Public Watchdog.org

We Can’t Affford To Gamble On Another Fast Shuffle

04.15.10

There’s a big poker game in Park Ridge tonight. 

We suspect all the players will be wheelin’ and dealin’, bluffin’ and blusterin’, some holding cards close to the vest, others tipping one or two – as one might expect when the “pot” exceeds $50 million.  Some of the players will hold ’em, some will fold ’em.  And by the end of the night, some will walk away, one or two might even run.

The poker game is what the City Council will play during and immediately following the “public hearing” on the City’s 2010-11 budget scheduled for 7:00 p.m., which is the taxpayers’ last chance to comment on how the City is going to tax us and spend our money during the upcoming fiscal year. 

Although these public hearings have been sparsely attended in past years, this year might be SRO if all the special interests (police, fire, the O’Hare Airport Commission, seniors, private community groups, etc.) show up.  After all, they have to make sure they get the deal the City Council has already promised them, and not some watered-down version.

Will any plain old ordinary taxpayers show up in sufficient numbers to off-set all the special interests in the audience and cause our City officials to finally act in a fiscally responsible way?  We can only hope. but we’re not holding our breath.

Will the budget be balanced by evening’s end?  We can only hope.  But that will depend in large part on whether the revenue projections City Mgr. Jim Hock and his Staff have produced are credible.  Frankly, they seem overly-optimistic to us, especially in view of all the unenthusiastic economic forecasts for the coming year and our memories of all the pie-in-the-sky revenue projections that didn’t pan out and produced the torrent of red ink that has filled the City’s ledger for 9 of the last 10 years. 

It will also depend on whether all the proposed expense cuts can actually be achieved, something called into question by the story in Tuesday’s on-line Herald-Advocate (“Budget hearing: Debate over public safety cuts goes on,” April 13) that reports on the impasse between the City and the police union on how to save the jobs of four officers.  The police department reportedly still has to cut $283,768 from its budget in order to retain those four low-seniority officers – which could be done by things like an annual $6,500 pay reduction for every officer on the force; or by an additional $8 increase (above and beyond the already-approved $5 increase) in the price of vehicle stickers; or by a variety of furlough arrangements; or by things like cutting the funding to the O’Hare Airport Commission and the private community groups; or by a combination of several of these alternatives, and others.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t account for the prospect of $936,000 less revenue than Hock budgeted, if the Illinois General Assembly goes along with Gov. Quinn’s proposal to cut 30% from the state income tax payments scheduled to be sent to municipalities like Park Ridge.  Despite our own state rep (Rosemary Mulligan) telling the Council to expect that cut, the folks sitting around The Horseshoe – with the notable exceptions of Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) – are like kids whistling past the graveyard, refusing to even acknowledge that looming danger.

Which pretty much convinces us that what the taxpayers of Park Ridge are getting, once again, is another budget fast-shuffle from City Mgr. Hock and a complicit City Council – a fast-shuffle designed to minimize public scrutiny and understanding of the proposed budget necessary for ordinary citizens to ask the tough questions before tonight’s public hearing and the adoption of the budget expected immediately thereafter.

The evidence?

Let’s start with Hock, who claims to have a “contingency plan” of expense cuts to cope with that potential 30% revenue reduction from the State.  What are those cuts?  Hock’s not committing to any, which suggests he’s either talking through his hat, or that what he’s come up with is so questionable or ridiculous that it wouldn’t pass the smirk test if subjected to any real scrutiny.

If Hock were being straight with the taxpayers, each of the specific cuts of his “contingency plan” would have been publicized and posted on the City’s website immediately after he announced that he had such a plan, back at the March 31, 2010 budget COW meeting. 

The same goes for the “red-lined” version of Hock’s budget book showing all the changes that the Council has already approved, copies of which we understand he distributed to the Council at Monday night’s COW meeting but have yet to made it to the City’s website. 

Why wasn’t that information available to the taxpayers well enough in advance of tonight’s public hearing so that it could be reviewed?

By now it should be obvious to all but the legally blind why Mayor Schmidt wanted to start these budget discussions months earlier than Hock and the Council did.  Unfortunately, Hock and the Council won that battle, and we’re now back to the kind of eleventh-hour rush-to-judgment that characterized past budgets, and which started and continued the City down the current path to financial instability.

So expect to see a lot of wagering tonight, with money from here going to there, money from there going elsewhere, and not a lot of reliable countin’ going on.  Don’t be surprised if you can’t follow what’s getting cut, what’s getting funded, what’s staying the same, and whether and how the budget balances.  Or doesn’t. 

That’s the way the fast shuffle is done: Hock and the aldermen don’t want to actually do a final count of the money while they’re still sittin’ at the table with the public hanging around.

As Kenny Rodgers sings: “There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.”

11 comments so far

Think all funding should be cut for the O’Hare Commision and other groups and all the money should go to the Polce and Fire Depts.

The others should get their money through other types of funding.

An anon poster asked in the previous thread if the mayor has line-item veto authority on the budget, and I don’t think anyone answered the question. Does anyone know?

I do not know with 100% certainty, but it seems highly unlikely that POS does not have the line item veto but Dave Schmidt does.

POS=POTUS….WHat a horrible typo!!!!!

Fire:

It is our understanding that the mayor may veto the entire budget or any individual appropriation; but he cannot veto only part of an individual appropriation (e.g., if the budget identifies a total of $165,000 for the Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission, he cannot veto only the the ridiculous and wasteful $105,000 for the lobbyist – he would have to veto the entire $165,000)

It’s a crime that the police/fire cuts remain in this budget while we continue to throw money away to O’Hare and send money to the various community groups.

I just can’t figure out why the Aldermen and Mayor feel comfortable making cuts to fairly essential city services, while still funding non-essential items like concerts in the park. I like them as much as the next person, maybe more…and if I want to continue to see them, I should donate $50/$100 to keep that in place.

I am ok with the City Sticker increase, but not where the proceeds of that increase are headed. Raise it another $20 if you have to…just don’t send a penny to O’Hare or to the community groups (let them raise what they need themselves). I am happy to pay for the services I use (police and fire protection among those services).

I just don’t understand why this is so difficult.

Can somebody direct me to where on the city’s website I can find the most current budget information? I’m planning on attending tonight’s hearing but I can’t find anything more recent than Hock’s budget message that’s been up for months. What gives?

What gives, Anonymous 12:48, is that City Mgr. Hock and a majority of the alderdunces apparently don’t want the taxpayers to have any chance to review what purports to be the “final form” of the budget, so as to be able to ask informed questions.  So they can tell us tonight that the budget IS “balanced” and nobody outside The Horseshoe will be the wiser, or have the ability to meaningfully question them on it.

As we said in today’s post, it’s the fast shuffle, pretty much as duplicitous and deceitful as the nonsense that went on when Tim Schuenke was City Mgr.

PubDog- “What gives, Anonymous 12:48, is that City Mgr. Hock and a majority of the alderdunces apparently don’t want the taxpayers to have any chance to review what purports to be the “final form” of the budget”

Hock and a majority? Which majority? Is our Mayor suffering a bad case of political laryngitis? Is he on some extended mental vacation? Is his representative of the people brain sleeping in? Did having the city flag lowered to officially mourn Poland’s recent plane tragedy exhaust his leadership skills? Has he discovered all his own talk about transparency and his statements about posting documents for public view was such so much hooey? Did his email/press release list go poof in the night? Are his typing fingers in traction? Does his blackberry need recharging? Did he give up the fight for good government against the alderpuppets he used to be willing to fight against?

anon on 04.15.10 2:45 pm:

All good questions. Maybe the mayor will provide some answers, one way or the other, tonight.

2:45pm…
Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa



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