Many municipalities across the state and nation saw their budgets negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
But in Wilmette, village officials reported the budget performed better than anyone anticipated, and highlighted the measures that were taken for that to be possible at the Village Board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Village Manager Michael Braiman said the comparative budget was underspent by $2 million.
“And that has helped position us to be well-positioned moving forward into 2022 and beyond,” he said. “And we’re not out of the pandemic yet, but I think we need to be cautious on that and we’re going to continue to see peaks and valleys as we progress. But really, the last four months of the 2020 fiscal year were outstanding, and they exceeded our expectations.”
Braiman added that the village’s reserves also performed better than expected. Initially, village officials were expecting $11.2 million in reserves.
“It’s going to start (the next fiscal year) at $12.6 million,” he said. “And that’ll be a factor in the Finance Committee’s conversations and staff’s policy recommendations on how we look to invest in infrastructure or pensions or both as we move throughout the course of this year and into next year.”
He highlighted what led to the budget performing better than expected.
“When we talk about our projected year-end reserves, we put those together in August of each year, but there’s four months left in the year, and those last four months really performed better than any of us could ever imagine,” he said. “Real estate transfer tax more than doubled our average take from September to December in 2020.”
In regards to permits, he said December saw $225,000 in non-recurring revenue.
“And we feel really good about where we’re at as we move forward,” Braiman said. “What that means is that we do have flexibility this year and next year.”
Village Finance Director Melinda Molloy said that “overall revenues underperformed the budget just by of 2 percent, but really the last three months of the year were fairly robust and we should be thankful that things turned out much better than what we had anticipated earlier in the year when we were putting the budget together.”
Income tax and sales tax also helped with the budget.
“Forecasters didn’t anticipate how large and how influential stimulus payments would be, and what that was really going to mean,” Molloy said. “So, the fact we all hit, for all intents and purposes, our budget expectation is an amazing thing that happened with income tax.”
She added that local use sales tax brought in $1.1 million.
Village President Bob Bielinski commended the work done by village staff.
“In neighboring communities at the state level, at the federal level, everyone is talking about how big a hole that COVID has done for the budgets,” he said. “And the village staff really deserves a lot of credit here for aggressively managing the budget, reporting monthly to the board on progress.”
He added that the village also looked at projects that were budgeted for that could be postponed.
“We set a goal post, we evaluated where we were vis a vis those plans, and I’m not sure residents noticed us cutting costs,” Bielinski said. “It’s not like we were cutting services at the same time. We were deferring maintenance and deferring some capital maybe.
“For no impact on the community, to come to the board and report that, for 2020, we actually did better than expected overall, I think is a pretty outstanding and amazing job that the staff executed here.”
Transportation plan adopted
Trustees unanimously approved the Village of Wilmette Master Bike and Active Transportation Plan during its consent agenda at Tuesday’s meeting.
The master plan provides ideas and suggestions for making Wilmette a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly community by developing a sustainable transportation network.
During the Feb. 9 meeting, the plan was discussed in detail. At the same time, Bielinski stressed that the plan provides a framework of ideas, and that no actual changes have been approved or implemented.
George introduced as new Plan Commission nominee
Longtime Wilmette resident Alan George, who has been recommended for the village’s Plan Commission, was introduced to Village Board members at Tuesday’s meeting.
George spent nearly 30 years working for Equity Residential, recently retiring as executive vice president and chief investment officer. He had previously served on the village’s Housing Commission. His recommendation included calling his experience “a significant benefit to the work of the Commission.”
He told the board that, since he and his family moved to Wilmette in 1992, he’s enjoyed seeing the village evolve.
“It all sounds like a really great opportunity,” he said of serving on the Plan Commission.
George’s final approval as a Plan Commission member is scheduled for the March 9 Village Board meeting.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.