Harsh Reality Emerging On City Finances


Like the typical incumbent politician running for re-election, current Park Ridge Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark brags up a storm about how well the City is humming along under his stewardship.  Until recently, his bragging included keeping the City’s property tax increase at around three percent per year by “streamlining” City government.

But that kind of self-promotion is becoming a harder sell as the actual facts about City finances continue to emerge from City Hall.  And those facts, unlike Frimark’s propaganda, suggest that what he calls “streamlining” is really cutting into important City services – while at the same time digging us an increasingly bigger financial hole.

For example, the budget for fiscal year 2007-08 had a $1.7 million hole in it: budget “reality” was $1.7 million worse than budget “fantasy.”  And a similar reality v. fantasy is emerging for the current year’s (2008-09) budget as well. 

According to a Herald-Advocate story (“Higher fees or reduced services may hit Park Ridge,” March 6), building permit revenues were projected at $2 Million (fantasy) but are looking to be a lot closer to $800,000 (reality).  That’s a $1.2 Million – yes, $1.2 MILLION! – fantasy/reality differential.  And while that may be the single worst such differential, the H-A story notes that there is a combined $1 million-plus of additional revenue shortfalls in other taxing categories, like property transfers and telecommunications.

Not surprisingly, Frimark the Politician has already started off-loading responsibility (a/k/a “blame”) for those troubles on his former right-hand man, departed city manager Tim Schuenke.  But, as the H-A reports, the post-Schuenke proposed budget for 2009-10 is already projecting a $1 Million-plus deficit, which likely will lead to higher fees and/or reduced services. 

Worse yet, all these budget holes are occurring even though City expenses have generally decreased, partly because (as you already might have guessed from rattling over our pothole-scarred streets or kayaking in your basements) the Frimark Administration reduced – or should we say “streamlined” – the amount of street resurfacing and relief sewer installations. 

For those of you who enjoy the parallel universe of government fund accounting, we have to point out – again – that the “positive” balance in the City’s General Fund looks to be made up of a lot of I.O.U.s from some of the City’s other funds, like the Uptown TIF fund and the pension fund.  Given the precarious nature of City finances, does anybody want to guess where the money to pay off those IOU’s will be coming from?

Meanwhile, our mayor continues on his hell-bent crusade to borrow and spend boxcar numbers on a new police station, the exact number of millions depending on the day of the week and the composition of the audience he’s talking to.  And when he’s not doing that, he seems to be on the lookout for opportunities to throw our scarce, hard-earned tax dollars at his friends and campaign contributors.

Could that be his version of a Park Ridge “stimulus” package?