The Village of Wilmette has filled its coffers and then some, so what now?
With that thought in mind, the Village Board’s Committee of the Whole began a blueprint to guide their spending of their excess reserves during a meeting on Tuesday, June 20.
The trustees brainstormed numerous ideas before deciding to direct funds toward land planning, a downtown parking study and an infrastructure street project on Green Bay Road, among other agenda items.
The Village is planning a $4.2 million drawdown of its excess reserve funds to leverage Wilmette’s “strong financial position” — a triple a rating by Moody’s — and offset “inflationary” economic conditions, according to the budget presentation, Village Manager Mike Braiman said. The spending will leave the Village’s reserves at 36 percent of the village’s expense budget by the end of 2025, which is down from more than 50 percent but still above their target of 30 percent.
Braiman said that historically Village staff has presented excess-reserve plans to the board and the decisions have been effective in supporting infrastructure and reducing property taxes and pension liabilities.
“We have an opportunity, but not an obligation, to think bigger or more creatively on how we can have an impact on the community as a whole in different ways than our typical ways we’ve been spending reserves,” Braiman said.
Assistant Village Manager Erik Hallgren said a drawdown approach was approved by the board in 2021 in the case that reserves exceed 30 percent of operational expenses. The drawdown plan, he said, is implemented when the reserves exceed that target by more than 5 percent.
The village projects reserves to reach $19.35 million, which is 48.3 percent of budgeted expenditures, by the end of 2023. Hallgren said the excess comes from $6.7 million in one-time revenues — $4.57 million in nonrecurring building permits, $877,000 in nonrecurring real estate transfer taxes, and $1 million for the sale of the historic depot building at 1139 Wilmette Ave.
The committee discussed items and programs that fell within six “buckets,” or larger categories in which the board wants to invest within the next three years. The board consolidated the buckets down to five: building and placemaking; social programs; sustainability; infrastructure and grants; and pensions and taxpayer relief.
Braiman said that it was important for the board not to focus on the dollar amounts during the initial brainstorming.
“We can sometimes get lost in how much a project costs. That will come after,” Braiman said. “We really want to focus on what do you value? Where do you want to see us go with our reserve funds?”
The board brainstormed one to four items per bucket. Although trustees plan to reduce the list in future meetings, they supported funding for five ideas.
Trustees agreed to fund advancing Green Bay Road improvements as a part of the Phase I Study, which is preliminarily planned for 2025-’26.
Additionally, they plan to go ahead with the Active Transportation Phase I preliminary engineering bicycle and pedestrian study on Ridge Road and Wilmette Avenue and Glenview Road from Ridge to the western Village limits. The study also benefits from a grant and may begin later this year.
The board also wants to conduct a parking study in downtown Wilmette, where they said parking has become a growing concern for residents.
Trustees also pledged to spend money on “focused land planning” in an effort to support underperforming and vacant development sites, such as Linden Square, along Ridge Road (Treasure Island), and the Imperial Motors building on Green Bay Road.
Lastly, the board wants to allocate funds toward pollinator gardens.
Moving forward, the board plans to go through the remaining items in the buckets and reduce the list to align with the amount of their reserve funds they plan to spend. In addition, they want to determine a set timeline for the projects they ultimately choose to fund.
“Don’t feel limited right now,” Braiman said to the board. “Let’s throw all your ideas at the wall and then when we start to reduce that list, that’s when we can really start focusing on if this is the right project to sell to our residents, to make an impact on our community for the long term and short term.”
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Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.