Public Watchdog.org

Penny Un-Wise And Pound Foolish

04.22.09

Just a year after taking office, a then-embattled Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark pulled off his biggest political coup: he ran a petition drive to put a referendum on the November 2006 ballot to cut the City Council from its traditional 14 aldermen – 2 from each ward – to just 7. 

His professed justification for the cut was that 7 aldermen were more than enough to do the City’s business, and that cutting 7 aldermen from the City payroll would produce an annual savings of a whopping $8,400 (aldermanic stipend of $1,200/yr X 7 aldermen).  And although he wouldn’t publicly admit it, the cut gave him a shot at relieving himself of his political “enemies” on then comprising a majority of the Council: Don Crampton (1st Ward), Jeannie Markech (2nd Ward), Kim Jones (3rd Ward), Jim Radermacher (4th Ward), Mark Anderson (5th Ward), Rex Parker and Mary Wynn Ryan (6th Ward) and Jeff Cox (7th Ward). 

That’s because the wily Frimark utilized a quirk of Illinois law to ensure that the referendum question he proposed not only would cut the Council in half and end the terms of all of his Council opponents (including those who had just been elected in 2005), but by excluding any language that would provide for staggered terms he was able to lock in the aldermen to be elected in 2007 for a full four years.

For a variety of reasons, Frimark’s referendum passed, 7,688 (54.75%) to 6,354 (45.25%).  And in April, 2007, Frimark was able to pack the Council with five full-blown Alderpuppets – Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), Don Bach (3rd Ward), Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward). 

So what did we get from the $8,400/yr payroll reduction and a majority of Frimark Alderpuppets? 

During the first two years of Frimark’s stripped-down Council, we got approximately $3 million of budget deficits!  In other words, we saved “pennies” ($16,800, two years of aldermanic salary savings) and lost “pounds” – or, more accurately, tons, given the size of the deficit.  And the budget approved Monday night by this same crowd, on closer inspection, looks like it’s “balanced” by smoke and mirrors instead of cash.

Coincidence?  We think not.

Even a 14-member City Council, manned by part-time aldermen with real jobs (unlike Chicago, for example, where aldermen are paid around $100,000…plus all they can grab), was challenged to keep up with the foolishness towards which municipal government of any size tends.  Cutting the Council in half and then packing it with stooges was a political masterstroke, but it has turned out to be a governmental disaster – and that’s likely to be the case irrespective of which 7 might be sitting around The Horseshoe at any given time.

But don’t get us wrong.  Most of the current Council members are grossly overpaid even at $1,200 each per year.  We doubt that Bach, Allegretti, Ryan and Carey could get a clue if you spotted them the “C” and the “L”, and let them buy a vowel.  And DiPietro still hasn’t figured out what happened to the $650,000 of taxpayer money he voted to send down to Peotone as an “investment” back in 2002.  From what we’ve seen and heard over the past two years, those five have produced more slack jaws over City finances than can be counted.  And we’ve got over $3 million in budget deficits…and counting…to show for it.

But Monday night, Frimark and his Alderpuppets were not alone. 

Wsol, who appears to have a better grasp than all but one of his comrades, seemed incapable of processing the fact that a $400,000 water fund deficit is something to avoid in a proposed budget, even during a recession – and even if the water fund has an almost $4 million balance.  As City Finance Director Diane Lambesis pointed out, that balance represents much/most of the City’s cash on hand – due to the General Fund’s holding only about $3 million in cash and being “balanced” by millions of dollars of IOU’s from bankrupt funds like the Uptown TIF Fund.  That makes his “No” vote the right decision for the wrong reason.

Ryan’s “No” vote, on the other hand, sounded like it was actually a “Yes” vote – but for even more fiscal irresponsibility.  He cast that vote after expressing his opposition to budget cuts to expenditures like the annual handouts to all those private community groups which can’t or won’t raise enough funds to operate on their own and, therefore, have come to consider themselves entitled to be subsidized by the taxpayers.

But the most puzzling, if not disturbing, “Yes” vote for the new un-balanced budget was from Schmidt, who is currently mayor-elect, in part, by promising fiscal responsibility, transparency and focusing on essentials like street paving and flood relief rather than feel-good amenities. Try as we might, we can’t find a whole lot of evidence of those virtues in the budget to which Schmidt said “Yes” Monday night.

He didn’t give any explanation either before or after his vote, so we don’t know what reasoning – if any – lies behind it.  But but we think he owes a big one to the people of Park Ridge, and especially the 4,885 residents who voted for him just 2 weeks ago.   

We’re waiting, Mayor-elect Dave.  Tick tock.

11 comments so far

Not to over simplify the matter of our City Budget, it seems to me that it will take more than “one” fiscal year to undo years of poor management and minipulation with City Funds by our previous City Manager Mr STANKY. I’ll bet Mr Hock in the upcoming year will still be finding residue left over from him.

I am concerned with matters of unbugeted items in the upcoming year, for example the O’Hare task force which will surely be looking for some financial support.

When Schmidt gets back into town he better have a damn good explaination for his vote for this out of balance budget.

That said, budgets are a starting point and there is no reason that after these knucklheads met their statutory deadline to pass a budget they can’t go back and revisit the whole thing.

Christ, we’ve got a $1.8 million deficit now. What do you think the chances are that ACTUAL REVENUES will exceed budgeted revenues versus that ACTUAL EXPENSES will exceed budgeted expenses??? (If you pick revenues I got a bridge I want to sell you…)

With a couple of good rain and/or snow storms or an unanticipated water main break or three that $1.8 million deficit is easliy a +$2 million deficit. And what do you think the chances are that we’ll have some upside surprise in REVENUE COLLECTIONS? Nada.

Hock and the city still has to negotiate the salary issues… with or without a benefit for this Schmidt has to tell Hock, Lambesis and the rest of them to go back again and again and keep looking for ways to reduce the projected deficit. And quit looking at the penny ante bullshit gang… you need to focus on the many line items that matter.

Get to work!

I was at Monday night’s meeting and PubDog is really right about the slack jaws on the council during the discussion. As PRU pointed out yesterday, Ryan’s understanding of one of these budget matters was blown out of the water with a one word answer (“No”) by Lambesis, and he looked totally lost from that point on.

I have no idea why Schmidt voted for the budget, and I agree with you that he better have a good explanation because rubber stamping this kind of budget is not the reason I voted for him.

But the highlight/lowlight of the meeting was Frimark being an absolute jerk, glaring and yelling at audience members for talking quietly among themselves and bothering nobody.

And I felt sorrry for Lambesis. She looked and sounded so tired from having to explain stuff (for, I’m guessing, the zillionth time) to these aldermen who clearly weren’t listening to her while they tried to play to the audience about not wanting to raise taxes, even though all of them wanted a new police station that would have thrown the budget a million dollars more out of budget.

Could this happen to Park Ridge?
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,357881,00.html

1:40

Scary, but I believe it could happen anywhere. However, with new blood, in both the mayor and City Manager we may have a chance. As I read one city had trouble with lack of payoff on bad investments. Something like…oh…I don’t know…PRC, Napleton, oh and EOP? Can’t make any revenue if your giving away the farm. Can’t make any revenue if you allow renting retail space to banks and other non-tax paying entities. Can’t generate more business in an area that is landlocked and quite frankly NEVER been particualrly retail friendly. Not saying that P.R. isn’t friendly… just saying we’ve never exacly been described as a shopping mecca, never have never will. That kind of developement is never going to survive here and since we now no longer have a Mayor who is willing to deal our town down the toilet maybe we have a chance. No more Partnerships, give-a-ways, or deals. Back to basics. Streets, sewers, trees and residents. Won’t that be nice. And it probably won’t require the city manager to play hide and seek with our money. I would warn however not to look for any of this to happen over night.

behind blue eyes:

Here, here! I personally agree in spades; it will have to be an entire “culture change”, and that certainly will not happen over night.

Also, given what I’m hearing from certain segments around town, the resistance to such change will be mighty from within and outside the walls of City Hall.

Alpha,

How true….but aren’t WE outside the walls of City Hall as well?!?! $@%! the resistance… VIVA the residents!!

Blue eyes:

I am all for the picture you present. Kind of like Pottersville going back to Bedford Falls.

The only problem, and something I think the new Mayor needs to take a hard look at is existing costs versus revenues and where these are projected to be over time. One of the challanges communities face is an infrastructure that has been ignored for 30++ years (hello stimulus).

If we are 1.8 mil in the hole, this cannot just be addressed by trimming personal. If you add to this number what we all think needs to be done with sewers, roads, etc and there are little or no additional revenue sources the results are not good.

Pay-as-you go is great…..but what if you cannot pay for it? In a nut shell, this is why I was so against a new Police Station. I hope the Mayor motivates everyone to sharpen their pencils and share honest numbers with all of us.

Agreed an all counts.

This is going to be a TALL order to fill, and I wish Mr. Schmidt and staff the best of luck and success.

I think one obvious answer ro revenue vs. costswould be to think back before we were sold the bill of goods on how new developement was going to change life as we know it (all for the better of corse) with new revenue to offset our taxes. We the residents were the revenue. And back before all the promises…we were getting what we paid for. And back then no one really complained about the higher taxes because we knew and could see where our money was being spent. To look around town these days I’d be hard pressed to tell you where on earth our money has gone. Oh wait… to pretty up the uptown area with flowers as to attract new business and shoppers. Well…didn’t that work out nicely.

Openly and honesty seems like the best possible solution for our Mayor and staff to get our city back on track. And the wise thing is to do it in small steps. Over promising is a sure fire way to dissappoint.

anon on 04.23.09 6:09 am:

According to the most recent City budget report, since 2004 the City has issued over $43 million of General Obligation bonds related to the TIF and Uptown Redevelopment, including the new reservoir and pump station. We suspect they are 20+ year bonds, which means we will be paying on them for at 15+ years.

Ald. Wsol claimed that we could pay for a $16.5 million ($28 million, counting principal, interest and fees) police station by issuing $16.5 million of 22 year bonds, which would produce an annual debt service payment of roughly the same amount – $1.2 million(?) – that the City has been paying for the past 10 years on the bonds that financed the new Public Works building.

If the Council takes the voters advice that they don’t want to spend big money (and incur big debt) on a new or expanded police station, the Council should look into what kind of flood control that kind of money and debt could provide.

PD:

You will get no argument from me if, and this is a big if, they have a documented plan that is comunicated to the public.

What exactly is the plan? If you asked ten different people from ten different neighborhoods what the flooding issues are you would get different answers. What is the goal? Is it to make sure there is no flooding when we get rain like mid-September? Good luck with that. What method(s) and/or hardware are we going to use? Is it relief sewers? How have those worked so far? What neighborhoods/areas do we start with (and who do I have to pay to make sure it is mine)? What it is going to cost (what would 16.5 mil get us)? How do we pay for it? Timeframes?

I am sure most of you can think of many more questions that they currently have no answers for.



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