By Bob Balgemann


Village officials have kicked off preparing their 2021-22 budget with an opening workshop that set the stage for what will come at future meetings.

The mayor and trustees will get into the dollars and cents side of the process Saturday morning at village hall. At that time Village Administrator James Richter II and Finance and Human Resources Manager Michelle Johannsen will present the proposed general fund and road fund, described as “the biggest areas to consider.” Other funds will follow at a future meeting. 

During the kickoff meeting held Feb. 1, village board members were presented with the village-wide goals for the new fiscal year, along with goals set by each of the six departments.

In an overview, Manager Johannsen said, “Overall, the financial condition of the village remains strong, even with the unforeseen onset of the (coronavirus) pandemic. The board and staff reacted quickly to stop or hold many expenses to ensure we could weather the storm. The economy took a quick dive and to the surprise of many, it came back relatively quickly across many industries.

“While economists are predicting a recession, which we may now be in already, the upcoming year should see a modest recovery. Consumer demand remains difficult to predict, coupled with the possible negative impacts of the state of Illinois’ finances. However, the village’s mix of retail stores should continue the positive sales tax numbers we have seen to date, which have been a 5 1/2-percent increase ($140,000) through October sales over the prior year.

“The village’s financial position should remain relatively stable, given the results to date.”

Administrator Richter presented the new fiscal year’s goals, overall and for each department. He said the overall theme of communication was a result of feedback he received from trustees, that they would like more information. So that comes with more communication.

Public safety, he continued, is in a precarious position right now. And so building trust with the community is something that’s going to be this department’s focus.

Last year, when the village was looking at possible future sources of law enforcement services, research determined there was some dissatisfaction with the level services that were being provided contracturally by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. An ad-hoc committee ultimately recommended staying with the sheriff’s department and the village board concurred.

Long discussion

Most of the rest of the kickoff meeting was taken up by discussion initiated by Trustee James Kidd on whether the village should be shopping for engineering and legal services, to see if similar, quality, experienced people were available at a lower rate that could save $200,000-$300,000 a year?

“We have no plans at this time to do that,” Administrator Richter replied. “We’re satisfied with the really good service providers that we have. They do a good job.”

Trustee Kidd persisted, asking, “Satisfied because you like them or because they’re cost effective?”

“Satisfied because they know and understand the operation of the village,” was the administrator’s answer. “They’ve been really good service providers for us in the past. That’s my recommendation.”

Kidd said his suggestion was not personal. “These are just decisions we need to make,” he said.

Mayor Steve Johnson asked if there were any comments, or discussion, from anyone?

That brought a follow-up from Trustee Joe Seipts to the question raised by Trustee Kidd.

“I understand where he’s coming from,” Seipts said. “But I’ve been told in the past that they’re (engineer and attorney) in line. So if that’s the answer I get from people above me, I’ll agree.”

Richter reiterated that in the law firm, for which Village Attorney Tom Green works, “I think we’re getting a firm of qualified attorneys at an excellent rate. I’m not sure that we can even bid engineering services. We have to select an engineer based on qualifications.”

“I agree,” Seipts said. “As a consumer, cheaper is not always better. You get what you pay for. I’ve been on this board for four years (and) I think we’re getting great representation from both sides. I’m happy with the service we’ve got, so I’ll leave it at that.”

Later in the meeting Mayor Johnson and Trustee Aaron Wilson also said they were pleased with the services being provided by engineer Chris Dopkins and attorney Green.

Not his business?

Kidd continued the discussion, saying in the past the former village administrator and former mayor told him a matter he wanted to discuss was none of his business. “I have a problem with that,” he said. “I have not had the same response from the current village administrator.

“However, I have have received, ‘Hey, Tom, where’d you get that information from, can I look at it? No, you can’t look at that. It’s for the mayor only, for the village administrator only.’ I think transparency is the key and according to one of your objectives and goals is that all trustees should see everything. And if the mayor is supposed to see something and the trustees can’t see it, that isn’t good transparency.

“That’s just my opinion and I think we should all see the same information, not just what the mayor and village administrator can see behind closed doors.”

Green addressed one of Kidd’s points, saying he was not the gatekeeper of information for the administration. “It’s not appropriate for me to make the decision of when something is handed out,” he added. “The village administrator can hand out something or not, and it’s the decision of the administrator to do that.”

“I’ve never tried to hide anything,” Richter interjected. “You all get the same information, that’s public administration 101. In response to your (Kidd) concerns, we’re making sure everyone gets the same information.”

Trustee Jake Schmidt said one thing he felt good about was the board sees everything (village engineer) Chris (Dopkins) presents. “The administrator has charge of how much or how little they use (village attorney) Tom’s services. I have the unique perspective of being on that side of the building (as an employee) and now I’m over here. If legal costs are too high, we as a board have the authority to scale it back. We have the power to control expenses.”

Finance Manager Johannsen wrapped up the kickoff meeting by going over what would be discussed at upcoming meetings.

The first financial workshop is Saturday (Feb. 27) with another one to follow. The budget in final form will be available March 25. First reading of the budget ordinance will be April 5, with the final reading on April 19. The 2021-22 fiscal year will begin May 1, and a new budget must be approved before then.

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