Stormwater tops on Winnetka to-do list
Winnetka Thursday, 11/8/12 Winnetka village manager, Rob Bahan. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:06AM
WINNETKA — With the state and national elections behind us, and the local elections looming ahead in the spring, Pioneer Press took a minute to talk with local village managers to get an unvarnished look at where each stands at the end of 2012.
Winnetka Village Manager Rob Bahan sat down to talk top issues, finances and pension reform.
Q. Can you briefly describe the top issues Winnetka faces?
A. “Number one is stormwater management. We have a $41 million program in place at this point, some of which is being funded out of reserves, but we still haven’t finalized whether the Willow Road tunnel project is feasible or moving forward. Our downtown revitalization is very important. Also technology upgrades. We hope to bring a new financial software to the council in December or January with the idea of moving toward a calendar fiscal year and we hope to update our website. Our fourth area is our municipal partnering initiative where we partner with communities like Glenview, Northbrook and Northfield for things like concrete bids, sanitary sewer lining, fire hydrant painting and leak detection services. We bid out on a collective basis with an increased volume to lower the price of contracts. It’s about being good financial stewards.”
Q. Given the economy, how would you describe Winnetka’s financial situation?
A. “We’re strong and stable. We have a balanced budget. We have kept tax increases at or under the rate of inflation. We’ve tried very hard to keep budgetary pressure on the operations so increases are manageable. Overall, we’re healthy and we have a AAA bond rating which may come very helpful if we issue bonds for stormwater projects. We’ve conservatively managed and we do our best to keep expenditures under control.”
Q. How is the state’s pension crisis affecting Winnetka?
A. “We’re advocating for meaningful pension reform. All three of our pension plans are mandated by state statute, but funded at the local level. Because the pensions are fairly generous and because of the market loses they have cost us more over the last several years. Our police is 68.2 percent funded, our fire is 61.1 percent funded and our IMRF is 59 percent funded while annuitants is approximately 80 percent funded. We’re holding our own, but need meaningful reform.”
Q. What is Winnetka doing to promote economic development?
A. “The top issue is our downtown revitalization. We have a council approved urban land institute study and two-phase technical assistance panels. Day-to-day we will work cooperatively with businesses seeking to relocate to Winnetka. Our vacancy rate is down to 3 percent based on square footage and at 8 percent based on units. In 2011 those numbers were 7 and 9 percent, respectively. We have tried to improve our assistance level, but the numbers also reflect the marginally improving economy. We’ve seen some good business activity over the last 12 months.”
Q. Do you think Winnetka is doing a good job conducting its business transparently?
A. “All of our information is on the website, we’re fully compliant with the open meetings act, we’re timely with responses for requests for information and our annual audit is clean and unqualified and posted on the website. We have 3,700 email addresses in our email database and we send out, in a typical week, an informational email about things going on within the village and our council agendas. We also do a quarterly newsletter called the Winnetka Report, which will be mailed to houses before Thanksgiving.”