Finances stabilized, North Riverside looks ahead

Major street improvement campaign, other capital purchases eyed

May 31st, 2016 2:02 PM

By Bob Uphues


On the heels of a fiscal year in which every single fund, from general operation to water to waste hauling ended in the black, North Riverside's finance director on May 24 said the village is in its best financial position since prior to the economic crash of 2008.

Although the figures are not yet audited, revenues for the second straight fiscal year reportedly outpaced expenditures in the village's general operating fund, which pays for day-to-day expenses such as salaries and benefits, including pension contributions, by nearly $200,000.

And for the second straight year, North Riverside's water enterprise fund, which for two decades operated at a loss because the village's general fund subsidized costs it now passes along to customers, also ended in the black by about $430,000.

"2016's financial statements are the healthiest they've been for the village in the last eight years," Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti told members of the village board, who were gathered at a finance committee meeting to discuss the proposed budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which began May 1.

During the second of two meetings to discuss the proposed 2016-17 fiscal year budget, Scarpiniti on May 24 also said the village will be in a stronger position to argue its case for an improved bond rating when village officials meet with the Moody's rating service later this month.

"I'm very optimistic that I am going to make a very good argument to Moody's that the village's bond rating should be readjusted," Scarpiniti said. "I'm confident Moody's will consider at least removing the negative outlook at least. But I'm hoping for a more aggressive bond rating."

In 2015, Moody's reaffirmed the village's Baa1 bond rating, which included a negative outlook, but the firm did say the village could improve its outlook by continuing to balance its budget and address pension concerns. The village was able to do both those things in 2015-16.


Bond issue in the offing?

Should the village's bond rating improve, officials would be poised in the next six to eight months to issue between $2.2 million and $2.5 million in alternate revenue bonds to fund a major street improvement campaign along with a handful of other capital expenditures identified in the 2016-17 budget.

Those other expenditures could include new financial management and recreation management computer software packages, which will total roughly $175,000, and a cooling system for the police department, which is estimated to cost $105,000.

In the fall of 2015, the village board gave the OK to explore funding options for a $2.2 million plan to resurface four miles of residential streets in North Riverside. At the time, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. called the condition of the residential streets "the number one complaint this village has."

The debt service on the alternate revenue bonds would be funded by earmarking roughly $250,000 in revenue the village receives from its places of eating and drinking tax. The village will raise that tax to a full 2 percent from the present 1 percent in 2016-17, which should result in an additional $460,000 annually.

North Riverside also plans to spend $50,000 to have its engineering firm conduct a water system flow analysis in order to produce a long-term plan for water main replacement, especially in areas where streets are being resurfaced.

The village in the past had been unable to address large-scale water system improvements because the fund ran a consistent deficit due to subsidies.

Another major purchase coming in 2016-17 is a new aerial ladder truck for the fire department. The truck, which is being financed via an installment contract with the manufacturer, Pierce Manufacturing, will cost the village $1.16 million.

It replaces a 1997 Pierce aerial ladder truck that has been out of service with an inoperable main ladder since 2014. The fire department will take delivery of the new truck sometime in July, according to Fire Chief Brian Basek, and will attempt to find a buyer for its old aerial truck.


Truce with firefighters?

The numbers in the 2016-17 budget also indicate that the village's two-year campaign to privatize its fire department may be coming to an end.

While the village is still pinning its hopes on a reversal of a circuit court decision by the Illinois Appellate Court and favorable responses to village protests of a proposed unfair labor practice ruling by the Illinois Labor Relations Board, the budget indicates North Riverside's investment in those fights is over.

The budget includes no money allocated for privatization in the new fiscal year and a much lower budget figure for fighting union grievances, most of which have come from firefighters in the past three years.

After spending $47,721 in legal fees regarding fire department issues in 2013-14, North Riverside spent $265,762 in 2014-15 and an estimated $252,475 in 2015-16.

The legal services budget for the fire department in the fiscal year ending April 30, 2017 is estimated at $100,000, a majority of that for contract negotiations and grievance proceedings.

The mayor and firefighters have been meeting informally for several months. On May 24, Hermanek said he'd agree to a contract with the union and hire three more firefighters if the union would agree to reduce the number of firefighters allowed to call off during a single shift.

Right now, two people are allowed to call off during a shift, a policy that Hermanek said is responsible for skyrocketing overtime costs that have prevented the village from hiring more employees.

Hermanek said the overtime problem would be solved if the union would reduce the number of people asking for a shift off from two to one. However, the union won't budge, Hermanek said.

Other notable expenditures in the 2016-17 budget include the creation of a $36,000 athletic coordinator position for the Recreation Department, a job Recreation Director Teresa Michalik says will pay for itself in increased program participation revenue.

Michalik has also asked for $30,000 to expand the department's work/storage areas by reclaiming a locker room.

The village board is expected to finalize its budget in June and pass an appropriations ordinance reflecting the budget numbers by the end of July.

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