New Cop Shop Widens, Not Plugs, Budget Gap


Yesterday’s Herald-Advocate online published an article on the Park Ridge mayoral candidates’ views of City finances (“Mayoral hopefuls outline plans to plug budget gap,” March 3) which provides a relatively superficial treatment of the views of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) on City finances.  But it’s better than nothing, so we suggest you give it a read.

The article reports that both candidates agree that budget cutting needs to focus on staffing levels, and that we need more property tax generators.  That sure doesn’t deserve a Nobel Prize in economics, although the current City administration and past administrations never seemed to be able to get much traction on either of these points – as seen from the fact that both candidates agree on staffing cuts, and from the fact that despite the new businesses added to the Uptown development, the Uptown TIF Fund is still millions in the red and continuing to suck money out of the General Fund.

We have to admit that we were entertained by Frimark’s reference to eliminating “extra frills” – and can’t wait for him to explain the difference between “extra frills” and standard frills.

For us, however, the single most decisive difference between Frimark and Schmidt on City finances is their respective views on issuing more bonds – as much as $16.5 million more, which will end up costing Park Ridge taxpayers as much as $28 million – to pay for a new police station.

In typical politician style, Frimark seems to think he can snooker the voters by describing the funding of a new police station in terms of simply “continuing” the bond payments the City has been making on the Public Works building, instead of telling the truth: that new bonds will be issued; and that their terms will be more than twice as long as the Public Works bonds (20+ years v. 10 years), thereby generating a lot more interest and raising their overall cost to the taxpayers.  That’s the kind of deception that has put government at every level, and many private businesses, behind the financial 8-Ball or completely down for the count.  

Such dissembling also calls into question – again – Frimark’s honesty and forthrightness.

But sophisticated economic thinking – or sophisticated thinking of any kind, for that matter – has never been the strong suit of ol’ Let’s Make A Deal, who told the H-A that he thinks the mayor should be involved hands-on in getting new businesses to come to Park Ridge.  That’s no surprise coming from Frimark, a shameless ribbon cutter and self-promoter who reportedly also never misses the opportunity to let new businesses know exactly what business he’s in.

Schmidt, on the other hand, correctly notes that if new bonds aren’t issued for a big new cop shop, the City will see an approximately $1.6 million annual savings beginning next year.  That’s almost the entire amount of the budget shortfall predicted for the current fiscal year, which makes it a pretty smart budgetary move because it really does pretty much plug the budget gap. 

If somebody at City Hall feels compelled to “grease” some consultants, developers, architects and/or contractors for some public works projects, however, at least let’s spend the money on infrastructure needs that are more important to more Park Ridge residents on a day-to-day basis than a big expensive new cop shop. 

Let’s start with some more relief sewers and street resurfacing.  According to the City’s own “Capital Project Summary’ [pdf], both of those items took budget hits in 2008.  Relief sewer installations dropped from a paltry 1,240 linear feet in 2007 to only 940 linear feet in 2008, despite a $90 per linear foot drop in price that brought the total 2008 cost ($156,000) to less than one-half the budgeted amount ($348,000), while street resurfacing slipped from 7.3 miles in 2007 to 5.8 miles in 2008, although the cost there increased by approximately $40,000 per mile.

But they normally don’t put big shiny plaques with officials’ names on relief sewers or resurfaced streets.  Which might explain why the new cop shop is so high on the list of the self-promoting Frimark and his Alderpuppets.   

Let’s Not Be Distracted By Runway And Casino “Issues”


On April 7th Park Ridge will have its first municipal election that doesn’t involve aldermanic races, courtesy of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s cut-the-council referendum that reduced our City Council to one-half its historical 14-member strength and failed to provide staggered terms for the seven aldermen.

That means we have only one contested City race, although it’s for the big chair at City Hall.  But we also have two City advisory referendum issues related to the Park Ridge Police station: a straightforward one put on the ballot by Park Ridge citizens when the City Council refused, and a vague and ambiguous eleventh-hour throw-away one by Ald. Frank Wsol, who in the past few months seems to be trying to come up with ways to salvage whatever might be left of his tattered reputation as a “fiscal conservative.”

Who deserves to be elected mayor in April depends in large part on how each of the candidates proposes to address the many issues that are crucial to the survival, the character and the prosperity of our community – issues that the citizens of Park Ridge have substantial control over if they pay attention and hold their elected officials accountable for addressing them in the most productive and cost-effective ways.  Those are the issues on which the focus of the mayoral campaign needs to be.

There are two other issues, however, that we appear to have little or no control over, making them nothing more than distractions to the candidates and the voters: The new O’Hare runway and the Des Plaines casino.

For those of you living in the Belle Plaine corridor, the new runway has been an extremely rude awakening.  We are not trying to minimize or ignore its harsh effects on the residents in that area. 

But it’s a $500 million-plus reality that is not going away, no matter how many letters we send to Jan Schakowsky, Dick Durbin, Pres. Obama, or the International Olympic Committee.  And for the time being, reducing flights on the new runway presents pretty much a zero-sum game for Park Ridge, because many of the flights diverted from 9L/27R will be shifted to the other two runways whose flight paths extend over our community: 22L and 22R. 

Neither Mayor Frimark nor his challenger, Ald. Dave Schmidt, tried to do anything about the new runway prior to its opening in November, and there’s no reason to think that whichever one of them gets elected in April will be able to do anything to make that problem go away – not with the FAA, the airlines, the City of Chicago, and the Chicagoland business community arrayed against us.  If you don’t believe us, check to see how well what’s left of the Suburban O’Hare Commission has fared despite spending millions of dollars on unsuccessful litigation.

The same goes for the casino.  This, too, was ignored by everybody in City government – from the mayor on down – until the announcement that it was awarded to Des Plaines and will be built at River Road and Devon.  But while the casino does not have all the federal weight behind it that the new runway does, even the most optimistic among us need only look and listen to Frimark’s pathetic presentation to the Illinois Gaming Board a few weeks ago to know that there is nothing we can do, short of begging for Des Plaines to toss us a few table scraps, to change or improve that situation.  

So let’s not waste the remaining five weeks of this campaign season grilling our two mayoral candidates about the runway or the casino.  And, more importantly, let’s not let those two candidates use the runway and the casino to dodge the more meaningful and substantive Park Ridge issues on which they – and we – really can have some influence.