Public Watchdog.org

Who Should Bear The Cost Of “Special Events”?

09.28.09

Tonight’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (7:00 p.m. at City Hall) features the Finance & Budget Committee (“F&B”) and the Procedures & Regulations Committee (“P&R”).  And two of the agenda items under F&B happen to be: “Special Events” and “Review of City’s Financial Condition.” 

That’s fitting, because the City’s overall financial condition should be THE reference point to anything it does, especially when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money.  And a look at the Finance Review [pdf] that will be discussed tonight gives some indications of why.

As best we can tell, it looks like both the “fund balance” and the City’s “cash” positions are under even the low end of the desired target levels, although the “Review” doesn’t seem to be the most readily understandable document when it comes to the average citizen actually being able to fully understand what’s what.

Of the many things that appear troubling, we note that the Uptown TIF continues to be millions of dollars under water, owing $4,300,000 to the General Operating Fund while having sucked up $42.4 million in bonded debt.  Good thing it’s “projected to be fully paid in 2021.”

Surprisingly, however, it appears that the Dempster TIF (a/k/a, the “Bredemann TIF”) – which purportedly was an unqualified success – is currently struggling, with expenses ($249,088) that exceed revenues ($245,606).  The recession has probably paid a big role in that situation, but we sure can’t tell how from this Review.

Maybe that information will be revealed at tonight’s meeting.

Which brings us to the Special Event expenses, as more fully described in the “Agenda Cover Memorandum” [pdf], which raises some good discussion points, a few of which we would like to specifically address.

“Should all events be required to be financially self-sufficient?”  Why not?  What’s wrong with the concept of pay-as-you-go?  With the City’s finances in distress and essential City services and projects either being cut back or deferred, why should these “events” – which are amenities rather than necessities, and many of which are being run by and for the benefit of private entities rather than the City itself – get a free pass to run up expenses on the taxpayers’ dime? 

“Should the City seek reimbursement from the schools”…for City expenses, such as for additional police officers to direct traffic for Friday night football games?  Again, why not – especially when we’re talking about two separate taxing bodies, one of which (Dist. 207) appears to be far better off financially than the City?  Having one taxing body effectively subsidize the other is a good way of reducing, if only by a little, the accountability of both bodies at a time when we should be demanding more accountability from them, not less.

“Should the City require…community groups we donate funds to, to provide expenditure reports?”  Once again, why not?  In a more accountable, less political world, community groups would live entirely off donations and the revenues they can generate for themselves because “not for profit” shouldn’t be synonymous with “dependent on tax dollars.” So if these groups are going to ask for tax dollars, and if the taxpayers are going to be forced – by the largesse of their elected and appointed representatives, who seem to find Other People’s Money (“OPM”) so easy to spend – to pay “donate” to these groups, why shouldn’t the City require some accountability from those groups in the form of detailed expenditure reports?

And, finally: “How do we define ‘Return On Investment’ to our community?”  We can start by defining “investment,” making sure we distinguish it from mere “expenditure.”  And if the “investment” we’re talking about is of tax dollars, then at least one required measure of the “return” should be in the form of dollars as well – because those warm-and-fuzzy “quality of life” measurements some folks prefer always seem to be more anecdote than measurement.

The old business adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” should be every bit as applicable to government as it is to business. And government’s traditional resistance to accurate, objective measurement of its activities is one of the things that has made it so unmanageable…and so unaccountable.

Hopefully tonight’s discussion will start to change all that, at least for the City of Park Ridge.

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