Balanced Budget Or Ticking Time Bomb? (Updated 3/30/10)


The City Council’s Finance & Budget (“F&B”) Committee will take center stage at tonight’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (City Hall, 7:00 p.m.) as the aldermen finally start discussing the nuts and bolts of whether, and how, they intend to approve a balanced 2010-11 City budget.  And from what we’ve seen and heard from those elected representatives so far, the next few weeks are likely to be a repeat of the past years’ profligacy as the Council begins its sprint towards the May 1 budget deadline.

Up until now, the aldermen have behaved pretty much as they did last year: A lot of hollow talk without any expression of the vision or the will necessary to change how the City spends a relatively flat stream of revenue by drawing down on its dwindling reserves.

At this past Saturday’s budget workshop, various aldermen made it clear to City Mgr. Jim Hock that they expected him to present a “balanced” budget tonight – the one he originally presented projected a $227,000 deficit despite substantial expenditure cuts and a 5% increase in property taxes.  But since that budget’s presentment, aldermen have told Hock they will oppose a number of his proposed cuts while refusing to tell him what they would cut to make up for the increased spending. 

That kind of posturing is both shameless and spineless.  But after two full years of watching this Council operate, we can’t say that we’re surprised.

For example, Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), joined by Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward), has demanded that in excess of $200,000 be put back in the budget for donations – not the “purchase” of specific services solely for Park Ridge residents on an agreed cost-per-unit basis, but just plain old handouts – to private community groups, without any suggestion of what else should be cut to make up for that new expense. 

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) has stated that he will vote against any cuts to police and fire personnel.  On Saturday, he supported that position by saying that he had recently received numerous calls from residents telling him that they did not want police and fire personnel cut.  Although Sweeney made it sound like this was some spontaneous outpouring of unsolicited concern, we suspect it had a lot more to do with the panic-peddling leaflets [pdf] recently distributed all over town, purportedly by the police and fire unions. 

Bach, in typical half-baked fashion, went so far as to present an overhaul of the City’s administrative structure…a mere six weeks before the budget approval deadline!  And he did it with a straight face, as if he didn’t see the total absurdity of such an 11th hour proposal that should have been made back in August or September for it to have had any chance of being fully debated and reasonably acted upon.  Chalk up another political stunt from a guy who talks the fiscal conservative talk but sure doesn’t walk the walk.

So we expect tonight’s meeting to be the first of what could be several goat rodeos.  Expect aldermen blustering about “essential” personnel and programs that can’t be cut, and then wagging their fingers at Hock while offering little in the way of constructive alternatives.  For those of you who were paying attention last year at this time, you’ve seen this all before.

But for those of you who are new to this game, we offer the following three tips for determining whether what’s happening is constructive budget reshaping or just political smoke and mirrors:

1.  If the first words out of Hock’s mouth tonight are not a clear and unequivocal declaration that he has eliminated the $227,000 deficit, followed by a precise and easily understandable explanation of how he did it, you can be pretty sure that the City Manager is wearing a jacket borrowed from Lance Burton and has a number of other budget “tricks” up his sleeves.

2.  Anybody who talks about increasing revenues (other than higher property taxes) is almost certainly making up those numbers, a la former city manager and prevaricator extraordinaire Tim Schuenke.  And if they say they got their revenue numbers from somebody like the Northwest Municipal Conference, don’t be fooled: the NWC is just a collection of municipal bureaucrats and elected officials who can’t responsibly manage their own individual communities but who have banded together seeking safety in sheer numbers – like a herd of kudu in lion country.

3.  Anybody who suggests the reduction or elimination of any of the cuts Hock proposed but who does not immediately provide chapter and verse for an equal or greater amount of reciprocal cuts in other budgeted expenses to offset or replace the restored expenses is lying through his/her teeth.

And don’t forget that 936,000 pound elephant lurking in the corner: Gov. Quinn’s proposal to cut 30% from the municipalities’ share of the state income tax.  If that happens, Park Ridge can be expected to lose around $936,000.  And State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan already told the Council two Saturday’s ago to expect exactly that, even as she did the Springfield Shuffle by lobbying, at the same time, for the restoration of over $200,000 in expenses for the community groups – without, of course, suggesting any reciprocal budget cuts!

(Does anybody else enjoy – admittedly, in a sick and twisted way – the irony of a RINO warning us about an “elephant”?)

Although Quinn’s tax revenue cut isn’t a done deal yet, any City budget that doesn’t take that possible revenue reduction into consideration – by identifying specific additional cuts that will automatically (and that can legally) be made if that proposal becomes reality – is a ticking time bomb.

Can all you taxpayers out there say “Boom!”?

Update 3/30/10: Last night’s F&B COW was pretty much the goat rodeo we predicted in yesterday’s post.  Although no “final” decisions were made, the Council took large strides toward adding back more than $1 million of expenses that had been cut in City Mgr. Jim Hock’s draft 2010-11 budget.  Among the notable occurrences:

·    the thunderous applause of the police and firefighters who packed the Council chambers when the Council unanimously promised to restore all of the police and fire personnel cuts – without hard-and-fast details as to how that will be paid for;

·    the Council’s decision to restore the $100,000+ position of Economic Development Director that had been cut in Hock’s budget, before being advised by Hock that the current director (Kim Uhlig) had resigned earlier that day (but maybe not);

·    the Council’s decision to cut the $100,000+ Deputy City Mgr. position from Hock’s budget, currently occupied by Juliana Maller;

·    the elimination of raises this year, which should save approx. $270,000, thereby wiping out the $227,000 deficit that was in Hock’s original proposal;

·    Ald. Robert Ryan (5th) railing at Hock for cutting tax dollars to private community groups, with Ald. Don Bach (3rd) suggesting a $10 increase in vehicle stickers to help finance those groups;  

·    Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) suggesting the deferral of sewer work; and

·    A library rep effectively arguing for a $96,000 tree replacement.

None of this is official, however; and there’s another budget workshop tomorrow night (7:00 p.m., City Hall) where more of this will get discussed.  Hang onto your hats, folks!

8 comments so far

Is it true that public works cut the number of streets it is repairing or repaving?

Not yet. But if the aldermen succeed in restoring some of the other planned cuts, street repaving might become a casualty.

I said this 6 months ago (maybe more), but if they have not already done so they should take a very hard look at cutting street paving.

They paved a 2-3 block area around my house that did not need it. There wer AcME paving trucks all over the place and I cannot even guess what the city paid them. So get rid of some Police and Firemen but for god sake don’t touch our paving!!!!!

Idea: Eliminate free hospital parking by installing parking meters on Vernon Ave. between Dempster and Farrell. Charge 50 cents an hour. 40 cars X $4 per day X 250 days = $40,000, plus fines from violations.


You’re almost up to one-half of a cop or fireman. Keep up the good work: it’s more than the aldermen will deliver starting about an hour from now.

OK fire….let’s also put meters all over up town. Let’s put meters in all the parking lots at the rec centers. Let’s put in toll booths!!!!

SO 3:29.

Are you gonna feel the same way if your house get’s broken into or if it catches on fire and there’s not enough police of fire personal?

Is Hock toast? Or is this just some big act to leave everything open-ended until the last minute when people can’t follow it and the council passes whatever they want?

Where is the $700,000 for the cops and firemen coming from?

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