Public Watchdog.org

A Good Start For Mayor Schmidt

05.06.09

Shortly after being sworn in Monday night, Mayor Dave Schmidt took an important first step in proving that his election was the right thing for Park Ridge: He broke the 3-3 tie among the six remaining aldermen and sent the “charitable contributions” portion of the 2009/10 budget back to the Finance & Budget Committee for re-evaluation.

In so doing, Schmidt put in motion a complete review, and possible amendment, of the entire recently-passed 2009/10 budget.  He made it quite clear that not only would he like to see the current $1.8 million deficit eliminated, but also that he does not take kindly to $630,000 of that deficit resulting from giveaways to private community groups and from the City Council’s refusal to pass on the full costs of increased water prices to the consumers, as reflected in Schmidt’s comment on the latter point: “Water rates must reflect pay as you go economics.”

Amen to that.

We couldn’t understand how the City Council, after having booked over $3 million in deficits during the past two years, could still pass a 2009/10 budget that included another $1.8 million deficit.  Spending more than it has been taking in is why the City is in such a financial mess in the first place, a fact that still seems lost on the folks seated around The Horseshoe who purportedly represent us.

So with the price the City of Chicago charges Park Ridge for water having just increased 15% (with another 14% increase already scheduled for next year), how does the Council justify raising the price to us water users by only 5%, leaving the City $400,000 in the hole?  If you’re Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward), who fancies himself the Council’s resident fiscal conservative, you push for subsidizing that shortfall with money from the Water Fund reserves, claiming that those reserves represent money “[w]e’ve taken from the taxpayers already.”

Indeed they do, Ald. Wsol, but so what?  Most of the money sitting in City accounts at any given time didn’t come from a winning Powerball ticket – it’s money that’s already been taken from the taxpayers, one way or the other.  But that’s never stopped you or your fellow aldermen from spending it before, so why are you so hung-up on it now? 

The Water Fund reserves that Wsol wants to deplete are intended to cover a variety of water-related costs, including the cost of paying the debt service (almost $900,000/year) on the remaining $10,625,000 of bonds issued in 2004 to pay for the City’s new water reservoir at Hinkley Park; the cost of water main repair and replacement ($1.47 million); and the cost of repair and replacement of fire hydrants and water meters ($267,000).  Depleting that fund puts at risk the City’s ability to pay for those needs.

The City’s subsidizing of water costs to its residents is also irresponsible because it artificially influences the application of market forces to the cost of water use.  Manipulating the price to the consumer is dishonest, and doing it to reduce the price of water below its cost encourages over-use and even waste of water.  That’s a lot closer to fiscal insanity than fiscal conservatism, Ald. Wsol.

As for the $226,000 in handouts to private and quasi-private community organizations, both Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) and Robert Ryan (5th Ward) keep insisting that the community gets back far more value than the tax dollars handed over to those organizations – without one lick of proof to support such grandiose claims.  If the taxpayers really thought these organizations are that valuable, however, why wouldn’t donations of money and services be sufficient to eliminate the annual begging for these government handouts? 

Maybe that question, along with a lot of other ones, will be adequately asked and answered in the upcoming review and amendment (hopefully) of the 2009/10 budget.  If that happens, it will be a good start indeed for Mayor Schmidt…and for the taxpayers and residents of Park Ridge.

2 comments so far

PD:

I agree this is a good start. I must say I am still confused that a week ago, in his role as alderman, he voted for the budget.

Oh well.

I, too, am uncertain of how a $1.8 million deficit didn’t ring the alarm bells when he had his first chance. It’s like they all get drugged when they get up there, and the kind of stuff that might have caused a reaction no longer does.

But at least it’s being revisited.



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