Lincolnwood moves forward despite revenue decreases
Timothy Wiberg, village manager for Lincolnwood, works Monday at his desk at Village Hall. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 4:48PM
LINCOLNWOOD — An internship under longtime Skokie administrator Al Rigoni helped prepare Timothy Wiberg for the responsibilities involved in running neighboring Lincolnwood.
Now serving in his 10th year as village manager, Wiberg has seen a fair share of ups and downs in Lincolnwood, from a drop in tax revenue to an improved bond rating. There is always room for improvement, he said, but overall the current state of affairs in Lincolnwood is promising.
Q: Can you briefly describe the top three issues Lincolnwood faces?
A: The first is to continue our efforts to solidify our budget. In the recession of 2008 we saw sales tax revenue decrease by 25 percent. It’s starting to crawl back up but not yet to the levels reached in 2007. We have to continue to be smart stewards of the funds that we have.
Economic development is really the way we can make progress toward getting our financial house firmly back in order. The biggest economic development project now is the Purple Hotel site. It contributes to not only the fiscal health of the village but to community life.
We also need to address the vacancies on Lincoln Avenue, which is really the central hub of activity in the village. We’d like to see Lincoln Avenue become more prosperous and vibrant.
Q: What is the village doing to promote economic development?
A: Our economic development efforts have been proactive. The village regularly hosts online webinars for developers in which we highlight the available sites in the village and their attractiveness. We recently hosted a webinar tailored specifically to restaurant developers.
We created one new Tax Increment Financing district in and around the Purple Hotel site. We’re also considering another on Devon Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and McCormick Boulevard. The purpose is to provide money to assist the physical amenities in the area to hopefully attract developers and retain current users.
On the softer side we changed our codes to make it easier for development communities to do business here. The village recently reduced its requirement for parking by 50 percent. Our previous standards were more in line with suburbs in the hinterlands.
Q: Given the economy, how would you describe village’s fiscal situation?
A: Despite a decrease in our main source of revenue, village staff and the board have worked well together to be nimble and flexible. We weathered that financial storm without touching our financial reserves, which earned us one slot below an AAA bond rating. And, if we don’t take out any new bonds in the next seven years, the village will be in a very stable position when it pays off all its debt service. That is a unique position for a municipality.
Q: How is the state’s pension crisis affecting Lincolnwood?
A: Directly it does not affect the village. That’s their problem. We have our own pensions to worry about and we do. The state is in a really disastrous position but the village is not responsible for any of the pension requirements they have. But we have to be mindful of it. The state is trying to reduce the amount of money by law it must give to us, like sales tax and motor-fuel tax funds, to pay its own bills. That’s a very frustrating position to be in. We are stepping in and fighting against this with our municipal partners.
Q: Do you think Lincolnwood is doing a good job conducting its business transparently?
A: Yes. We’re an open book. For the last few years the public has been able to get Village Board meeting packets at the same time as the board. The public gets to know not only what’s on the agenda but has access to meeting materials. Most recently we’ve started an email list whereby residents or whomever give us their address and we’ll send them that information directly.
The public has access to public information, whether its through the Freedom of Information Act or on our village website, which has a wealth of information about what we’re doing. Village Board packets, videos of meetings, financial reports – any document of any importance for the public we place on easily attainable places online.
Investment in technology allows for a more effective distribution of information. The Village Board has been very smart about allowing staff to invest in various IT-related things. If the public can’t attend a meeting or watch it live on TV, they can see it the next day online.