COVID's fiscal pain

Opinion: Editorials

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The news at Monday evening's Oak Park Village Board meeting was not a surprise. The impact of COVID-19 on municipal finances has been devastating. Revenues from almost every stream have been stunted. Costs have been steady or even rising in direct response to the pandemic.

The presentation Monday offered a grim picture of already stretched cash reserves being spent down, of a long, challenged recovery of lost revenues and of a wide range of painful choices to be made. It also allowed that making assumptions in the midst of this massive economic collapse is near impossible and will require ongoing adjustments to any plan.

One hoped-for part of a recovery is direct infusion of federal cash to this small village as part of a nationwide rescue. We shall see. This is not a moment when one can have confidence in fairness, vision or quick action from a federal government led by such a flawed president.

And so village staff has put everything else on the table. The budget of every department has been scoured for cash that might be saved. Line item savings range from less than $1,000 to cuts to local arts and tourism programs of nearly $200,000. Also hit would be the Early Childhood Collaboration. Tree pruning, street sweeping, parking lot repaving, added signage, conferences and training all sharply reduced. Capital improvement plans delayed. Some vacant staff positions left unfilled. Alley improvements delayed.

On a weekend of intense basement flooding, especially in chronically submerged northeast Oak Park, there is also the proposal to defer $1.4 million in flood mitigation improvements on LeMoyne. 

The list of cuts and deferments is long. It is a harsh self-assessment of what had seemed essential but can now be cut, dinged, reimagined. Altogether a brutal but necessary process. The hard budget review might provide some benefit along with the genuine pain.

Bringing back revenues is another challenge entirely. Lost sales taxes, delayed receipt of property taxes, drop in local share of state income taxes, parking revenue, parking fines. There are a whole range of ways Oak Park's village government cobbles together its revenue. Many of them have been reduced or interrupted during this crisis.

Monday's discussion was just a starting point. After more village board discussion on June 1, staff will return to the table with a revised budget in mid-June. 

There are no simple, no guaranteed, no certain decisions on this one.

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Nick Polido  

Posted: May 21st, 2020 6:53 AM

This flawed President (I agree) did not make Illinois the poster child for corrupt politicians and over taxing local authorities with a overall State debt second to none in the nation. Maybe you could stop doing fluff pieces with Don Harmon.

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