COW “Chips” Tonight? (Update 10/12/10)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will stage another Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (7:00 p.m. at City Hall), and the agenda is a full one.  There are, however, a few “action items” that deserve special attention. 

No. 1 on our Hit Parade comes under the Finance & Budget portion of the COW: Ald. Robert Ryan’s crusade to push the City into buying the Scharringhausen parking lot at 20 S. Fairview for $700,000+.  This issue has been…wait for it…deferred from two previous COWs, presumably because Ryan lacked the 4 votes (Ald. Allegretti missing on 8/23/10, Alds. Allegretti and Carey missing on 9/27/10) needed to ensure passing this boondoggle out of the COW.  

With the City struggling to cover its budgeted expenses, and with the TIF Fund already $4.6 million in debt to the General Fund for more than two years in connection with the development of Target Area 2, the City’s spending of an unbudgeted $700K to acquire and land-bank a parking lot in Target Area 4 just because the current owners have decided they want to sell is nothing short of ridiculous.   

Is Ryan simply trying to help out the Scharringhausens and listing broker Owen Hayes II (Ryan’s former campaign treasurer)?  Or is he trying to reward any speculators in neighboring properties – like, perhaps, the owners of 720 Garden, or 16 Prairie, or the old D’Bob’s restaurant and/or the homes over on 3rd Street – by jump-starting the otherwise stagnant redevelopment of that area?  

The last time the City jumped on property just because the owner wanted to sell, we got that dump at 229 S. Courtland that the City has no use for and whose value reportedly has declined significantly since the City acquired it.  The 20 S. Fairview lot looks like another white elephant, only larger.  

Also under F&B is the approval of a $40,000 payment under what we consider another imprudent program to spend scarce public funds: the City’s “Façade Improvement Program,” under which building owners or lessees can recover as much as 50% of the cost of making their buildings look nicer.  The latest recipient of this taxpayer handout is 100-102 Main Street/7-15 South Fairview, the Solari & Huntington jewelry store building. 

This kind of payment of public funds to private property owners appears to be somewhat akin to the Council’s donation of public funds to private community groups.  If so, it should require something similar to compliance with City Council Policy No. 6, or maybe Policy No. 31 – which requires that any economic development expenditures provide a “demonstrable quantitative and qualitative return on the City’s investment to be realized during a reasonable period of time after such investment.”  

But, as best as we recall, the Council that created the Façade Improvement Program in conjunction with the redevelopment of Target Area 2 never gave serious consideration to the qualifying criteria identified in Policy No. 6 or Policy No. 31 – just like the current Council failed to do with the community group giveaways.  In other words, this program looks like another boondoggle that, in this case, will cost us $40,000 that could be better spent elsewhere.  Hopefully, somebody on the Council will recognize that and start the process for getting rid of this misbegotten program.

Finally, the Procedures & Regulations portion of the COW will feature City Mgr. Jim Hock’s seeking of Council approval to issue an RFP for the sale of the vacant former Public Works site at Greenwood and Elm.  Peddling that property in a down R.E. market doesn’t sound like the smartest idea, although we can see how a quick couple of million in unbudgeted revenues might fill that prospective multi-million dollar operating deficit Hock keeps insisting is not coming down the pike the way it did in each of his first two years on the job. 

What concerns us most about this sale, however, is that the Community Preservation & Development manager’s “Agenda Cover Memo” for this item includes no terms or parameters for the proposed RFP, even though Ald. DiPietro requested those items at the 9/27/10 COW meeting.  That lack of information could lead to an unfocused, rush-to-judgment discussion and ill-considered action; or it could lead to another of this Council’s trademark deferrals.  Either way, it looks like Staff dropped the ball on this.

From the looks of things, tonight could provide the taxpayers with a few unwelcome COW “chips.”

UPDATE:  In a mild upset last evening, a four alderman (Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol) to three (Allegretti, Carey & Ryan) vote dashed, at least temporarily, Ald. Ryan’s fiscally irresponsible plan to have the City purchase and land-bank the Scharringhausen parking lot.  And if that weren’t good enough for one evening, Ald. Rich DiPietro went so far as to propose that the City suspend its half-baked Facade Improvement Program. 

See, guys…good government really isn’t all that difficult.

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6 comments so far

The only way Park Ridge is going to thrive is if it develops Uptown along the lines Edison Park, Mt. Prospect and Arlington Hts. Your lousy blog can rail against it all you want, but it will happen.

The TIF is $4 mil in the hole and Ryan wants to spend $700,000 to buy a parking lot that the city is leasing at a PROFIT!!!!

Please be specific. Where is this “lousy blog” “railing” against…against what exaxctly?

Thank you for the update. That is good news, and it should serve as a lesson to the voters of Park Ridge that we do not need to keep on doing the same old same old. I think the mayor’s fiscal conservatism is starting to get some traction.

Ryan ought to take the vote against his kooky idea as a sign his time is up. Who will be the next 5th Ward Alderperson?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Whoever gets the most votes.

Ryan’s time never was. He started his term by being sited by the Advocate for bad attendance, and he is going out with bad ideas.