Local, Park Forest

IL GFOA Pres. Presents GFOA Certificate to Park Forest Finance Director

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Again, Mark Pries, Director of Finance for the Village of Park Forest, earned the GFOA Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting.

This continues to be a full-circle experience for Director Pries. He is in his second life in finance in Park Forest. From 1995 to 2002, Pries served as Assistant Director of Finance in the Village. He left Park Forest in 2002 to become finance director in Oswego and followed that working the same position in Bradley.

This marks the 27th consecutive time the Department of Finance in Park Forest earned this distinction. That means the Village earned this award a year after Director Pries began working for Park Forest in 1995.

Presentation from an Old Friend

John Harrington and Mark Pries greet each other at Tuesday's meeting of the Village Board.
John Harrington and Mark Pries greet each other at Tuesday’s meeting of the Village Board. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)

John Harrington, President of the Illinois Government Finance Officers Association (IGFOA), was on hand to present Mr. Pries with this year’s award certificate.

Mr. Harrington commented that he has known Pries for over 16 years. “He has always been a person I’ve gone to, and we have always used each other as a resource,” he said. Harrington is also well acquainted with former Finance Director Mary Dankowski, who he still sees at conferences. He referred to Ms. Dankowski as “a little bundle of energy as it comes to everything she does.”

Board Members Chime In

Mayor Joseph Woods said these finance awards might be “old hat, but old hat means consistency. And consistent even throughout all the challenges, even through COVID.”

Trustee Erin Slone referenced a coach she once had who put a sign in the team’s locker room. “It said, expect to win. Make it happen,” she said. “Yes, we do get this every year. But we expect excellence, and you deliver. You and your staff deliver every single year. Thank you for being good stewards. For being on top of it.”

Trustee Maya Hardy also referenced stewardship. “Not only is it good stewardship,” she said, “but it’s always that transparency that’s there with our residents.”

“The reason why we are where we are, why we’re in the position where it is as far as from an optimistic standpoint,” Trustee John Moore said, “it’s because of the work that you guys do with the budget. I appreciate everything you do.”

What is this GFOA Certificate of Excellence?

According to the national GFOA, the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting began “in 1945 to encourage and assist state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles.” This means they should “prepare annual comprehensive financial reports, that evidence the spirit of transparency.”

In other words, citizens should be able to pick up a budget document, read it, and understand it.

And there’s this: There should be “full disclosure and then to recognize individual governments that succeed in achieving that goal,” the GFOA says.

GFOA Certificate of Excellence Does Not Assess the Financial Health of the Village

The GFOA is clear:

The goal of the program is not to assess the financial health of participating governments, but rather to ensure that users of their financial statements have the information they need to do so themselves.

Park Forest certainly has its challenges financially. Our taxes are high, largely thanks to our schools and the regressive taxing system in Illinois.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute takes this on directly:

Property taxes are relatively high and regressive in Illinois.

Local school districts depend on property taxes, which account for 63% of all K-12 education funding.

Middle-class homeowners pay 6% of their incomes in property taxes compared to just 1% for millionaires.

To stem property tax growth, Illinois could increase state funding for K-12 education and consolidate townships.

This award, therefore, acknowledges that the finance statements in Park Forest are clear and transparent.

Read the budgets of local school districts. Many are simple spreadsheets, satisfying only the letter of the law.

Read the budget of the Village of Park Forest. Congratulations to Director Pries and his staff.

For the rest of us? Jump in to demand that Illinois restructure and reform its regressive tax structure.