The Village of Skokie’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Budget was recently approved by the Village Board after first being reviewed in detail by Village Board members during three public hearings in May 2021. According to Village Manager John Lockerby, the FY22 Budget maintains the Village’s 31-year property tax freeze and continues the Village’s exemplary service delivery despite extreme fiscal challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The total $59.8 million operating budget represents a significant decrease from both the original FY21 Budget and the amended FY21 COVID-19 Budget. Despite austere budgeting measures that include a hiring freeze, deferment of capital projects and organization-wide budget reductions, the FY22 budget has a $3.3 million deficit,” said Lockerby. Historically, the Village has a balanced budget.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy has significantly strained the Village’s budget. Many of the measures implemented in spring 2020 remain in effect during FY22. For example, through attrition and operational efficiencies, including 21 staff positions that have been frozen during the past year, the Village currently has 56.5 fewer positions than it did a decade ago, representing a more than 10 percent reduction in the Village’s workforce for an annual $4.2 million savings. “Village staff has done an excellent job of conserving resources while continuing to deliver excellent, efficient services that are the hallmark of the Village of Skokie, even as staffing levels are reduced,” said Lockerby.
Although rebound of revenues is expected in FY22, it will not be sufficient to support all Village programs and services. More than half of the Village’s General Fund revenues are derived from sources like food and beverage, hotel and sales taxes, all of which suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Village currently collects $7.6 million less in annual revenues that it did during the peak several years ago, which makes supporting the Village’s overall funding priorities, including workforce costs, pensions, debt and capital improvements particularly challenging, both in the present and when considering anticipated, mandatory increases in these funding obligations.
The Village recently entered a new 20-year agreement to purchase water from the City of Evanston. The new rate and continued investment in the water system infrastructure requires a 7.5 percent rate increase in FY22. Even with the increase, the Village’s rate for water remains competitive among area communities, many of which also assess a separate sewer tax or fee that is not assessed by the Village of Skokie.
In order to offset increases in the cost of collecting and disposing refuse, the Village is implementing an $8.75 monthly refuse fee that will appear on customer utility bills beginning on November 1, 2021. The total annual cost of over $6 million to provide refuse collection and disposal increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Very few communities provide free refuse service, and the new $8.75 monthly fee will be one of the lowest in the area and only represents one-third of the actual annual refuse collection and disposal service cost. The Village has maintained a property tax freeze on residential and commercial properties for over 30 years and strives to provide exceptional services at the lowest cost possible to residents. With the onset of the new refuse fee, Skokie has the second lowest combined rate of service fees for refuse, water, sewer, vehicle stickers, sales tax and property tax among 16 nearby comparable communities. In tandem with the possible new monthly refuse fee, the Village Board has charged the Sustainable Environmental Advisory Commission with beginning a study on how the Village can maximize recycling and waste reduction initiatives in an effort to mitigate and potentially decrease refuse disposal costs.
Among the few new initiatives being implemented in FY22 is a pilot Co-Responder Program through which Village social work staff will respond to certain emergency calls with Skokie Police Department personnel in an effort to assist residents and bring better outcomes to calls for situations that might benefit from a social work intervention. The Village also will continue to strategically plan for and promote economic development in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan, with a particular focus on Downtown Skokie, Skokie Boulevard north of Oakton Street, east Oakton Street and Main Street.
“While FY22 poses particular financial challenges, the community can rest assured that Skokie’s decades-long record of efficiency and excellent customer service will continue,” said Lockerby. “I appreciate the leadership of the Village Board in addressing the current challenges. I also am grateful for the hard work of all Village staff as they adhere to a high standard of excellence while being mindful of the need to conserve fiscal resources as they serve the community each and every day.”