Public Watchdog.org

New, Challenging Era Of City Government Starts Tonight

05.04.09

A new era in the history of Park Ridge City government will begin tonight (City Hall, 7:30 p.m.) with the swearing in of Mayor Dave Schmidt. 

He inherits a City in its worst financial condition in memory.  Several million dollars of budget deficits during the past two years and a newly-passed 2009/10 budget sporting $1.8 million of red ink are just two of the many indications of a City government that has been operating for the past two years – and looks like it will operate again this coming year – by cannibalizing its own fund “reserves” (i.e., its savings accounts).  And, not surprisingly, those reserves are dropping to levels that are currently uncomfortable and on their way to dangerous. 

How has this been allowed to happen?

First of all, for the past four years we have had no meaningful leadership in the big chair at City Hall.  Frimark fiddled while Park Ridge figuratively “burned” in the economic sense.  

Second, for the first three of those years we had a city manager who might not be able to competently manage a kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand but who was masterful at concealing that fact from a City Council that wasn’t really looking all that hard.  So spending was occurring in ways that were not as productive as they could have been, while revenues received inflated projections with no basis in reality.

And, third, for the past two years we have had a Mayor and City Council as unable as they have been unwilling to make the hard decisions required to run what amounts to a $50 million-plus business cost-effectively.  They preferred to engage in indiscriminate and irresponsible spending, even as they bragged about how modest they were keeping the tax increases.

As a result, revenues stopped covering expenses and the reserves began being tapped.  One example is our Emergency 911 service, which will cost the City $1,264,000 this year while the corresponding telephone surcharge revenue is only expected to raise $525,000, leaving a $777,200 shortfall that the City will have to cover.  Another one is the City billing us water users $400,000 less in water fees than it will pay out to the City of Chicago for that water, because a majority of the City Council would rather bleed down the Water Fund in a way City Manager Jim Hock politely calls “worrisome” – in part because the Water Fund balance has provided a source of cash that the City can “borrow” for other purposes. 

And according to the City Manager’s April 15, 2009, “Budget Message,” the City’s future cash solvency – its having enough cash on hand to pay expenses – has reached the point where it is a “concern.”    

Frankly, this kind of crackpot financial management should be a “concern” to all of us, or at least those of us who haven’t already stuck the “For Sale” sign in the front yard and have the movers on order.

There’s no real magic to managing the city’s finances, so long as the people doing it can grasp the simple concept that they have to make the ends meet: revenues have to equal or exceed expenses.  If you can’t or won’t cut the expenses, then you have to raise more revenue.  Unfortunately, the outgoing mayor and his Alderpuppets have refused to do either at a sufficient magnitude to make up the difference.

Which is where Schmidt is coming in. 

Make no mistake about it, unless leopards truly can change their spots Schmidt cannot expect much responsibility or support from the Alderpuppets who will continue to dominate the Council for the next two years.  Every one of them except Frank Wsol (7th Ward) publicly endorsed and actively supported Frimark’s re-election bid.  And they regularly crossed swords with Schmidt on Council matters like the new police station and abuse of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, even well before Schmidt declared his candidacy.

So instead of looking for further cuts in expenses or more ways to raise revenue, at last week’s COW meeting, the Alderpuppets – sans a vacationing Schmidt – continued to ignore the warnings of Hock and City Finance Director Diane Lambesis and, instead, voted to add another $38,900 to the $1.8 million budget deficit by giving even more handouts (beyond the $187,100 already approved) to the private “community group” corporations who can’t or won’t fundraise in a way that makes them self-supporting.    

It would almost appear that these Aldermopes are actually trying to sabotage the new mayor, except that from the nature of their comments and questions it is pretty clear that they don’t have a clue about City finances – so any sabotage is more inadvertent than intentional.

We can only hope that during the next two years Hock and Lambesis, if they stick around, stick to their guns and continue their dire warnings about fiscal irresponsibility as loudly and as frequently as possible; and that Schmidt uses the “bully pulpit” that the mayor’s office provides to convince the citizens of Park Ridge that the business-as-usual mentality that has taken us to this point has got to change. 

Starting tonight.

7 comments so far

I mostly agree with your post, but I don’t think it’s fair that you left out 1 other person with respect to blame here. Our City Finance Dir. has pretty much been also asleep at the wheel. Maybe she has protested some over the years, but she should have been screaming. Her job as city CFO is not just to pay bills. She should have raised the red flag on the Uptown projected financials, noting the significant risk in the first few years. Her reserve accounting/creative co-mingling of funds is crazy. Putting too much financial responsibility in the hands of the City Manager was a mistake. She is supposed to be our checks and balances, and her lack of leadership is now quite obvious. Might be time for new perspective and experience.

PR Resident, I don’t necessarily disagree with your view of Finance Director Lambesis, but the sad fact is that until City Mgr. Tim Schuenke left and was replaced by outsider Jim Hock, she probably would have been crucified for saying the things she’s saying now.

Rorschach says: Hold “staff” accountable. (I hate it when the city’s cognoscenti refer to the city government’s staff as “staff”, as in “The council asked staff to review the paperwork” — it sounds like they are some kind of infection living in a petri dish.) The aldermen should be demanding that “staff” bring clear information to public meetings. It is inexcusable that the aldermen and the citizenry can’t even get a clear picture of what’s going on.

Every time I go to one of these meetings, I am continually amazed how nobody seems to be talking about the same set of numbers. And I can’t tell whether it’s because they don’t all have the same set of numbers, or because some people are stupid. Get on the same page, people!

Just checked The PRHA site and the only thing they have is another swine flu case.

Nothing about Schmidt’s victory.

We assume you mean Schmidt’s swearing in at last night’s meeting.

You might want to check out today’s post – and the comments to both yesterday’s and today’s posts – on Park Ridge Underground.

Yes I meant his being sworn in I did check the PRU site but I’m just saying since the HA updated it’s site all week song it’s suprising that it wasn’t mentioned today.

Would that have been different if Frimark won instead?



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