Should City Taxes Be Raised To Fund Center Of Concern?


In recent years the Center of Concern (“CofC”) – a private corporation that provides a variety of “social services” to people in Des Plaines, Niles, Morton Grove, Maine Township and Park Ridge – has been masterful at securing hand-outs of our tax dollars from the City of Park Ridge.  Former City Councils were soft touches when it came to writing CofC $50,000+ checks without even asking how much of that money was actually going to Park Ridge residents, for what services, and at what price.

But as the “new” Park Ridge City Council struggles to repair the defective budget it inherited from the past council before the May 30 deadline for doing so, CofC has cranked up its propaganda machine to make sure it retains its place at the head of the public trough.

This past Wednesday TribLocal reporter Jennifer Delgado wrote a “puff piece” featuring two local women who have used CofC’s home-sharing program – where CofC matches prospective “tenants” with homeowners – so that the latter can afford to stay in their homes.  It was a typical warm-and-fuzzy human interest story, short on details and bereft of public policy discussions.

But the far more interesting propaganda was an “open letter” to the City Council from former 4th Ward aldermen John Kerin and Jim Radermacher, now members of CofC’s board of directors, published by the Park Ridge Journal (“Raising Taxes Better than Cutting Funding To The Center Of Concern,” 5/11/11). 

As the title suggests, Kerin and Radermacher want the Council to raise our property taxes rather than have the City Council follow Mayor Dave Schmidt’s recommendation of cutting CofC’s $49,500 of funding, along with some additional funding earmarked for Meals on Wheels and Maine Center for Mental Health, from the 2011-12 City budget.  The following propaganda points from Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher deserve a little deconstruction:

  • CofC “was contacted by over 15,400 area residents in need of assistance” in 2010, before claiming that CofC “directly helped thousands of Park Ridge residents,” of which “seniors” were the “largest group.”

Exactly how many “thousands” of Park Ridge residents contribute to that 15,400 “area” total?  That number is missing from their letter, but CofC’s 2011 application for City funding claims 6,770 “Park Ridge residents served” – without listing exactly what services those residents are getting, how much time is being spent by CofC providing those services, or what those services actually cost CofC.  We are very skeptical of a full 18% of Park Ridge residents even seeking, much less receiving, services from CofC, but proof is hard to come by when CofC doesn’t volunteer that information in any detailed form even to City officials  

  • CofC is “able to use the $49,500 in Park Ridge support and turn it into a $773,000 budget….” 

No blasphemy intended, but such an ROI is the kind of loaves-and-fishes stuff even Bernie Madoff didn’t have the nerve to promise!  Unfortunately, there’s no ready way to determine the validity of such a claim because, when it comes to transparency and accountability about what it does and the related costs, CofC avails itself of every bit of secrecy its “private corporation” status affords.   

  • Donating $49,500 of City tax dollars to CofC “equates to $1.31 per resident.”

Are Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher conceding that CofC’s fundraising is so inept that it can’t even raise the equivalent of $1.31 per Park Ridge resident in direct, voluntary donations?  That very well could be, because a check of Schedule G to CofC’s last-filed (per GuideStar) IRS Form 990-EZ indicates that its fundraising for the entire 2008-09 fiscal year was a measly $29,718 net.  Which raises the question: Does CofC really stink at fundraising, or do the people of Park Ridge believe CofC’s services to Park Ridge aren’t worth $1.31/year? 

  • “[I]f it came down to raising our taxes or cutting funding for the not-for-profits, we would recommend raising our taxes.”

Not surprisingly, we here at PublicWatchdog have a few recommendations or our own that don’t involve CofC taking any more money from the Park Ridge municipal treasury, at least not without providing the transparency and accountability that’s been MIA so far:

1.   Let CofC go to the Des Plaines City Council and get more than the lousy $9,000 those folks budgeted for CofC this year, especially because we suspect Des Plaines (with 56,316 people and a median household income of $60,674) uses a lot more CofC services than Park Ridge (with 37,480 people and a median household income of $112,049).  And we also suspect Des Plaines’ public treasury, with a budget of $96,300,552 and sales tax receipts of $12,495,617, can afford it more than Park Ridge, with a budget of only $57,263,316 and sales tax receipts of a paltry $5,070,000.   

2.   After it’s done shaking down Des Plaines, let CofC head over to Niles and Morton Grove and hit their respective boards of trustees up for $1.31 per resident, since they don’t appear to be budgeting anything for CofC. 

3.   Let the 14 CofC Board Members and the 39 CofC Advisory Board members dig into their own pockets to support their favorite community group, instead of expecting the taxpayers to do it for them.  $49,500 divided by 53 equals a shade under $940 each – a small price to pay for something they claim to “actually feel good about” (according to Kerin and Radermacher), especially when they are also receiving whatever acknowledgements, goodwill and other benefits that may come from being promoted on CofC’s website in that fashion.

4.   Let CofC offer to open up its books and records to City officials so that our elected representatives can determine for themselves and on our behalf whether CofC actually is doing all those things it claims to be doing for Park Ridge residents, and at what cost.  In fact, that should be required before the City gives CofC another dime, because City Council Policy No. 6 states that the City’s payment of public money to private organizations (like CofC) must be based on, among other things, the “community benefit for such services” – presumably on a cost-benefit basis tied to the amount of public money being given away.  Without seeing CofC’s books and records, the City administration has no way of determining whether it could be providing those same services to Park Ridge residents at less, perhaps way less, than the $49,500 CofC is “charging.”

5.   CofC should offer to contract with the City – just like any other vendor of services to the City and its residents – for those specific services it is providing, at a specific price per service unit (per hour, per task, etc.).  That way, our public officials and the City’s taxpayers alike can know that they are getting at least $1.00 of service from CofC for every $1.00 they are paying.

We’d prefer to see CofC actually become self-supporting rather than relying on annual handouts of public funds, which is why we prefer recommendation Nos. 1, 2 and 3, individually and in concert.  But, frankly, we don’t expect all the folks with their names on the CofC website – especially all those “Hon.” ones – to put their money where their mouths are.

But if CofC truly is a legitimate and efficient essential service provider to the City, it should welcome and embrace recommendation Nos. 4 and 5, which will finally provide some much-needed transparency and accountability to the Park Ridge taxpayers whose public officials have been “donating” hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to CofC over the years, no questions asked.

That’s the bare minimum Park Ridge taxpayers deserve for their money.

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