Elephant in the room

Opinion: Editorials

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The village of Brookfield received its completed audit of fiscal year 2018 recently, and it didn't paint a pretty picture. For the third straight year, the village's operating expenses outpaced revenues, and this time the shortfall was about $762,000.

To make up for the shortfall, the village dipped into its cash reserves, which fell to below $2 million for the first time in eight years.

While the amount of the shortfall was greater than expected, the fact that expenditures in the general operating fund in 2018 outdistanced revenues was not a surprise. The village's manager warned of the shortfall earlier this year as Brookfield trustees began hammering out a final budget for 2019.

The village board instituted a number of fee and fine increases and imposed a new 1-percent tax on the sale of food and drinks at restaurants and bars. The hope was that those increases, and some other minor adjustments in budget estimating, would generate an $800,000 swing in the village's favor.

We really won't know the results until later this year, preliminarily, when officials start planning for the 2020 budget in the fall.

But we're guessing the village is not out of the woods. While there may still be some room to adjust fees in the future, costs for delivering village services like police and fire protection and public works are sure to keep rising slightly each year.

With pension obligations increasing year over year — to the point where they now account for more than a third of Brookfield's entire annual property tax levy — officials are going to be under pressure every year to balance those services and the dollars available.

The pension obligations are a time bomb that a small municipality like Brookfield really doesn't have a whole lot of control over. The pensions are guaranteed in contracts and funding them is mandated by the state.

At some point, the state has got to help villages like Brookfield better manage that obligation, or local officials and residents will have some very difficult choices to make down the road.

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