe we can accomplish some of our needs through collaboration efforts with surrounding communities. We have the 911 Center that we share with Oak Park and Elmwood Park. We can look at equipment and maintenance contracts. We also can explore planning, and sharing resources and ideas. For example, Oak Park beautifies its viaducts; that’s something we both can do. No reason why we can’t take the same planning process that District 200 has used to examine how to deal with the surplus and use that to figure out our own issues.
Do you look to other communities to see what they’ve done? Do you hire a consultant to work with you?
I believe it starts with me and leaders from the surrounding villages, from our school district as well as other River Forest taxing bodies. I have already begun that process and met with President [Anan] Abu Taleb [of Oak Park], President [Angelo] Saviano [of Elmwood Park] and President [Anthony] Calderone [of Forest Park]. I have met with President John Phelan from District 200 and President Patrick Meyer from District 90. I hope to meet with the park district and township soon. The desired outcome from these conversations is to first agree that we all want to collaborate, and then we must find those areas that make the most sense to work on together or share. I am confident that as a group of leaders we will find ways to collaborate and share services to save taxpayers’ money.
How do you view the village’s financial picture?
Prior to joining the board as a trustee in 2009, River Forest was in deficit spending. In the 2009/10 budget cycle, we balanced our budget; we have not had to deficit-spend since. I plan, with the help of the staff and the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, to not be in a deficit-spending position. We are going to balance our budget. It’s a priority. Financial stability affects everything.
Will River Forest be spending increasingly more on pensions?
We allocate the money that should be allocated according to state statute. Some would argue we should contribute more. If pension reform is passed in Springfield for state workers, I’m confident it will be passed for fire and police.
Have you found being village president more challenging than you thought?
Yes and no. Yes, I definitely feel I worry more.
Does this keep you up at night?
I do not worry in that sense. We have such a great administration and department heads; we have great personnel who work well together. If we didn’t, I’d be up at night.
Is it a rubber-stamp board?
No. We have independent thinkers on the board.
They don’t disagree with you? Aren’t they voting the way you want them to?
Our board votes based on what they believe is best for our residents. We live in a pretty small community. Chances are we all know each other’s friends and families. We all think independently. I encourage healthy debate.
I don’t see them debating much.
I don’t think any trustee would tell you that they feel constrained or left out in getting any and all of the information they need to properly understand the issues facing the board. Yes, it’s different as a village president. As a trustee, I was one of six; as president, I set the vision and tone. I want to make sure I’ve thought things through, done my research and given every trustee the chance to provide input. I feel very comfortable in this role and am honored to represent the villagers as their president. I know I will do a very good job for the residents.
What have you learned so far?
I’ve learned, while meeting with other leaders, that doing things together is more possible than I ever thought before. I’ve learned that many of our residents want to make a contribution to their community and my goal is to take full advantage of their talents.