During a forum at Buffalo Grove High School, candidates for Buffalo Grove village board discussed ways to keep the village lean.
Six candidates are vying for three seats on the village board, with only one of them, Jeffrey Braiman, running as an incumbent. The forum was sponsored by the Buffalo Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.
Candidates were asked what areas of the budget they would consider reducing or eliminating.
Beverly Sussman, a teacher and businesswoman who has served on the village's commission for residents with disabilities and the 50th anniversary committee, said the village is in the fortunate position of being in the black.
"We do not have to let anyone go. We are managing today well with our bills."
She said the village is doing a good job in trying to save money, noting that one retired employee had come back part time.
"When we don't have enough money to do something, it's not done," she said, noting one example where the village delayed paving some roads because they couldn't budget for it. She added that projects for new facilities for fire and public works have been put on hold to avoid going into debt.
Joanne Johnson, the wife of former Trustee Charles Johnson and the former director of marketing and public relations for a medical center, said the village should implement a radical cost-reduction plan.
"We need to get down to bare bones."
She suggested sharing some services with other municipalities. She added that the village should lobby state legislators for decreases in unfunded mandates, especially in the area of pensions. "We have no say in the cost of these pension plans. We are told by our state legislature and we are stuck with the bill."
She suggested other measures, such as combining jobs and furloughing staff. "It would be a last resort. Nobody wants to lay off a dedicated employee, police officer or firefighter."
Braiman agreed that pensions are a critical issue.
"These unfunded mandates are really strangling us," he said. "Last year, we spent over $4.5 million on pensions for our employees." One of the reasons the figure keeps going up, he said, is that the state keeps granting unions increases in fire and police pensions.
He said the village has found ways to cut costs. Following his suggestion, he said, the village changed to self-insurance, which has saved it millions of dollars. It has also saved money by trimming travel expenses, hiring interns and deferring vehicle purchases.
Andrew Stein, who has served on the village's zoning board of appeals, said the village and the village manager's office have done an exemplary job of making sure the village lives within its means.
"The trustees really do treat the (village's) money as if it is their own."
He noted in particular the recent scrutiny given the public works department on the availability of salt. He quipped, "Public works was so good they even predicted this last weekend's snowstorm."
Stein said the village has been firm when it needs to be, such as when the fire department requested a new vehicle to replace one that had 47,000 miles on it. That request was deferred.
Michael Terson, public relations and marketing manager for the park district, said he would like to see the village partner more with the park district.
He added, "Anyone in this room who really knows me knows that I am a people person. And I can tell you all right now that the last thing I would ever look to do is to get rid of people, because I believe that the people who make your village work are just that, they're people. They're not budget line items.
"When a water main breaks at 2 a.m., they're there, and when the snow needs to be plowed, they're there. We owe them the same amount of dedication and respect that they give us, and the last thing I would ever look to do is to eliminate people, because I think they are our most valuable asset."
Terson said he would look to increase revenue rather than cut.
Lisa Stone, a self-described grass roots activist and former District 96 PTO president, said the $60 million budget might seem large, but it is less than 10 percent of the property tax levy. She said there are not a lot of areas one can cut without slicing into such essentials as police and fire.
She said one area she would look at - and "while I wouldn't want to do it, because I know the village does need this money" - is the village's home rule sales tax. "We can pull that back."
Braiman took strong issue with Stone's comment. "Home rule sales tax is critical to our village. Last year, we made approximately $3.5 million in revenue from the home rule sales tax. Without that, we can't balance our budget and would have to drastically cut our services."