An unexpected delay in the $13.6 million Deerfield Road project might mean another capital project gets bumped up on Deerfield's priority list.
In neighboring Highland Park, City Manager David Knapp floated an idea of attracting a privately-owned luxury hotel near the Highland Park Country Club to turn the money-draining city-owned golf course into a $350,000-a-year asset.
It's that time of year again, as officials work on crafting budgets that balance bold ideas with fiscal prudence, tamping down tax levies while improving aging infrastructure. Both Deerfield and Highland Park are meeting regularly to discuss their proposed budgets with the goal of having them ready by mid-November.
Highland Park's $85.3 million proposed spending plan represents no increase to the property tax levy, city officials said. Deerfield's $47.9 million budget — the village's first calendar year budget — is expected to require a property levy increase of 2 to 3 percent, pending more village board discussion.
Entering the budget homestretch, questions remain for both towns.
"How solid are these revenue numbers for 2014?" Highland Park Councilman Dan Kaufman asked Mike Williams, regional operations executive for KemperSports, which manages the Highland Park Country Club.
"Recognizing there are other influences, meaning weather, they're very much in line with what we're seeing for the market," Williams said at a recent City Council budget workshop.
But golfing numbers have declined dramatically in the past 10 years across the nation, Williams said. And despite a projected increase of 4 percent in revenue for 2014, the country club is projected to lose about $11,000 in 2014, up from the $40,000 it lost this year.
As golfing numbers have declined sharply in the past decade, the city's debt service payments on the Highland Park Country Club have outpaced revenue, said Nikki Larson, Highland Park's finance director.
The $344,000 annual debt payment will be paid off and not reflected in the proposed budget, Larson said. But $91,000 in proposed capital improvements at the country club, combined with rising expenses, will likely keep the country club in the red, Larson said.
Since he first suggested a luxury hotel to bolster the golf course, Knapp has downplayed his recommendation, saying there are no pending applications or active efforts to recruit a developer. Ownership of the golf course is also expected to transfer, from the city to the Park District of Highland Park after Dec. 31, 2014.
"It was just a comment to say: Don't look at it like a white elephant," Knapp said. "It could be a valuable asset for the city."
At their own recent budget workshop, Deerfield officials expressed some frustration over an unexpected delay to the Deerfield Road project.
Several years in the planning, the Deerfield Road project was the top capital improvement priority for the village in 2014. The project is now planned for 2015.
"We've been talking and talking about it," Mayor Harriet Rosenthal said after the meeting. "But we haven't been able to execute yet."
Construction was originally scheduled to start in March on the project, which would rebuild Deerfield Road and replace underground utilities — water mains, sewer and stormwater pipes — from Ridge Road in Highland Park to Rosemary Terrace in Deerfield. But at a village budget meeting, Public Works Director Barbara Little said more time would be needed to obtain easements for traffic signals.
The information about the easements came from the Lake County Department of Transportation, which is splitting the cost and helping Deerfield obtain necessary federal funding, Little explained.
Federal transportation money is expected to pay for 70 percent of project, with the local share split among Deerfield, Highland Park and Lake County.
A separate $800,000 sidewalk improvement project for the south side of that stretch of Deerfield Road will also be delayed. Federal money will fund 80 percent of that project, said Village Manager Kent Street.