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When it comes to budgets, deficits and downtowns -- he's one nervous chicken

Gaggin' in the Grove -- It's the time of year when Chicken Little ponders life in Buffalo Grove.

It happens about this time every year.

            Proverbial candidate and concerned citizen Chicken Little takes an introspective look back and just sighs.

            “I thought for sure the sky was falling this year,” he told me.  “With the news coming out of village hall – I thought for sure the Mayans may have had it right.”

            Really?  I tried to ease his fears that things over on Raupp, despite a few bumps in the road have actually quieted down.

            “Whew”, he clucked.  “I thought there would be more coalitions, uprisings, storming of the Bastille, etc.”

            Not really.

            “Well,” he clucked, “I bet with calmer seas, there are a lot of people on the ballot for the upcoming village election.

            Not really.

            “Seriously?”

            Seriously.

            As of Friday, only four people submitted petitions to run for the Village Board.

            “Wow,” Little clucked, “new faces on the Board, I knew people would get involved.”

            Guess again my fine feathered fowl.  Three current trustees, Andrew Stein, Beverly Sussman and Lester A. Ottenheimer III are running along with newcomer Jeffrey Battinus are in the race.  Period.

            “Seriously”?

            Seriously.

            “Wow,’ said Little, I thought with all I’ve been reading there would have been lines of being ringing Village Hall just waiting to file their petitions.”

            Nope.

            “Battinus surprises me,” Little said, “when I heard he was running, I thought he was working out and checking things out around the village.”  That’s what he told some local media types.

            “The other three don’t surprise me,” Little said, “although I am concerned about the cost of the election.”

            Why?

            “Does the village need special ballots to put ‘Lester A. Ottenheimer III’ on the ballot?  That’s 25 characters (spaces included).  That’s almost as long as Jesse Jackson, Jr.”

            Sensing Little had been hitting the egg nog too much (a little fowl humor there), I told Little, who is forever watching the coffers, not to equate Ottenheimer to Jackson.  Secondly, I’m sure the village has taken it into consideration, especially since it’s Ottenheimer’s first time on the ballot.  Oh, and by the way, I told Little, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is much shorter – only 18 characters – including spaces.

            “So I imagine it will be a pretty mundane election,” Little said.

            I told him it probably will be a routine election, unless the issues make it interesting.

            “Do you think?” Little asked.

            Absolutely.  There are a lot of issues out there that either cause a little sabre-rattling or are seem so complex that people just plain shrug and ignore them.

            Little asked “which ones, as we say around the coup, ruffle feathers.”

            That, I mentioned to him, depends how many feathers are being ruffled.  Some folks take a solo stance and want people to think the sky is falling.

            Some issues, however, draw a larger crowd.  Like the proposed downtown for Buffalo Grove.

            “Yeah,” Little said, “I thought those folks would be out in force.”

            Well, they are, but they aren’t.  AOL’s venture into community journalism, best known as The Patch, took a survey in October.  The survey, which simply said “Would You Like Buffalo Grove To Have A Downtown”, drew 154 responses and, to no surprise, the vote was overwhelming against having a downtown.

            Too bad.  Not because people were against it, but because it did not clearly address the issue.  The issue is the instant downtown proposed by CRM Properties.  The proposal reminds me of those old ads in comic books of getting a real live sea horse – all you add is water.

            As I have blogged before, I told Little, I am not in favor of the proposal in its current form because there are way too many questions that need answers.  For the record, I am among the 25 percent who still oppose Rt. 53 extension until some questions are answered.  That, however, is another issue.

            The on-line discussions about the initial proposal for downtown district in Buffalo Grove seemingly focus on personalities and not the issue. 

            Two comments piqued my curiosity – one was signed “Congregation Beth Judea” – which I find comical because first of all, the congregation is not in the village and secondly, I think it’s marginally inappropriate for a house of worship to take a stand on a village issue.  Rest assured, I am sure the Beth Judea Board did not get together one night, sign into Patch and voice an opinion.  It’s just another attempt for someone to hide from their opinion.

            The other comment that raised an eyebrow was “The few do not rule the many - let the voters decide how our taxes are to be spent.”

            Right.  The reason there are “the few” is because “the many” are silent.  Just attend a village board meeting.  If there’s not an honoree or some seemingly useless sideshow, folks don’t show up, which is too bad.

            It’s also too bad that the poll simply asks if “Buffalo Grove needs a downtown.”

            News flash -- it does.  Maybe the village does not need one that features high-priced brick pavers and multi-story residential buildings in seemingly remote areas (most downtown redevelopments or redevelopments are centered around transportation, not open space that looks nice), but it needs a stronger commercial and retail presence.

            “Why is that?” Little asked.

            I told him because the village needs to be proactive in generating revenues.  “Since when?” Little asked.

            Since November when the village unveiled its 2013 budget.

            “But it’s fine,” Little said.

            Really, did you read it? 

            “Well no, because it’s so boring.  And besides, who wants to attend a budget meeting?”

            Budgets are typically boring, and budget meetings are about as stimulating as the Idaho Potato Bowl.  But if you look at the budget, you would find the 2013 budget is balanced, but the big D lies ahead.

            “Big D?  You mean Lovie Smith is coming to work for the village?”

            Not the Big D as in defense, and I’m not sure Smith would fit in – if he did, the village would probably fade in the last quarter every year.

            “So what’s the D?” Little asked.

            Deficit.

            “DEFICIT!  OMG, the end is near!  I knew the Mayans were right!” Little said.  “We’re going broke!  Who wrote the budget, Gov. Quinn?”  I told the silly mother clucker to calm down.

            First of all, it’s a projected budget.  That means you start planning ways to balance revenues against expenses.

            “Ha! I bet this was hidden, I’m calling the CIA,” Little said.

Why?  “Well, the FBI has allegedly been contacted so I need to move ahead to a higher authority?”  Right -- you and Hebrew National.

            Actually, the deficit was discussed at the Nov. 26 Village Board meeting and again, prior to adoption, at the Dec. 6 meeting.  It is also available on the village’s web site.

            “Yeah, but knowing those guys, they probably tried to, as we say around the coup, cluck us over by using big words and small print,” Little said.

            Budgets, as a rule, are not fun reading.  However, the budget includes a transmittal letter by Village Manager Dane Bragg.  A transmittal letter is basically an executive summary.  It’s called a transmittal letter because it sounds official and it “transmits” information about the budget.  It does not transmit the flu.

            In his statement, Bragg notes that the use of the “first planned capital reserve fund transfer since 2008 is no small feat.”  So does this mean?  That despite the economic downturn and slow recovery, the village has been able to handle its budgeting on available revenues, until this year.  This does not mean the village is going broke – not by a long shop.

            The process, Bragg noted, is always done on projections, generally five years out.  “We have made fund reserve contributions – last five years—as everyone has,” he said.  The difference, however, started in 2008 when, Bragg noted that the economy “tanked.”  When the economy slides, he says “sales tax, income tax, property tax does not fluctuate as much.”  Bottom line, revenues slip.

            So how much?  According to Bragg’s transmittal letter, the projected operating budget deficit for 2014 is $1.4 million.  Taking into consideration the full capital reserve funding (these funds cover capital expenses, not operating expenses) the projected deficit is $2 million.

            It’s not, however, an immediate crisis.  Bragg notes Buffalo Grove “has always had strong fiscal management, and it will continue to do that.  We know we have deficit coming – and have a year to plan for it – so we can look at options.”

            Among the options is commercial development and attracting new business to Buffalo Grove.  Bragg said the redevelopment of Cambridge Commons at Dundee and Buffalo Grove roads could help as is the long-anticipated development of Plaza Berenesa at the Milwaukee Avenue and Deerfield Parkway.  And while that project has been on the table almost as long as the Cubs’ World Series drought, Bragg said the village has been “engaged with developer” and that some new plans could be presented to the village during 2013.

            It’s clear that a main goal of the village is to increase revenue, and a good way to do that is to increase revenue from sales tax.  An increase in sales tax revenue will not happen overnight.  It is a process that is likely to take several years.  The village staff and board appear to be getting more aggressive in identifying ways to enhance retail and commercial development in the village.

            The proposal by CRM Properties, as grandiose and seemingly ostentatious as it appears, is just one idea. In other municipalities, some ideas have worked well – like the redevelopment of downtown Deerfield or Highland Park.  Others have gone down in flames – like Chicago’s ill-fated State Street Mall (dubbed State Street Maul by longtime columnist Chuck Wenk, who must be approaching 100 by now).

            But even the best plans can go array.  Arlington Heights, which, like the aforementioned municipalities, has redeveloped its central business district over the past two decades, has found that it is not all seashells and balloons.  The drop off of the economy and slow recovery has resulted in an increase in vacancies and shuttered businesses. 

            In Buffalo Grove, there’s little doubt the village czars will need to evaluate each proposal gingerly and gain as much input as possible.  However, a referendum on a “downtown” for Buffalo Grove is too general.  As noted, a referendum on the proposed CRM development may be in order.   Shooting down a downtown cart blanche would not be in the best interest of the village in the long term.  Redevelopment, Tax Increment Financing and incentives all need to be looked at as a way to generate retail and commercial revenue to strengthen the sales tax base.

In addition to potential revenue generation, the village staff and board need to take the pulse of the communities – yes, plural.  Residents, obviously, are part of the mix, but so too is the business community.  The establishment of a central business district could play havoc on established businesses along Dundee Road and other parts of the village.  A mentality of “if we built it, they will come” may have worked for a farmer in Dyersville, Iowa – but that mentality is unrealistic when it comes to generating revenue.

            Little pondered.  “The long-term strategy is needed, but there needs to be a way to help in the short term,” he said.

            “I know,” he said, we can save money on printing such things as ballots.”

            Really? How?

            “Well,” he said, “Look at the space Lester A. Ottenheimer III takes up on the ballot.  That may require bigger paper, and that costs more.”

            So what’s your solution?

            “Just list him as LAO3.”

            I reminded him that Kentucky Fried Chicken is hiring.

            “Not funny,” he said.

            Neither are panic-based rejections or decisions.

 

Gaggin' in the Grove can also be found at zolleronbuffalogrove.blogspot.com and at stanzoller.wordpress.com.  Stan Zoller also blogs for ChicagoNow at http://www.chicagonow.com/suburban-scene.

 

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