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Article posted: 4/20/2013 8:00 AM

New Vernon Hills budget provides some breathing room

By Mick Zawislak

Vernon Hills officials have approved a balanced budget with more breathing room than in past years.

With sales tax rebounding and past cost cuts a factor, the village this year will be able to buy some equipment and operate without as many encumbrances due to a tight economy.

The total 2013-14 budget of about $25.3 million, which includes all funds, was slightly higher than last year's. The general fund, which pays for day-to-day operations is about $19.7 million, up 1.7 percent from last year. The budget goes into effect May 1.

One difference is equipment purchases that had been deferred, particularly in the public works department, are included in the new budget, as is replacement of the 10-year-old cars used by village inspectors.

"To be able to do that and not have to make cuts elsewhere is something we haven't been used to," said Finance Director Larry Nakrin.

"We've been very bare bones over the last four years in terms of equipment purchases. I wouldn't say we bought a lot, but we got back to normal levels."

Vernon Hills does not levy a property tax and perennially is among the leaders in Lake County in sales tax revenue. The village peaked at about $10.4 million in sales tax in 2007-08.

Nakrin said the village likely will collect about $10.3 million for 2012-13 and is projecting $10.5 million in 2013-14.

"Our sales tax is back where it was five or six years ago -- almost -- and what makes it easier at this point is we've gone through the cuts in positions," Nakrin said.

Vernon Hills had 127 full-time positions in 2003 compared with 98 in the current budget, although three new hires are anticipated.

While police pension costs grew by about $115,000, the police budget was cut by about $100,000, Nakrin said, as a new fund was created for emergency dispatching services.

The joint police/fire center brought Libertyville on as a client and is considering adding Lincolnshire and Riverwoods.

In other budget highlights, Nakrin said debt payments were reduced by about $500,000 with the final payment on a bond issue, and telecommunications taxes rose by about $130,000. The village levies a 4.5 percent telecommunications tax.

The village's share of state income tax also is expected to be about $200,000 more than projections for the current budget year, he said.

Nakrin also noted last year was the first time the village's tax increment financing district at Route 45 and Milwaukee Avenue paid for itself, and it will run a surplus in the coming budget year.

That will allow the village to begin paying back $2.2 million in loans from other funds, he said.

The village also is holding about $19 million in reserves. It was from that source the village late last year loaned the Vernon Hills Park District about $2 million at no interest to buy the former YMCA facility and property.

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