The City Budget And The Culture Of Stupidity


In the 1993 movie, “Dave,” the title character – Kevin Kline as a presidential look-alike who fills in for a disabled president – seeks advice on balancing the national budget from his store-front accountant buddy, played by Charles Grodin.  The Grodin and Kline characters spend an all-nighter poring over the budget, with Grodin at one point commenting: “If I ran my business this way, I’d be out of business.”

That pretty much describes the way the Park Ridge City Council has been running the city since the voters cut the Council in half, beginning in 2007.  After booking $3 million in deficits over the past two years, the Council outdid itself this year by passing a budget with a built-in $2 million deficit. 

At the prodding of new Mayor Dave Schmidt to come up with some amendments to balance the budget, City staff and the aldermen appear to merely be going through the motions.  Worse yet, however, is that when they actually do something more than that, they go in the wrong direction!

Monday night, the Council, as expected, approved an amendment adding $39,000 more in “welfare” payments to several local community groups who either can’t or won’t do what it takes to pay their own way.  And, as expected, the Council approved a 5% water rate increase that is patently insufficient – by $400,000 – to cover the price increase on water we purchase from the City of Chicago.  

Illinois has a well-deserved reputation for its state-wide “Culture of Corruption,” a symptom of which is budget deficits which end up turning into massive and chronic debt.  And it would be foolish to think that Park Ridge is immune from that Culture of Corruption: although we’re pretty small potatoes, the opportunity for kinkiness is always there when land deals, developers and consultants converge. 

But what it looks like we’re dealing with here isn’t so much corruption as plain unvarnished stupidity. 

How many more deficit budgets can this City endure before it reaches the point where it can’t pay its bills, and its infrastructure collapses – or where we need a substantial tax increase because the Council (and our former mayor) didn’t have the courage to tell us the truth about the City’s finances and do what was necessary to fix them?  How much longer will City government keep whistling past the financial graveyard?

Right now, we’ve got a leader-less Council.  It’s “dean,” Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), is the consummate follower whose next original budget idea will be his first.  And the next most-senior alderman, Frank Wsol (7th Ward), voted against the meager 5% water rate increase not because it was too low but because it was too high! 

Wsol wanted no increase at all, preferring to dip into reserves even though the City already appears to be cash-poor.  What Wsol really endorsed here, however, is a kind of financial socialism: by the City eating the increased water cost, that cost gets spread over the entire community rather than landing more heavily on the biggest users, thereby providing a subsidy to those biggest water users.  As we have said before, that’s bad government, bad economics, and political pandering.      

As for the other (besides Wsol’s) “no” vote on the water rate increase, Don Bach (3rd Ward), he’s a one-trick pony – that “trick” being to respond to any and all calls for a balanced budget by braying for staff cuts.  So far, staff isn’t budging; and Bach has offered not even one concrete suggestion of what staff cuts should be made and how much those would save.  In other words, he’s been a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The taxpaying residents of Park Ridge deserve better than this.  Unfortunately, this cast of characters appears incapable of providing it.