The $16.5 Million Question: More Sewers Or New Cop Shop? (Update 9/16/08)


Over the past few days we have learned once again – as so many Park Ridge residents have known for years but too many of our public officials seem intent on ignoring – just how vulnerable we remain to flooding. 

On Saturday (September 13) we endured what is being reported as a record-breaking single-day rain.  Fortunately, there were no major power outages, so at least sump pumps could keep on pumping – albeit into already-flooded yards and streets.  Which explains all the piles of sodden carpeting, furniture and assorted other items once again littering our parkways. 

Is anybody sick of this recurring scenario yet?  If so, are you finally ready to demand that our City government actually does something about it?

Yes, this may have been a record-breaking rain, but we don’t need anything close to record-breaking rains to flood our basements.  Not a summer goes by that the residents of at least some significant part of our city go through this drill.  Yet our local politicians and bureaucrats still appear to have no comprehensive plan in place to address the problem in a realistic way. 

That’s why the City’s $52.5 million 2008-09 budget includes the construction of only two relief sewers totaling a meager 1,060 feet – between three and four block’s worth!  And we can’t even tell what the exact cost of those relief sewers will be because the budget posted on the City’s website states (at Page 56) that “each capital project is explained in detail in the capital budget section of this document,” but we can’t find that “capital budget section” among those seven portions of the budget that are posted.

Now, we’re not saying that the $16.5 million (that’s without figuring in the interest payments on the bonds) the City Council has talked about spending on a new police station, if spent on additional sewers, will completely solve our flooding problems.  Frankly, we have no idea how much flood relief we can buy for how many thousands of Park Ridge residents at that price.  But based on what we do know and what we’ve been able to Google, neither does anybody at City Hall. 

They’ve apparently been spending their time on more pressing concerns, like trying to find a way to cut a deal for Bill “Friend of Frimark” Napleton’s vacant car lot at the corner of Busse and Greenwood, so that they can build a big new police station for the police department’s 100 or so employees.

But guess what, folks?  There’s a legitimate question of whether we can afford a $16.5 million anything, much less a $16.5 million new cop shop and major sewer improvements. 

Of course, there are those who will say we can have it all.  They share the mindset of those geniuses in Washington who insisted the federal government could cut taxes and increase spending, which is why our national debt is closing in on $10 TRILLION, almost double of what it was 8 years ago.  But what the heck – we need to leave some legacy for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.

Back at the local level, long-term debt – in the form of municipal bonds – is how local governments try to hide the true cost (and minimize the immediate pain) of these kinds of expenditures.  The longer the bond term, the lower the annual debt service payments.  Of course, that adds multi-millions of dollars of interest to the total purchase price of what are, in reality, depreciating assets; but by the time those chickens come home to roost the politicians who devised and/or approved the financing plan are usually out of office and beyond accountability, if not retired and living elsewhere.

Long-term bonds is how the City financed Uptown Redevelopment, and that’s what Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) is advocating with his proposed “replacement” of the expiring Public Works building’s 10-year bonds with a new 22-year $16.5 million bond issue for the new cop shop.  Wsol has touted his plan for making the annual debt service payments on a new cop shop a couple of hundred thousand dollars less than we’re currently paying on the Public Works building’s bonds, but we wonder why he hasn’t also told us exactly how many more millions of dollars those extra 12 years of bond financing will end up costing the taxpayers?  

The City is currently carrying almost $44 million in bonded debt, with $5.3 million of this year’s $52.5 million budget – a full 10% – going to debt service.  If we issue $16.5 million in bonds to be repaid over the next 22 years for a new police station, how can we expect to pay for any significant sewer repairs or other flood prevention – in addition to the recurring expenses we already shoulder – without a substantial tax increase?

The bottom line is that we can’t have it all.  Which is why we think it’s way past time the taxpayers demanded that our elected officials start acting like grown-ups and talk publicly about the hard choices between what the entire community really needs and what some of us may merely want. 

Otherwise, they will continue to fiddle while Park Ridge floods.

Update (9/16/08)   A number of Park Ridge residents dealing with flooded basements last Saturday (9/13/08) morning have reported a sudden and unexplained – although very welcome – draining of their sewers around 9:45 a.m.  At least one knowledgeable resident has offered an explanation: Somebody finally decided to turn on all of the city’s sewer pumps.  We have not yet been able to determine whether that is true or, if so, how and by whom that decision was made.  But it does suggest that the City may have had the ability to prevent or reduce at least some of the flooding that was experienced. You may want to contact your alderman, City Manager Jim Hock, or even Mayor Frimark and ask if this is true and, if so, what’s the explanation for it.

Another source familiar with sewer and storm water handling has advised us that relief sewers are an alternate system to Park Ridge’s “combined” (rain water/sewage) sewers.  Relief sewers are designed to store rain water run-off in a separate system and transfer it slowly into the combined sewers.  While a full system of relief sewers throughout the City probably would not have kept all of our basements dry, it sounds as if they certainly could have prevented some flooding and reduced the amount of the flooding that could not be prevented.

Unfortunately, it appears that relief sewer construction has been reduced in recent years by budgetary constraints.  And oh, by the way: Yet another one of our sources points out that Ald. Wsol’s grand plan for the new $16.5 million cop shop with an annual debt service payment of $1.3 million over 22 years will end up costing Park Ridge taxpayers a whopping $28.6 million over the life of those bonds.  We thought you might want to think about that as you pull the last of the sodden carpeting out of your basement. 

11 comments so far

Judging from the Sept 4th Public Safety minutes, Hock is okay with a new cop shop too. Are they all nuts??
B. Police Facility Update/Financial Impact of a Fixed Bond Payment of 1.4 Million Annually Over Approximately 21 Years Chairman Wsol stated at the last meeting there was a consensus to go with the current location as a site for the police facility and had asked City Mgr. J. Hock to evaluate what approximately a 21 year bond issue with an annual payment of 1.4 million might mean to the city budget on a going forward basis. City Mgr. Hock stated that in terms of portability, the city has dedicated a specific levy towards the tenyear debt, and that bond ends October 2009, and if the City were to levy the same amount of bonds, we could have the same amount of debt without increasing taxes. City Manager Hock stated that at the last meeting it was discussed that this site could potentially be used to meet the space needs, and tonight we have heard the Napleton site could be affordable. Further discussion ensued regarding costs for a new facility and where it should be built. Ald. Allegretti mentioned he is not opposed to building on vacant property due to additional costs that could be incurred in remodeling the current property. Chairman Wsol reiterated what was discussed at the previous meeting in going forward with building on the current site. It was stated that no one on staff could do a cost analysis on what the costs would be to demolish the current site, move the police department out, and include all other related expenses; only an architect could give an idea of the pros and cons. Chairman Wsol stated the city knows we can use the gun range at Des Plaines at no cost, and believes that over a period of construction time, we could have reciprocal agreements with neighboring departments where they would allow us to use their lock up facilities at no cost, and staff could find ways to deal with the inconvenience of remodeling. We need to get architects in here to tell us if they can do this or not; this is at least a plan, concluded Chairman Wsol. Ald. Allegretti explained his thoughts on pursing all options before going forward, with Ald. Bach stating he believes the committee should go forward as previously discussed. Further discussion ensued with City Manager Hock concluding by stating that staff can get an old RFP for architectural proposals updated along with sufficient background information to give to anyone interested in making a proposal. The committee will be choosing an architect based on their prior experience in this area; whoever is selected will then have access to all of our information, added City Mgr. Hock.

Ahhhh….another year another flood. Although I have spent thousands of dollars on waterproofing my home, “Cumberland Waters”, (that’s what I call my street now), continue to gather at the base of my drieveway. This time I slogged through knee high water to get to the street where Water Main construction equipment is piled everywhere. Hmmmm…could there be a connection between the work being done and my completely trashed finished basement? It wasn’t until Sunday morning that Public Works arrived. They stood looking at the water and shook their heads, clucking sympathetically. I asked him, pointblank,if the construction could have caused the water damage (what was I thinking?). “No, the work being done is on the Water Main, not the sewer system.” Seriously??!!! So, I am SOL since flood damage is not covered on my homeowners policy. I know I am not alone, and my venting is not entirely selfish, but is Park Ridge going to stick its head in the sand…err..water and ignore this perennial issue? How do I prove that city work contributed to the destruction of my lower level? How many of my Cumberland neighbors are filling their curbs with remnants of their homes? Yes, we are more fortunate than those down in Houston right now, but it is never fortunate to live in a community with overwhelmed public safety and public works personnel to do what our taxes pay them to do…help us. Back to my wet vac. I hope people all over town are digging out successfully…I can hear the squish-squish of each exhausted step. Hang in there!

I know nothing about sewers, but I’m going to guess that “relief sewers” have some value or else the city would be wasting money putting them in. So if relief sewers work, then I’m going to assume that it would help to have more of them instead of less of them.  But I can’t tell how much of Park Ridge has relief sewers and how much doesn’t, because I checked the city website and there’s no sewer map. But if they are only putting relief sewers in alleys, then we probably don’t have very many relief sewers because I don’t think we have that many alleys.  Do we?

I am not sure of what the point of your post is but, aside from the city of Chicago, PR has more alleys then and community I have ever lived in. There is not an alley in my block but as I walk to uptown, there are alleys on virtually every block. I have no idea they would be putting releif sewers in alleys.

This goes to my main point. I believe that the Mayor, public works and alderman should provide the citizens of PR with a complete discription of what happenens when a serious rain storm occurs in PR. Perhaps break it down into a senario where the system works and a senario like this weekend where the sewer system is overloaded. What if any are the options once the system is full in terms of opening “locks” to the river or over areas where the water could flow? What are the options in general? Who is responsible for these decisions? Is it the Mayor? Is it someone higher up? Who makes the call? I bleieve we all have a right to know and I also believe that the politicians should look atit as self preservation. There are so many rumors going around about what happened. I think it will only help them if there is a better understanding of the process.

I have lived in PR for 5 years. My basement had water (about 6-8 inches) 3 days after I moved in. This weekend it was about 3 ft. I know this for sure. Both situations were when we had EXTREME rain that the sewage/drainage system in PR and in the area as a whole was not equiped to handle. Like most of my neighbors who have lived in PR for a long time, I will be putting in a flood control or overhead plumbing system.

I live in the 7th ward with an alley that was paved a few years ago and a relief sewer instatlled. Ever since the city did that, we have rarely had water in the basement, and when we have it there’s only a little bit.

I have no idea what role the relief sewer plays in that situation, but I have to assume it helps.

anonymous on 09.15.08 9:37 pm.

I live in the first ward and there aren’t many alleys up here. And my in-laws live in the second ward but I don’t recall seeing many alleys up there, either. As for the rest of town, I would bet $1 that less than 1/2 of it has alleys, but I have no idea whether there are relief sewers under them.

Ha, ha, ha! Hope all you park Ridge people who are “suffering” from the incobnvenience of a little water in your basement don’t expect to seek refuge in a shelter. You idiots just ousted that option. Poor Park Ridge losers, wah wah wah!

Wow, Ha! Ha!, did you learn that in Sunday school?

By the way, those Park Ridge residents (read, property taxpayers) who chose to seek temporary emergency shelter, were provided with that option, as emergency shelters are exemptions in the zoning text amendment as currently written.

But I do understand such silly details might be lost on such a wunderkind as yourself.

Hey dumbshit Ha! Ha!:

The option has not been “ousted”… frankly, it’s not even an option now but when it is, it will likely be a well regulated option.

As Alpha notes above, the taxpaying citizens of Park Ridge were able to make use of temporary shelter at Maine East HS IF they needed it.

Regardless, take some typing lessons and get a life.

My my,

Is that the kind hearted, love thy neighbor, do onto others, christian do gooder telling us that we deserved flooding basements?!?!? Gods watching you……. too.

I guess well wishes and cuddly sentiment are only for those who think like them. Can you say hypocrite?!?!?! I knew you could.

Pub Dog:

I am one of the Park Ridge residents that is working my way through the aftermath of the great September floods. In my case it was approximately 3ft, high enough to completely waist a relative new hot water heater.

It is my natural reaction to be pissed off. I want to find blame. With that in mind I am asking for your help or from someone with any credible information. Your update above talks about finally turning on all the pumps. I have heard from many angry neighbors about opening the locks to the river. My research thus far (including writing to and receiving a response from my alderman) has yeilded no credible information about any of this. I have been told by several people that there are no locks to ther river period.

I am new to town but at this point my frustration has more to do with PR goverment having any kind of long term plan within a budget to address some of these drainage issues. I have neighbors that have lived here since the late 60’s who tell me it has always been this way. I don’t expect a sewage/drainage system to deal with every single event – 10 inches is a lot of freakin’ rain but some basements (thankfully not mine) have flooded with much less rain.

As to the rumors about a decision or error being made that would have prevented a great deal of flooding, at this point I see no evidence of that. If it proves to be true I will be happy to lite my tourch and grab my pitchfork! But as of this moment it is nothing but rumor.

I would urge anyone from the city who is reading this to discuss what the process was at your next meeting or, better yet, put a explanation of what happened/how it works on the city website.

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