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Proviso Probe

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

POL, how should voters evaluate fiscal policies of taxing bodies?

In an earlier discussion Chris Miller asked for information about the Village of Forest Park's budget and spending history.
And do you also have any information on the village budgets over the past 10 years -- like what was the total v income/expenses in 1996 compared to 2001 compared to 2006 ?

(and where the changes mostly came from ?)

These just seem to be things we ought to know going into this election.

Chris Miller's question raises a larger issue.

How should voters evaluate taxing bodies on fiscal issues? The easiest way is to say, "I agree/disagree with the last tax increase" or "I'm impressed [taxing body] hasn't raised taxes."

But these statements are pretty simplistic. It seems like there should be an online resource for looking at the taxing bodies history of revenue and expenses and there should be comparison with comparable taxing bodies. Then academics and other experts could question areas where individual taxing bodies appear to be spending too much.

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  • It would be nice if there was a government body that analyzed ANY financial information about our taxing bodies, whether municipal, school districts, park districts, etc. But they don’t.

    When I started paying attention in Broadview in 2004 we didn’t have any current financial reports available. We didn’t get our FYE 4/30/03 audit until November of 2005, well after Mayor Vicenik was re-elected. I was able to get information from other sources, such as the Department of Insurance regarding the Police and Fire Pension Funds that were spent in the General Fund and an unaudited Income/Expense spreadsheet that I got when I was the only resident at a Town Hall meeting in September 2004. I tried to let people know Broadview was broke, but Henry & Co. were able to convince people my warnings were politically motivated and not true.

    I talked with Dan Hynes’s Comptroller’s office in February of 2005. They are charged with collecting the Audited Financial Statements from the taxing bodies and making them available to the public. They said they knew Broadview was behind in their reporting, but all they would do is send a letter, which they did every month. They said it was up to the citizens to make the Village comply. (By the way, they take the same attitude about the required annual TIF Reports, which Broadview has never done.)

    When I asked the Department of Insurance, who is charged with monitoring the Pension Funds, what they were going to do about the $2.5 Million of Police and Fire Pension Funds the Village spent, they said they would increase the amount the Village is required to pay when they did their annual actuarial analysis. They said it was up to the citizens to do anything more.

    The way to see what Income/Expenses are compared to previous years is to create a spreadsheet and look at the numbers. Last year I did that for the Broadview FYE 4/30/06 Budget Hearing that was finally held on April 3, 2006. I included 2004 and 2005 figures from the audit and the 2006 Budget. For the 2007 Budget Hearing I expanded the spreadsheet to include 2000 to 2005 audit figures and the 2006 and 2007 budget figures. I also created spreadsheets of like entries so we can compare apples with apples. For example, I took all the Property Tax Revenue from each fund to show how our total Property Tax Revenue has stagnated over the last few years. I did the same with our debt service and payroll, which shows that while our total Police payroll rose 7% and Fire payroll rose 9% over the 4 year period from 2003 through 2006, our Debt Service rose over 78% in the same period.

    Doing the analysis is one thing – getting people to pay attention to the numbers is another. In the case of Broadview, it “helps” that we publicly hit bottom with the layoffs last year. But still, most people glaze over when I talk about the numbers. The complete spreadsheet from 2000 to 2007 for all Funds is 32 pages. The compiled figures are another 12 pages. And you have to take into account the historical perspective to really understand the numbers. For example, the General Fund Property Tax went from $3,476,000 in 2006 to $2,670,900 in 2007, but you have to realize Fire Pension Funds are now paid directly to the Pension Board, which accounts for the huge decrease, to understand the big picture.

    Luckily, among the people who are paying attention are the three Broadview TEA Party candidates, John Ealey, Marquetta Smith and Sherman Jones. In addition to asking me to share my figures and analysis about our financial state, they are meeting with people to understand TIF’s, Bonds, the Illinois Municipal Code, Village Code, etc.

    My point is, it can be done. It takes time to do it, but it can be done. Sure, it would be nice if there was some government office that did this work for us, but they don’t. If citizens from a community don’t know how to create such a spreadsheet or understand the Audited Financial Statements, I suggest they raise some money and hire someone (accountant or auditor) to explain it to them. In a perfect world our local elected officials would do this and we could ask them (and trust their answers), but it isn’t a perfect world.

    By Anonymous Judy Brown-Marino, at 10:56 AM, March 07, 2007  

  • Yes, hopefully all our local governments will put their financial statements on line. (currently the Forest Park financials can be found at the library)

    But to be useful to voters, there still needs to be knowledgeable interpretation -- identifying the big issues and making comparisons.

    I would hope that candidates for office would be offering their own interpretations/comparisons -- i.e. something a little more thoughtful than just superficial sloganeering like "If you expect greater financial accountability from the Mayor's office... vote for me etc."

    Especially, if the candidates are running against an incumbent administration -- as you and Ms. Steinbach are.

    (BTW - I sent her an email about this yesterday -- as I have asked her other questions back before the primary -- but so far she hasn't responded to any of them)

    If a candidate for mayor/commissioner can't present a thoughtful discussion of village finances before the election -- what could we expect from them after they get elected ?

    By Blogger chris miller, at 10:59 AM, March 07, 2007  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger chris miller, at 6:59 AM, March 22, 2007  

  • I've heard from Ms. Steinbach -- and we can expect more discussion of fiscal policy on her website.

    And -- what can we do to get Judy Brown to move to Forest Park ?

    It's so refreshing to find a person who's trying to get to the facts and isn't afraid of standing behind her own name. (but maybe those two qualities always go together)

    By Blogger chris miller, at 6:35 PM, March 24, 2007  

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