Robbing Peter To Scam Paul?


If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s, you might recall that during every re-election campaign of former Illinois governor James “Big Jim” Thompson, he painted a rosy picture of our State’s finances – only to reveal the doom and gloom of deficits, service cuts and tax increases seemingly within days after each of his victories.

Like “Big Jim,” Park Ridge Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark has revved up his re-election campaign with claims of fiscal responsibility, modest property tax increases, and assurances that we can afford not only such infrastructure costs of reducing flooding and filling potholes, but also a big new police station – or at least a good-sized expansion, depending on which side of Frimark’s mouth you’re standing when he’s talking about it.

But this past Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting was the first in what looks to be a series of reality checks about City finances.  And from what was said Monday night, they may very well be in a lot worse shape than we’ve been led to believe, as we noted in last Friday’s post, “Why Is Hock Playing Hide-And-Seek On City Finances?”.

With a $1.7 million budget deficit already in the books from last fiscal year, City Mgr. John Hock revealed that City expenses will exceed revenues once again by approximately $1.7 million, even with expenses coming in about $1 million under budget!  That’s because last year’s budget appears to have been filled with a bunch of inflated revenue figures by former City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, right before he snuck out of town with a sweet early-retirement package compliments of Park Ridge taxpayers.

Given her title of “City Finance Director,” we have to suspect that Diane Lambesis assisted Schuenke in his budgetary sleight-of-hand – which might explain why she spent most of the Finance & Budget Committee portion of Monday night’s meeting arguing against reinstatement of the City’s “debt cap” ordinance, a proposal made by Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and supported by Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward).

The City’s debt cap that was lifted by the Council in 2004 limited the City’s debt to 2.5% of the equalized assessed value (“EAV”) of all taxable Park Ridge property.  As reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“City Revenue Down,” Feb. 25), the City’s general obligation debt is currently $43.9 million, or 2.3% of its current $1.8 billion (and dropping?) EAV. 

Because the City is a home rule body, it is pretty much unrestricted as to how much debt it can take on without having to go to referendum, unlike non-home rule bodies such as School District 64, which had to go to referendum in 2007 for its multi-million dollar tax increase; and the Park Ridge Park District, which has twice been rejected by the voters when it has gone to referendum seeking the multi-millions it needs to replace Oakton Pool. 

We think anything that imposes fiscal responsibility on governmental bodies which tend to treat hard-earned taxpayer dollars like Monopoly money is a good thing.  And we applaud Wsol for proposing the debt cap reinstatement, and Schmidt for endorsing it.

Which brings us to Frimark’s No. 1 lapdog, Alderpuppet Jim “Chicken Little” Allegretti, who tends to bark – actually, it’s more a “yip” – in Frimark’s stead when the mayor thinks it’s politically advantageous for him to remain silent, as he did on this issue Monday night.

Allegretti, who conveniently tossed $500 into Frimark’s campaign coffers within months of Frimark’s appointing him to fill his vacant Council seat back in 2005 ($300 before, $200 after), has already displayed his fealty to Frimark by duking Frimark’s re-election campaign $1,000 – a full ten months’ worth of Allegretti’s annual aldermanic salary. And some folks swear that Frimark’s lips move whenever Allegretti speaks, although we would want videotape evidence before saying that’s absolutely the truth.

Allegretti repeated his standard mantra that “the residents elected us” to make all decisions for them, including taking on as much long-term debt as Frimark and the Alderpuppets want for whatever pet projects strike their fancies.  Allegretti mentioned the Higgins Corridor and Uptown’s Target Area 4 as large capital projects at which the City may want to throw bundles of taxpayer cash, which will have to be generated through long-term bonds.

In objecting to the debt cap as something that would be “tying our hands” – the same words Lambesis kept using – Allegretti patted himself and his fellow alderpuppets on the back with the assurance: “I trust us to be conservative.”

Guess what, Jimbo?  We don’t.

6 comments so far

My property taxes are now more than $1,000 a month. Yes, I know that the schools take 60% of that, but that’s not going to help when the bills start to come due for the last four years of Frimark and his rubber-stamp council.

Let’s see now… The city is paving fewer streets, installing fewer relief sewers, looking to borrow $16.5 million for a new police station that will require payment of interest on the debt for the next 20 years, voting for give-aways of $2.4 million to Napleton, a personal friend of Frimark and a campaign contributor, running a deficit last year and this year that adds up to over $3 million dollars, and loaning money to the Uptown TIF because the TIF isn’t generating enough of its own cash to cover the expenses as we were promised it would, and still increasing property taxes but by not as much as usual…and Allegretti says with a straight face “I trust us to be conservative”? What God-forsaken planet is that guy living on?

The thing is that people are financially hurting now. Everyone is hurting. The level of that hurt varies from people moving to buying generic brands and not going out to eat as often to the people who are losing their cars and homes. But no matter what your level of hurt is, you are hurting.

So when you write your check to pay your property tax bill remember who is willing to restrain the unnecessary government spending the same way we are all doing within our homes and which candidate wants a spend millions on a new police station. Listen to which Mayoral candidate is impervious to the day to day struggles we all face during this trying economic time. Take a look at which Mayoral candidate aspires to run city government outside the view of those whom he is asking to represent.

Yes it is true that Park Ridge City Government is a small slice of our tax bill, but where do we draw the line? Isn’t this our chance to turn things even a little? Doesn’t it make you angry that our current Mayor could care so much about providing sweetheart deals for his “friends” and so little about his neighbors? The neighbors like you and me who are buying generic brands, not going out to eat this weekend and struggling to pay our mortgage.

This has to end and this our chance.

I see nothing from City Hall that suggests the people working there, including our elected officials when they’re sitting in the Mayor’s office or the Council Chambers – have any idea of what’s going on with the economy overall, or the economy as it relates to Park Ridge residents.

Foreclosures and home devaluations are going to put downward pressure on tax revenues, so these spending sprees when you’re already coming up millions short is fiscal insanity.

Who’s more clueless, Hock, Lambesis or Allegretti? I’m pretty sure it’s Allegretti, but the only good thing is that we’re only paying $1,200 a year for him. The other two are much much more expensive, I’m sure.

Today’s Advocate reports that the city has $44 million of debt on the books, so that a 2.5% debt ceiling would mean that the city’s debt would be capped out at $46.3 million, or only $2.3 million more. Can’t do a new police station or any fancy-dan Higgins road stuff with only $2.3 million of spare debt.

Their hands should be tied.

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