By Dermot Connolly
Expecting a budget shortfall of $8 million to $10 million this year, largely due the shutdown of businesses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oak Lawn Village Board had made some drastic cuts, including the termination of Fire Chief Michael Mavrogeorge.
The decision was made after the Village Board met in executive session following their last public meeting on May 26.
Village officials said Mavrogeorge, who earned a base salary of $141,312 in 2019, will not receive a severance package. But his health insurance will be extended for a period.
Mayor Sandra Bury said Deputy Fire Chief Zack Riddle, who was sworn in with Mavrogeorge in 2018, will assume the chief’s responsibilities on an interim basis. The deputy chief position will not be filled.
“This was not a reflection on him. The fire chief is a great guy. He acted with integrity,' said Bury. “It was not just (Mavrogeorge). We had to make a lot of cuts, unfortunately. Just like many households have lost income, and can’t spend what they don’t have, we can’t either. We are looking at an $8 million to $10 million shortfall.”
“We were looking forward restaurants and everything beginning to open and now we have this civil unrest too,” said the mayor, referring to the looting that occurred over the weekend in Chicago and included a few incidents in the village.
“ We have a 90-day lagtime in what revenue we get from the state. We met with our bargaining units and asked them to bring anything to the table,” said the mayor, referring to the four unions in the village — police, fire, public works and maintenance workers. "We asked each division head to make 20 percent cuts.”
In addition to the fire chief’s position, Bury said a division chief in the police department, two administrative secretaries, a building inspector and others were also let go. Among 53 furloughed positions include three part-time bus drivers for seniors and all 41 school crossing guards, who wouldn’t be returning to work anyway until schools reopen in the fall, if they do.
“ We have implemented a hiring freeze too,” said Bury.
The village officials had already put their search for a permanent village manager on hold, after Police Chief Randy Palmer agreed to remain as interim village manager for at least a year. He has been doing double duty since Larry Deetjen retired after being involved in a car crash last October that seriously injured a pedestrian.
But with the hiring freeze in place, other positions being left unfilled include two in the water department, two police officers, and 38 summer help positions. Village engineer Jack Gallagher also plans to retire in July, and will not be replaced.
“ We have made arrangements with an engineering firm to be used on an as-needed basis,” said the mayor.
Public Works Director Steve Barrett also plans to retire at the end of June.
“ We have made cuts to the street resurfacing program too. Some of the planned work is not likely to happen unless we get grants,” she said.
Capital equipment cuts, as well as other expenses for travel and conferences have also been done.
“ We need to maintain services, that is the most important thing,” said Bury.
“ I would like to say the unions should have the spirit of our forefathers,” said the mayor, acknowledging that the ongoing standoff with the firefighters union regarding staffing levels remains a chronic drain on finances. The agreement requires four firefighters on every truck, rather than three used in many communities.
Bury said the agreement is costing the village $4 million in overtime every year to fill the fourth position on each engine, which officials maintain is not needed or used by most fire departments.
“It is very frustrating. I want people to think of the ‘we’ and not the ‘me,’” said the mayor.