The Village of Skokie Board of Trustees has begun the review of the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) Budget. This new budget continues the Village’s long tradition of careful financial management and prioritizes sustaining services and public safety. The Village’s FY14 Budget received the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Award, marking the 21st consecutive year the Village budget has received this designation.
The proposed FY15 operating budget is $52.9 million, representing a 2.1 percent increase from the previous year. “The overall goal of this new budget is to sustain the outstanding public services that our residents and businesses have long enjoyed. There are several increases in the costs of providing those services and we are working to fund those increases without raising the property tax burden,” said Village Manager John T. Lockerby.
The entire budget development process takes several months and includes the search for efficiencies and improvements in all areas. Despite cost-saving measures, the combination of increasing expenses, capital needs and pension funding requirements will require additional funding in the foreseeable future. The proposed budget does not include the 15.5 personnel positions that were frozen during the recession as a cost saving measure, which represents an annual savings of $790,000.
The continued focus on public safety in the community will result in an additional police officer to implement the Residential Rental Standards and Neighborhood Integrity initiative as well as $250,000 for hiring additional police personnel. “This is in response to the recent Skokie Police Operations Analysis Report that recommends increasing the Police Department’s patrol force. The Village is responding to the report in a proactive, yet fiscally responsible manner,” said Lockerby.
At the April 8, 2014 Budget Hearing, the Village Board considered options for the additional revenue required for both short-term and long-term financial needs. The operating budget commonly referred to as the General Fund, requires funds to offset a projected $710,000 shortfall. In addition to addressing this shortfall, the Village must meet ongoing obligations to adequately fund pension requirements, provide funding for additional street resurfacing throughout the community and begin to replenish a fund balance used in prior years when there were revenue shortages due to the national economic recession.
The Village is committed to adequately funding its pension obligations, which are set by state statute. The required increase in pension funding in the coming year is $1,858,600 a 27 percent increase and is the result of revised plan assumptions. Funding these plans, which include Fire, Police and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, is a mandatory responsibility of all municipalities.
The Village has a long-term policy of trying to maintain a General Fund balance, or reserve fund, equal to a minimum 25 percent of the annual operating budget. This fund balance proved to be an important resource since the economic downturn in 2008. The Village’s fund balance is projected to be less than $8 million or approximately 15 percent of annual expenditures at the conclusion of the current fiscal year. This is approximately $5.7 million less than the Village’s goal.
The Village Board is considering a variety of possible funding sources, including an increase in the hotel/motel tax assessed on visitors to Skokie hotels, a quarter-percent increase in the sales tax charged on all items except groceries, medicine and automobiles and a possible increase in the local motor fuel tax. “After being presented with a variety of options for additional funding necessary for Village operations and long-term obligations, the Village Board reached consensus to focus primarily on taxes and fees that are supported by visitors to the community and, to the extent possible, avoid fees tied solely to unavoidable expenses such as utilities, groceries and property taxes incurred by Skokie residents,” said Mayor George Van Dusen. “While I expect that the Village Board will approve additional funding sources as part of the FY15 budget consideration process, I anticipate that the Village’s 22-year property tax freeze will remain in effect.”
A review of Village street conditions has indicated a need for an accelerated resurfacing program. The maintenance of and investment in Village infrastructure is one of many important quality of life goals for the community. The Village’s efforts to meet these and other quality of life goals were rewarded during 2013 when Skokie was named one of the 100 most desirable places to live in the United States by Livability.com.
Similar to the street network, the Skokie water system requires vigilant care to guarantee a pure and reliable source of water. A water rate increase of 4.9 percent is recommended to fund needed repairs and water main replacement. The increase also covers a supply rate increase from the Village’s water vendor. Despite this increase, Skokie’s water rate will remain one of the lowest water rates available among area communities.
Other notable increases in the FY15 proposed budget include restoring three firefighter positions through grant funding which is an increase of $193,250, $83,750 to plant new trees and remove diseased or dead ash trees in the parkways as well as an additional $62,400 to fund continued recycling collection and refuse disposal.
Many important proposed capital improvement projects are supplemented by federal, state and county funds. Significant FY15 projects include residential street resurfacing, Church Street/Crawford Avenue intersection improvements, Crawford Avenue resurfacing from Oakton Street south beyond the Skokie/Lincolnwood boundary, path upgrades at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park and installation of a new multi-use path from Oakton Street south to Jarvis Avenue to connect with the path north of Oakton Street that stretches from Downtown Skokie to Dempster Street.
During recent years, the Village has successfully leveraged grant funds for improving and resurfacing arterial streets. The Village is now shifting focus to resurfacing additional residential streets. Street resurfacing will be discussed during the budget hearing for the Public Works Department on the evening of April 30, 2014.
Locally funded capital improvements include the purchase of a new fire aerial ladder truck and an addition to Village Hall to relocate the Village’s Human Services Division that will lose its lease in a nearby building in 2015.
The Skokie Village Board will continue its consideration of the proposed FY15 Budget at public hearings on April 28 and April 30, 2014. All budget hearings begin at 6:15 p.m. at Skokie Village Hall, 5127 Oakton Street, and are open to the public.
Released by Public Information Division