Time For Fuss About City Budget


Just slightly more than a week ago, the six Alderpuppets of lame-duck Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark were still touting the need for a new $16.5 million (real cost, all in: $28 million) police station, while assuring us that such a project was affordable despite multi-million dollar budget deficits over the past two years and more of the same on the horizon.

What a difference a week makes.

With the voters having decisively rejected both cop shop referendums, Monday night’s City Council COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting featured a discussion of the proposed 2009-10 budget which focused on flooding reduction – and how to pay for it.

The City staff proposal for revenue increases focuses on increases in water rates and sewer fees, but with the proviso that the sewer revenues would go into a special sewer enterprise fund to be used only for that purpose.  Which sounds like a sound precaution, given what is known or suspected about the state of the City’s finances.

City Mgr. Jim Hock acknowledged that the $1.2 million of “new” revenues (expected from the water and sewer tax increases) to pay for sewer repair and improvements would normally come out of the General Fund “but there is not enough money there at this time.”  Two reasons for that: the Uptown TIF fund is awash in red ink, and public works expenses were more than $800,000 over budget.

Uh oh.

We would have hoped such sobering news would cause some deep thinking from our representatives on the Council, but such was not the case.  With the exception of Ald. (and mayor-elect) Dave Schmidt and Wsol, deep thoughts were pretty much at a premium.

Frimark lap dog Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) – who was so convinced the voters wanted a new cop shop that he even opposed any referendum on the issue – did his best to de-rail efforts to begin building the sewer enterprise fund, arguing that no such fund should be established or budgeted for until the results of the pending sewer study are received.  Perhaps he’s holding out hope that the study will report that we really don’t have a flooding problem, or at least the kind of problem that can be remediated by sewer improvements and/or the addition of relief sewers.  Would that put the cop shop back in play, Jimbo?

Not to be outdone by Allegretti when it comes to having no grasp of City finances, Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach (3rd Ward) – who wouldn’t spend his money on another Cadillac from Napleton, but who happily voted to give Napleton up to $2.4 million of our money – claimed to be “disheartened” by the proposed cuts in funding to various community organizations. “I can’t stand to watch these social and cultural programs be cut,” he said after hearing a plea for continued funding from Perry Fisher, president of The Park Ridge Cultural Arts Council, Inc. (“CACInc.”), one of the many 501(c)(3) not-for-profit private corporations which find ways to suck up public funds while keeping disclosures about their finances and operations pretty much to themselves. 

CACInc.’s website claims that it’s “a resource for the active promotion, coordination, and support of cultural arts activities in and for the Park Ridge Community.”  According to Fisher, CACInc. has been receiving $5,500 a year from the City, which he stated is more than half its budget.  Whether that’s true or not is not readily verifiable, as CACInc.’s website doesn’t post any financial information; and its last IRS Form 990 available on GuideStar is from 2000 [pdf] – and shows it getting $2,250 in “Direct public support” versus $10,650 in “Government contributions (grants).”

We’re big fans of cultural arts, really we are.  But we think it’s pretty pathetic when an organization like CACInc. has to rely on handouts from the taxpayers for more than half of its rather modest budget.  Maybe the folks at CACInc. should try a few bake sales, pancake breakfasts or car washes rather than government welfare. 
With the City facing what is starting to look like a financial meltdown, with flooding becoming a routine occurrence, with Public Works scrambling to afford road salt and pave our streets, it is patently irresponsible to continue to fund frills – yes, frills – like cultural arts, and especially those organizations which either can’t or won’t generate enough community support to pay their own way and, instead, demand annual entitlements from the taxpayers.

The City Council has until May 1 to adopt its new budget, and there’s a public hearing this coming Monday (April 20) at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall that should at least be worth the price of admission – which is free, as usual.  It isn’t likely to be pretty, but it’s at meetings like this where the real city government “rubber” meets the road.  Who knows, maybe Alderpuppet Robert Ryan (5th Ward), MIA this past Monday night, might even show up.

Hopefully the taxpayers who have kept this City afloat all these years and will be expected to do so in the future will be well represented in the audience, because – with the exception of Schmidt and perhaps Wsol – we can’t expect much from the rest of the crowd sitting around “the Horseshoe.”