At the height of the recession in 2010, River Forest’s financial picture was fraught with uncertainty. Deficits were growing; the village faced numerous questions on how it would meet its obligations.

Trustees assembled a citizens’ finance committee to get the village’s financial house in order. From there, the group, led by then-trustee Jim Winikates established a plan that would identify funding priorities, reduce staff and make other cuts.

“We worked hard and poured through the budget to see where we needed to cut,” said Trustee Susan Conti, who served on that committee. “We really put our heads together and figured it out.”

Now, the village’s financial picture is vastly different. And for the seventh consecutive year since the village’s fiscal crisis, River Forest will adopt a balanced budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins May 1. 

A public hearing will be conducted at 7 p.m., April 24, at the River Forest Village Hall, 400 Park Ave.; adoption is expected that evening.

Financially, River Forest continues to be in very good shape, Village Administrator Eric Palm told the board during last month’s review of the spending plan for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

A strategic use of reserves, prudent spending and conservative budgeting have led the village to build its reserves to 40 percent of the general fund, according to village officials.

“What also is important is that we are funding our pension obligations and not pushing our obligation cost out to future years,” said Village President Catherine Adduci, who was a trustee in 2009 when the financial plan was crafted. “We continue to improve and invest in public safety, our streets, sewers and infrastructure and are doing a lot of significant things in the community with less than a 1-percent increase in the village’s portion of the tax levy.” 

That’s significant, she added, given that River Forest’s public safety wages are increasing by 2.5 percent per year while its pension obligations for retired public safety employees increase by 3 percent per year, per state statute.  

Expenditures in the general fund, which pays for day-to-day village operations, will be $15.7 million. There are few frills apart from the start of a couple of board initiatives and a continuation of building up fire and police pension funds.

Expenses are expected to increase by 2.5 percent in part to hikes in health insurance costs and a cost-of-living increase for non-union employees, patrol officers and sergeants. Wage increases are yet to be finalized for firefighters and public works employees, Palm said. About $11.3 million — roughly 71 percent — of the general fund will go toward salaries and benefits. 

There will be some staff changes. Jonathan Pape, who is management intern, will become the village’s full-time management analyst and oversee communications and information technology. He will also be the historic preservation liaison and handle special projects. An administrative clerk will go from 30 to 40 hours a week, and a part-time administrative assistant will be hired by the fire department.

The village also will pay out more toward police and fire pension contributions to meet its contribution level by 2019 so there are adequate funds to meet future pension obligations. Increased outlays of 9.4 percent for police and 9 percent for fire — for a total of $223,000 — will be in the budget.

Cash reserves totaling $125,000 will be used to re-design the village’s website, complete the rest of the village’s communications strategy and update its comprehensive plan. 

Approximately $50,000 will go toward creating a strategy for the Madison Street Tax Increment Financing District. Village coffers will be reimbursed once the TIF fund starts bringing in revenue.

Revenues in the general fund are expected rise 2.5 percent to $15.7 million. Almost 65 percent of that money will come from sales, income and property taxes. Sales taxes are expected to rise nearly $140,000 due in part to the anticipated opening of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market on North Avenue. The only fee increases for the general fund will come from a 3.25 percent hike in solid waste collection fees and a 4 percent hike in composting fees.

By April 30, 2018, the general fund surplus is anticipated to be $7.1 million, according to village estimates.

In other areas of the budget, operating expenses in the water-sewer fund will be $4.6 million. A 31-cent increase in the water rate and a 17-cent increase in the sewer rate will cover higher operating and capital costs as well as Chicago’s nearly 2-percent increase to supply the village with water. 

Purchases and improvements on the table include renovations at village hall, the public works garage, a new fire pumper, information technology upgrades and a new water main on River Oaks Drive and Auvergne Place. The village also will continue to improve street lighting. 

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