Oak Park's audit results show progress

Auditor says process getting better, ahead of schedule


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Paying off a significant portion of its parking fund debt and implementing long-term financial planning are two key components which show Oak Park's fiscal outlook remains on a positive trend, an independent auditor told the village's finance committee last Monday.

Daniel Berg, the auditor, said the village should be commended for its progress, but reminded the group of areas needing improvement to avoid potential future financial pitfalls.

"Some of the good news is good," Berg said. "Some of the news is not so good."

Craig Lesner, the village's chief financial officer, joined the village around the same time the reality of Oak Park's debt problems and recession-driven revenue declines took hold. Chief among the debt issues has been the parking fund.

In 2007 the long-term debt obligation owed to the general fund from the parking fund was roughly $10.6 million. The debt from that fund stemmed from a revenue gap that occurred when the village's newly built parking structures didn't have the parking demand and financial return anticipated, pushing the balance deep into the red.

By 2012 the parking fund debt dipped to around $2.2 million, a number anticipated to be paid off by 2019. The parking fund is now one of the areas that have been flagged to be regularly reviewed to ensure the payment schedule is maintained.

"The village has implemented a complete, system-wide analysis of parking and is working diligently to increase revenues and reduce costs," Lesner wrote in a transmittal letter summarizing the village's audit report. "More importantly, this review process continues as a regular part of operations management."

Berg said Oak Park's previous $10 million parking shortfall was "really in danger to cause financial hardship to the village." Now, however, he reported the village appeared to be in good shape to make a positive step forward.

Long-term financial planning was another element Lesner highlighted as an improvement, mainly because of the five-year capital improvement plan that has been implemented to address major capital and infrastructure improvements. He stressed the village works primarily on a "pay-as-you-go" funding strategy for maintenance and replacement of assets and has only issued debt for major, new projects.

The village was also commended for receiving the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the first time for its 2013 budget planning. The management report on the village's finances also highlighted some positive revenue increases.

For example, revenues for governmental activities totaled around $69.2 million, which was a $2.7 million increase from 2011. Property taxes attributed much of this as they generated 48.4 percent of the village's revenue stream ($33.5 million). Utility fees, sales tax, state income tax and real estate transfer taxes increased $1.2 million from the 2011 fiscal year.

Expenses continued to decrease in 2012, a measure Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said must continue if the village wants to preserve its financial health. In 2012, Oak Park's expenses dropped by $4.1 million from the previous year. This decrease, however, is mostly because of the TIF district payment made in 2011 as part of a settlement with the school districts.

Abu-Taleb focused on the lack of fiscal responsibility during his campaign; this theme continued Monday evening when he reminded his fellow trustees each financial decision must be made with purpose.

"I urge each of us to think of things we can and cannot do and what we should do," he told the group." Monitoring funds and keeping departments accountable is key, Abu-Taleb stressed. "We need to be mindful of these balances. … We need to be diligent and get more fiscally responsible."

Trustee Ray Johnson pointed out that the village is already at an all-time low staffing level, has kept its AA Bond rating and continues to deliver key services that residents expect. "Expenses have dropped," Johnson reiterated.

In terms of the village's general fund, management reported the fund balance increased more than $700,000. Village staff vowed last year to work with the village board and the finance committee to increase the village's cash reserve, which started with the 2013 budget process. The village board officially adopted a fund balance policy last year to strive to keep on hand a balance of 10 to 20 percent of general fund expenses.

Overall, in terms of the village's audit, Berg reported a "clean" bill of health, noting a few cautionary areas for the village to watch for. Berg said even the village's budget planning has improved and was about a month ahead of schedule.

"Staff did a much better job than prior years getting ready for the audit and being responsive to our questions," Berg said. This allowed more time to go through documents, and with less stress, he reported. He also said no disagreements were found between his report and village management's reporting.

While Berg doesn't always review the audit in detail with finance committee, it's Oak Park's policy to do so to allow more time for discussion. After any additional changes are discussed, Berg signs the document and it is prepared for the full village board.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2013 1:27 AM

And an update on my comment earlier on this thread regarding minutes of the finance committee meetings being posted: Progress is being made. Of the five meetings with approved minutes, three have been uploaded. Still waiting on the ones for February 25th and March 18th.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2013 1:16 AM

The 2012 CAFR (comprehensive annual financial report) has been uploaded. There is a link for it on the oak-park.us/finance page, on the right side toward the middle. Here is a direct link... http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/Budget_Finance/Comprehensive%20financial%20report%20-%20year%20ending%2012.31.12.pdf

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 20th, 2013 3:10 PM

Anna - Thanks for the clarification.

Anna Lothson from Wednesday Journal   

Posted: June 20th, 2013 12:51 PM

@John Butch Murtagh. Just a clarification - Trustee Ray Johnson has never referred to himself as the senior trustee. I simply referred to him as that because he is a senior trustee with 10 years experience.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 3:47 PM

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), also known as the audit, was presented and discussed at the Finance Committee on June 10th, and at the village board meeting last night. Despite Village Manager Cara Pavlicek's claim, it has not been made available to the public.


Posted: June 18th, 2013 3:14 PM

Was this the actual 2012 Audit or the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The 2012 of the CAFR was submitted on May 30 of this year. The 2010 Audit was submitted in October. So this would be incredibly early for Audit.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 12:22 PM

Thanks, Enuf

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 12:20 PM

@JBM ... the audit agenda item was for the purpose of presenting the audit report to the board and public, and did not require a vote or action, and therefore was presumably technically valid as per the Open Meeting Act. The fact the audit was not made available to the public prior to the board meeting, therefore disallowing any informed public comment, makes the village claim to being open and transparent invalid. Making info available afterwards is of no help, as the opportunity has passed.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 11:37 AM

The Tiger Grant submission contains about "half" of the material sent to the Federal Gov't. The text is twenty-six pages. Missing are the reference and exhibit attachments to the letter, incl: Detailed Budget: Exhibit 22, Pre-Construction Schedule: Exhibit 23A, Project Construction Schedule: Exhibit 23, Project Financial Feasibility: Exhibit 24, IDOT NEPA CE Letter: Exhibit 25, IDOT & other Letters of Support: Exhibit 26, Sample Design Illustrations: Exhibits 15-20, Project Map: Exhibit 21A. The attachments are in blue and underlined in the text. Sertus is listed as a village partner in the submission. Are Tiger and the major housing project at Oak Park Avenue and Forest linked? We are long overdue on getting the status of Sertus.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 11:07 AM

Does this make the board's vote invalid?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 11:06 AM

bjlanning from Oak Park - Thanks, I found the Tiger Grant submission.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 10:18 AM

Trustee Tucker asked VM Pavlicek at last night's board meeting if the audit was posted online, to which she responded 'it was posted last Friday and will be maintained on the website in perpetuity'. In fact, it was not, and still is not, posted online (www.oak-park.us/Finance/index.html). CFO Lesner was at the meeting, and should obviously be aware of this fact, but said nothing. The public cannot comment on info that is not made available. Suggest Trustee Tucker check for himself next time.

Better streets...just not brick  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 8:16 AM

Note to the Village that the happy little bicycle on the brick streetscape perhaps sends the wrong impression that bicyclists love the idea of brick. And what are these "regular intervals of resurfacing" they're talking about? I wish! Heck, I'd take "infrequent intervals" over the constant potholes we have now.


Posted: June 18th, 2013 6:45 AM

Grant says: "Importantly, if left unaddressed the infrastructure needs being remedied through the Inner-Ring Renaissance project will ultimately threaten mobility and accessibility, thereby stifling significant potential for economic growth, as evidenced by the economic success of the proof of concept projects already completed [meaning Marion Street brickscape] with local funding."

bjlanning from Oak Park  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 6:40 AM

I asked the village about the Tiger application last week. They sent me this: http://db.tt/p7KMk4VT

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 12:21 AM

Bridgett - You deserve a Sherlock Holmes hat!

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 10:43 PM

(cont.)... uploaded, and that commentary indicates the CAFR in the attachments section at the end, but that no, the report was not there. Just the three-page Agenda Item Commentary. She seemed surprised and told me she'd check on that.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 10:42 PM

At tonight's meeting, Trustee Bob Tucker asked Cara Pavlicek, the Village Manager if the CAFR was uploaded to the Village website. She said, "Yes." After the meeting I let her know that it wasn't. First I mentioned the Finance section of the website, and she said that it wouldn't be there, but in the agenda item materials. I let her know that it wasn't there either. That the 3-page Agenda Item Commentary submitted by Craig Lesner the CFO was... (cont.)

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 3:22 PM

The financial audit (i.e., "2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report") is not posted on the village website (under Finance Dept.). Nor is the 2012 TIF Annual Report. Nor is the USDoT TIGER Grant application which commits $6.5M of village funds. Apparently, 'open and transparent' local government means something else to village board members than what was promised during election campaigns.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 2:31 PM

Bridget and Enuf - Checked again. Didn't find the audit. I might have been looking at the budget.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 1:17 PM

@John, I take back my last comment. I don't see where the 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is. The last one I see is for 2011. 2002 through 2011. Where are you looking?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 1:10 PM

@John, That report was just posted today. When I made my comment to Enuf last Sunday afternoon, it had not yet been posted where they said it would be... http://www.oak-park.us/finance/

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 1:05 PM

Enuf, I went to this finance committee meeting because I didn't know what they did exactly since minutes for these committee meetings haven't been posted online since October 2012. I also made a public comment regarding this violation of the Open Meetings Act. And said that regardless of the law, for the sake of transparency and courtesy, the minutes should be posted. And here we are a week later, and the minutes for the last five meetings with approved minutes are still not posted.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 1:05 PM

Enuf - The 2012 Comprehensive Report (audit) is located under the finance department the right hand side of the page. I don't know when it was posted. It was not posted after the finance committee last week though it was stated that it was.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 12:59 PM

Enuf - I have not located the 2012 audit yet, but did read the letter from the Finance Staff that accompanied the motion for the audit approval tonight. Near the end of the letter and after the listing of complimentary comments, there was an audit statement that read: "The three items continued from previous years may require more than one fiscal year to correct. For example, deficit fund positions and interfund balances may not be resolved necessarily in time for the FY 2013 audit, so they are considered items that remain open. These are the core issues for the board to address. Hopefully they will address them in a less blase way than the finance director.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 11:36 AM

@Bridgett (part 2) ... regardless of the legality issue, in the interest of an open and transparent government, I contend that the village board has the obligation of providing public access to the CAFR audit prior to discussing as an agenda item. How else can the public become informed / engaged in the public process of fiscal responsibility? While Trustee Johnson exercises his right to an informed opinion based on his access to the audit, does he support the public right to the same access?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2013 11:25 AM

@Bridgett ... as per the IL Open Meeting Act, any public body must post an agenda at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Any vote, or final action, must be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and any other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted. Therefore, it stands to reason for any public member to make an informed comment re. the CAFR audit, it must be made available to the public 48 hours prior to the board mtg.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 16th, 2013 10:26 PM

Hi Jim -- All of the crap from Trustee Ray Johnson pointed out that the village is already at an all-time low staffing level (But higher expense per capita vs surrounding communities), has kept its AA Bond rating (and 100M debt.) continues to deliver key services (after cutting them and never restoring them in 2007.). In Ray World, everything is hunky-dorey while other trustees know the village has problems are working on them rather than spending time trying to get their name in the paper. The amazing thing is Johnson now goes around telling the press that he is the board senior trustee. Senior trustee is a made up title with no meaning. His last ten years on board have not been a record worth bragging about.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 16th, 2013 3:51 PM

I'm not so sure about the delivery of key services claim made by Ray Johnson. Perhaps he's willing to share some specifics and discuss those that he thinks may need to be improved.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 16th, 2013 3:44 PM

Enuf, In the agenda commentary for that item, Craig Lesner, Chief Financial Officer, states that the report will be available at http://www.oak-park.us/Finance. But he doesn't give a date, other than the state due date of June 30th. And you are saying that the Village is required to post the report before the meeting at which it's to be approved. Right? Can you direct me to any local or state mandate that reflects that? Thanks.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 16th, 2013 1:36 PM

Why is this report (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2012) not provided on the village website? This report is listed on the board agenda for this Monday, June 17, and therefore is required to be made available to the public for review and comment prior to the board meeting.


Posted: June 14th, 2013 2:01 PM

my audit of this article finds that "financial" is spelled wrong in the opening paragraph

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 14th, 2013 11:46 AM

Daniel Berg, Oak Park's independent auditor, told the village's finance committee Monday that the village should be commended for its progress, but reminded the group of areas needing improvement to avoid potential future financial pitfalls. "Some of the good news is good," Berg said. "Some of the news is not so good." Why does the article cover only the good news side of the picture?

Collaborate to Fleece the Taxpayers  

Posted: June 14th, 2013 11:12 AM

Lest we forget, a huge chunk of that "parking fund" deficit was a previous intergovernmental collaboration agreement for the village to build a multi-million dollar parking structure to provide free parking for 25 years for the $100K teachers at OPRF. How convenient (and disingenuous) for the village to now shrug and say "demand didn't materialize". Let's be clear: if city services are strapped its because of this irresponsible giveaway to already well-compensated teachers at OPRF.

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