Staring down a nearly $8 million budget deficit next year, the Village of Matteson may draw down its public-safety work force significantly – with possible layoffs of 13 cops and eight firefighters.

Those potential job cuts represent about 40 percent of the police force and a third of the fire department – dangerous terrain, according to rank-and-file employees and some residents.

Village officials say they’re just being diligent, trying to get finances in order for taxpayers after years of declining tax revenues.

However, a Better Government Association review found village leaders have been anything but diligent in recent years when it comes to money. Consider:

  • In January, around the same time public-safety cuts were floated, the village hired John Dancy, husband of Village Trustee Bridget Dancy, for a $43,900-a-year public works job. Bridget Dancy, who makes $158,500 annually working for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, said she had “absolutely nothing” to do with her husband getting the job. And she said, “if there’s going to be layoffs it’s going to be across the board.”

    By the way, Bridget Dancy is one of several elected officials in town drawing more than one taxpayer-backed pay check and, perhaps some day, pension.

  • In June, the south suburb leased a 2014 Chevy Traverse for Village President Andre Ashmore – even though he’s a part-time official (his title is basically synonymous with “mayor”), there’s a full-time administrator handling the town’s day-to-day operations and finances were strained.

    The vehicle will likely cost taxpayers more than $21,000 during the 39-month lease, records show.

    Ashmore, who recently left his $110,000-a-year job with a state agency, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said “anytime there’s an emergency” other village employees can use his vehicle.

  • In 2010, amid a fiscal crisis that included layoffs, village officials voted to give themselves raises. Trustees saw pay rise from $8,000 to $15,000 a year, while the mayor’s salary nearly doubled, from $15,500 annually to $30,000.

    Ashmore argued there hadn’t been a raise in years and they work for a pittance for the number of hours they put in, saying, “It doesn’t add up to minimum wage.” No matter that some municipalities compensate elected officials much less – if anything. In River Forest the village president and board members don’t receive any compensation. In Oak Park, village board members get roughly $7,200 and the village president gets about $10,800 annually. In Park Forest, the mayor gets $7,550 and board members make $5,100.

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Perhaps the biggest financial issue facing the village involves bond payments that are due starting in 2017 – for a community center that voters twice rejected in separate advisory referendums.

No, don’t build it, village leaders were told. And then they built it anyway, spending around $25 million on a facility that opened in 2010 and carried huge, lingering debt.

Village officials said the community center currently makes money, keeps kids off the streets and provides tax revenues when people come into the village for events such as basketball games.

Others see it as a prime reason there’s talk of layoffs.

“They’re just foolish with the money,” said Scott Gilliam, a Matteson firefighter and president of the local fire union. “The community center is the reason for them jeopardizing public safety. They mortgaged the safety of the community for a community center.”

The community center is seen as a place for families to gather, but so is Village Hall: A number of relatives of elected officials – even aside from the Dancys – work for the municipality, raising questions about connections trumping qualifications, and sound financial practices in hiring.

Matteson Trustee Sam Brown, who holds a full-time job with the Cook County Board of Review at $62,375 a year, has a son making $36,235 at the village’s recreation department. The Browns couldn’t be reached for comment.

The husband and son of Trustee Paula Farr, who is paid $15.55 hourly working for Rich Township government, work in the village’s public works department and make $62,910 and $50,997, respectively.

Trustee Farr said her husband started with the village long before she became a trustee and that she didn’t do anything to help her son get a job.

Matteson is probably best described as a solidly middle-class community, located on the border of Cook and Will counties. Census figures show it’s about 80 percent black and 15 percent white, with an overall population of about 19,000. Median household income is $70,000 a year, according to Census estimates.

The village is currently in discussions with the unions representing police and fire department employees about salary concessions. Other cuts and revenue generators may be on the table as well, according to village officials.