By Bob Uphues
Faced with a 2021 general operating fund deficit of about $252,000, Brookfield elected officials have given the OK to increase some fees as a way to not only erase the deficit but to build in a financial cushion as the nation heads into its second calendar year under the cloud of pandemic.
At a budget workshop earlier this month, village trustees gave the go-ahead to raise ambulance fees by nearly 130 percent from $1,400 to $3,200, a move that is estimated to bring in an additional $685,000 in annual revenue.
That decision comes shortly after the village joined the state's Ground Emergency Medical Transport program, which will allow Brookfield to obtain significantly larger state Medicaid reimbursements for ambulance bills.
To be conservative, officials have estimated $400,000 in additional revenue for ambulance fees in the 2021 budget. The village won't change the way it collects ambulance fees. Residents who have insurance will be billed through their insurance companies. The village will not bill residents for balances not paid by their insurance companies.
Brookfield expects to capture an additional $27,000 in revenue due to proposed increases in building permit fees for drain tile work, fences, plumbing, roofs and windows.
And, the village will begin passing along fees it currently absorbs when people use credit cards to process payments for fees, for example when residents pay bills online. Passing those fees along to customers will save the village about $42,000 a year.
Brookfield Finance Director Doug Cooper said that as a result of the fee increases and other budget assumptions, the preliminary general fund operating budget now projects a surplus of about $135,000.
However, that number is likely to change quickly. On Monday, the Brookfield Village Board approved a measure to waive 50-percent of 2021 liquor license fees for bars and restaurants.
Also, some revenue projections related to sales taxes, places-for-eating taxes, video gambling taxes and recreation fees could change if state COVID-19 mitigations – which have shut down all video gambling terminals, eliminated indoor dining and have largely canceled group recreation activities – continue well past Jan. 1.
"It looks like with everything happening, we are in line to end 2021 with a minimal surplus," Cooper told the Landmark.
The 2021 general fund budget, which includes line items directly related to day-to-day village operations, like salaries and benefits, projects about $18.85 million in expenditures, a 5.35 percent increase over 2020's expenditures, which were reduced by nearly a half million dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, those spending cuts included both personnel expenses and large capital expenditures, some of which were deferred until 2021.
Among the large capital expenditures on tap for 2021 are the purchase of three vehicles – a dump truck, a Bobcat, a snow tractor and a John Deere tractor – for the Public Works Department, improvements to three bathrooms at the police department and offices for the community development department, replacing overhead garage doors at both fire stations, upgrading entrance door security at village hall, buying equipment and software to televise village board meetings and manage documents, replace the roof of the ESDA building at 4523 Eberly Avenue and the rollout of a five-year program to equip police with body cameras.
Also budgeted for 2021 are the first phase of improvements to the Congress Park Metra station area, tunnel and platform (deferred this year), a complete makeover of Candy Cane Park (deferred this year) and the construction of a canoe launch on Salt Creek at Kiwanis Park
The village has also budgeted about $2.5 million for street improvements, marking the final year of a bond-funded campaign that resulted in resurfacing or reconstructing roughly one-third of the village's residential side streets since 2016.
Another project that may be completed in 2021, if $250,000 in state grant funds are released next year, is the replacement of the fountain at Veterans Memorial Circle at Eight Corners.