Isn’t it time to ask the Hard Questions?


cut5As we continue our march towards election time, I had a chance to look over those budgets posted on the village website again.  If given the chance to be your Trustee, I want everyone to know – I will ask the hard questions.  I will be wrong at times in my conclusions.  As a resident, like everyone else, if my conclusions are wrong I will admit that, but that also says the Village hasn’t been transparent enough and hasn’t done a good enough job explaining itself.  And that is why I will ask the hard questions and demand the honest, hard answers.

With that said, here is my thoughts on our budget “issues” and how we can cut some spending or actually bring our public safety up to where it belongs and used to be…

Ultimately, the goal is to reduce our spending, or at least find the money to pay for proper public safety and service.  I’ve talked before about our village’s attitude towards businesses here in town, and it’s time we do something opaque and transparent about it.  I’ve also talked about “restructuring” community development, and here is what that means:

There are several facets to the “community development” department, building inspectors, code enforcement, engineering … and all play a part to in the process.  But, do they all have to be in one department and under a Director, or could we borrow ideas from other villages, and what would a “restructuring” look like?

Let’s take a quick look at code enforcement.  These folks are the employees who are responsible for driving around all day and enforcing ordinances, i.e., busting residents and businesses for rusting chimney stack, garbage bins by the street, inoperable car, improper fences, improper driveways, etc.  However, there also a group of people, called CSO’s (community service officers) who are essentially charged with the same thing, plus traffic duties, animal control, and assistance to residents.  And, now they are cross trained.  So, what is the point of code enforcement officers when we already have CSO’s?  No point.  Code Enforcement activities should be completed by CSOs, under the direction of the Police Department.  That means we hire an additional 2 full time CSOs, and eliminate “code enforcement.”

Next is building inspectors – one of the primary sources of anger and aggravation amongst Carpentersville Business Owners.  And new Community Development Directors haven’t been able to stem the tide of that problem.  In many towns (think Hanover Park as a good example,) “Inspection Services” is handled under the direction of the Fire Department.  Because the fire department conducts regular inspection and their command structure is already set up to train and monitor the inspectors, Building Inspection Services and all related services should be placed under the Fire Department’s jurisdiction.  Having 2 full time inspectors and 2 part time inspectors would easily fulfill the needs of inspection services, as well as a single point of contact for any/all inspections conducted in the Village.

The Village Engineer’s position could easily report to the Village Board and/or the Manager instead of having an additional layer of management.

I’d also propose we hire a true marketing professional, with an annual salary commensurate of the gravity of that position.  Therefore, with all the restructuring, here’ is the what the dollars and sense looks like:

Total current CD Personnel Budget 1129204
Proposed Budget:
2 FT CSOs (PD) 120000
1 FT Records/Secretary for PD 70000
2 FT Building Inspectors (FD) 170000
2 PT Building Inspectors (FD) 60000
1 FT Secretary – FD Inspection Services 70000
Village Engineer 130000
Marketing Director 120000
Total Cost for Proposed Budget: 770000
Total Saved: 389204

Take in mind that these “salary” numbers are totals – they include benefits and salary.  So by restructuring this department, we can save the Village $389204 per year!  But, there is other savings to be had.

The simple truth is that in our village, our departments aren’t big enough to warrant having assistant department heads.  Our village has an over-abundance of bosses.  The only department that might be large enough to warrant an assistant or “deputy” is the police department, but they already have 3 Commanders in addition to their sergeants.  However, it was a poor choice to have a director of public safety.  We should have instead been looking at eliminating assistants in each department instead of a promotion and reclassification of titles.  Therefore, I’d recommend eliminating the Director of Public Safety, and simply make the “assistant” in each department that department’s director.  This would save us $177,400 per year.

Without enumerating each department and my reasons – lets suffice it to say that each of these positions has either become moot (because a good employee left – thanks Manager Rooney?!) or the department isn’t big enough to truly warrant an assistant.:

Assistant Public Works Director: $138,581
Assistant Finance Director: $126,027
Assistant Village Manager: $135,510

However, with that last one, I’m not suggesting eliminating Joe Wade, It’s actually a suggestion that we eliminate J Mark Rooney, who, aside from being a bully, was also responsible for getting the village board to fill, (except the Assistant Village Manager) each of the positions listed above without conducting a proper candidate search, and filling them instead with his supporters, which is the definition of Cronyism.  I also believe that the Village Manager’s salary should be adjusted downwards slightly as well.

So, the total in Personnel savings is: $936,722.00

But why end there?  A simple cursory look at the budget can also produce some other areas that are glaring and obvious places to save money.

Let’s start with Information Technology and Internet services.  This department has a vital role in marketing – an area which our Village lacks significantly.  Currently, we pay $30,549 per year for Website hosting, Granicus (think board meetings and live feeds,) Village Newsletter, Domain Renewal and Board Videography.  Because this is an area of technical understanding that I have, I think I can make a qualified statement in that we pay WAY too much for these services.  A Website host costs 167.00 per year for a business-pro level host (Blue Host or Just Host are 2 examples,) and these services offer FREE domain registration.  A Village newsletter – creating an online Village Newsletter is essentially the same task as a printed one, and having it available online can save us big dollars.  If other households do the same thing that mine does, it’s a waste of money to print and mail one to each household.  Having multiple interconnected social media feeds with a robust website can reach far more people that will appreciate the content than the majority of residents that discard the one more piece of junk mail we get every day.  Agendas in PDF format are equally as engaging, and videography can be easily accomplished by a higher-end web camera with streaming technologies built into the website.  Cost for “videography” and agenda posting on a hosted website: $240.00 for the hardware (  So, for what we currently pay $30,549 per year, we could be paying $407.00 the first year, and $167.00 per year after.   Frankly, if our current IT department isn’t capable of administering this, then we need to find other people to manage that department.  I suspect however, that they are capable, however our Village Board’s foresight is limited to simply spending money instead of investing in our employees.

Let’s talk for a moment about attorneys.  The Village currently allots $260,820.00 per year for retainer fees – fees that keep our attorneys on our side.  There’s actually a separate line item for attorney service fees above and beyond the retainer.  We have Holland and Knight for our Planning and Zoning, Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins for a variety of matters and Clark, Baird and Smith as our Labor attorneys.  The funny thing however, is that all 3 of these firms offer a wide variety of services, and we could easily be serviced by any one of them for all our needs.  However, our Board once again chooses the more expensive option of all 3.  If elected, I’d push to limit this to one firm only, and ask for a cap to be placed on retainer fees in the amount of $100,000.00, for a saving of $160,820.00 per year.

The Tree Replacement Program seems to be a pet project of Trustee Schultz, and I make that assumption when the majority of what she has to say during the board meetings relates to plants, trees and playgrounds.  While I can appreciate that “lipstick” projects might be important, there are more pressing issues that our trustees should be addressing.  This program currently costs us $75,000.00 per year, and the village put off a program this year to go higher than that.  I can understand the need to replace lost trees, but this should be a low priority project, choosing instead to put the funding into things like public safety, streets, underground and utility repairs.  So, I’d propose cutting that budget in half – to $37,500.00, while also putting it out to bid to see if more product can’t be obtained for less money.

I turn now to the Fire Department, an area of the Village that Manager Rooney has labeled me as an “expert.”  While the fire department budget is rather slim as it is, (with a little over 1.6 million coming in as revenue, the department really costs the village only about 3.5 million per year – making this department, 10 times the size of community development only twice as expensive…) there are still a few areas that can be cut.  At a time when “staffing changes” continue to affect the fire department’s ability to respond and to complete assigned tasks, 2 glaring areas could be cut to provide additional funding.  The first is debatable, and I know that there are good reasons why we do this – we pay $6800.00 per year for “Target Safety” which is an online training website that allows the department to provide “classroom” learning and track monthly training.  However, I believe this could be done in house (with a software package that we already pay for in addition to target safety) and provide a small savings.  In addition to that, the department pays $30,000.00 per year for annual physicals.  Take in mind that all full-time employees are afforded very generous health insurance which already covers the cost of annual physicals if they use their Primary Care Provider with a small $25.00 co-pay, and yet the Village opts to pay for and to pay for employee’s time to attend physicals through a central provider.  I have a problem with this concept.  All doctors are capable and able to perform physicals, as well as the specialized testing, such as spirometry (breathing,) ECGs, laboratory work, hearing examinations and basic eye examinations that all firefighters receive every year.  This is an easy area with which to save money, even if the department reimburses employees for their co-pay amount.  Total savings by stopping this practice – $28,000.00.

Let’s recap: by making some important personnel changes, management changes, and by addressing some quick-look key areas, to the budget, our Village can save:

$1,229,984.00 PER YEAR

To really put that amount into perspective, if I look on my tax bill, the rate is 2.099763 (a point – this is last year’s tax rate, this year’s is a bit higher) and 2012 it was 1.837698.  Based on what the village revenue was in the budget for 2014, the savings shown would be the same thing as reducing the tax rate from the current rate to 1.75249, or our tax rate sometime between 2010 and 2011.  Does anyone else think it’s amazing that we could be paying 2011 rates instead of 2014 rates?  If we look at the actual dollar amounts however, it turns out that this amount is just under $25.00 per year on our taxes.  How much is $25.00 worth to you?  To me – $25.00 per year can do the following:

  • Put 5 firefighters in each station (yes, additional part-time firefighters) to increase the department’s emergency response to our needs.
  • Add 5 police officers to the village (not quite 72 like we had 6 years ago, but it’s a start), so that afternoon shifts are actually properly staffed.
  • Add 3 more public works employees, allowing streets and/or underground to work faster in repairing our roads and utilities.

It’s too bad that our current trustees just simply say yes to whatever Manager Rooney wants, including looking the other way at his behavior AND helping him to cover up his malfeasance, but as residents, we don’t have to!  If, as a resident, I can find this much with only a brief look at the budget – how much could REALLY be saved, and how many more public works, police and firefighters could we afford to actually provide for proper public safety and a business-friendly atmosphere in our town?  I hope that on April 7th, 2015, my fellow residents will give me the opportunity to find out by electing me as a Village Trustee, and showing the door to the incumbents who chose to run for re-election.