City Council Still Not Walking The Fiscal Talk (Corrected 06.23.11)


One of the many self-improvement aphorisms goes something like: “If you want to become something you’re not, you have to stop being what you are.” 

That’s a lesson that still hasn’t been learned by our City government which, despite the occasional declarations of devotion to fiscal responsibility, can’t quite seem to translate those words into deeds.   

Last night the Council voted 6 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick & Maloney) to 1 (Ald. Knight) to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the budget line item giving an across-the-board 3% pay increase to the City’s non-union employees.  The principal argument for those raises: those employees haven’t had a raise in 3 years.

No discussion of improved performance or greater efficiencies from those non-union employees generally.  No attempt to differentiate performance or productivity among them.  Just a blanket, everybody-gets-one, 3% raise that added $185,766 to the 2011-12 budget.

How many Park Ridge residents paying the taxes to fund those raises haven’t had a raise themselves in the past 3 years unless they could prove they earned it with increased productivity – and their employer could afford to pay it from increased profits?  How many Park Ridge residents paying the taxes to fund those raises have lost their jobs altogether, or have become substantially under-employed in the past 3 years with a commensurate decrease in pay and benefits?

But that didn’t seem to factor into the equation for our newest guardians of the public purse, who will also soon be making decisions about the City’s unionized employees seeking multi-year contracts that lock wage and/or benefit increases into the uncertain future when they should be getting only one-year deals that more accurately reflect existing economic reality.  And don’t expect those union deals to come with any guarantees of increased productivity.

Similarly, the Council voted 5 (DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick & Maloney) to 2 (Sweeney & Knight) to over-ride Schmidt’s veto of the budget line item providing for a total of $65,776 in no-strings-attached donations of our tax dollars to four private community groups.  Not surprisingly, the lion’s share ($49,500) of those donations went to the uber politically-connected Center of Concern, whose board of directors and advisory board sport 19 current or former public officials, at least 10 of whom have sat around The Horseshoe at 505 Butler Place.

No attempt to ascertain what specific services the residents are getting in return.  No attempt to require a specific dollars-for-services contract from those private recipients of the taxpayers’ involuntary largesse.  Not even any attempt to comply with the City Council’s Policy No. 6.  Just four arbitrary amounts added to the budget as proponents of those organizations showed up just long enough to make sure the vote went the way they wanted it and their organizations’ places at the public trough were ensured.

How many Park Ridge taxpayers consciously have chosen to directly donate their hard-earned money to local charities other than the four favored by the City Council?  How many of those taxpayers consciously have chosen not to make donations to those organizations, for whatever reasons or for no reason at all?  Do those residents really need City officials making these kinds of spending decisions for them, using their own tax dollars?

Let’s be clear here: the quarter-of-a-million dollars being budgeted for the pay raises and private community groups is only .44% of the City’s 2011-12 budget.  And it’s also only a small fraction of the millions of dollars of deficit spending by the previous City Council over the past 3 budget years – which not only depleted the City’s reserves to dangerous levels but also caused the City to lay off police and public works employees, and to suspend or reduce several City services.  

But a quarter of a million bucks still buys a lot of the essential things that City government is obligated to provide its residents, most of which – like paved streets, well-maintained sewers, emerald ash borer control, tc. – are not of the warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good variety that Park Ridge politicians love.

One resident, in speaking against such donations last evening, asked when the people of Park Ridge gave the Council the right to make charitable donations for them? 

A good question, to be sure, but one that ignores our City’s fiscal history that has been shaped too often by the egos of public officials who seem to assume the public’s position on every spending request favored by those officials is “yes” whenever they don’t hear a deafening “no.”

Correction (06.23.11): The Youth Commission is not a “private” corporation/organization but a commission of the City.  As such (and unlike the other three private organizations), it is not subject to City Council Policy No. 6; and it is lawfully entitled to whatever funding the City Council chooses to provide. 

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6 comments so far

“How many Park Ridge residents paying the taxes to fund those raises have lost their jobs altogether, or have become substantially under-employed in the past 3 years with a commensurate decrease in pay and benefits?”

I’ll bite. How many???

EDITOR’S NOTE: The purpose of the question mark is to show it’s a question. We could name more than 20 Park Ridge residents off the cuff, although we aren’t going to for obvious reasons. But according to the City’s website, Park Ridge unemployment for 2009 (the latest figure posted) was 7.3%.

Here we go again. Nickels and dimes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Spoken like a true big government-loving spendthrift. Let’s not pay attention to mere “nickels and dimes” (actually $250,000) until they turn into millions, billions and trillions. That’s exactly how government at every level ended up in hock (and we don’t mean City Mgr. Jim).

But if you want City government wasting its time on “nickels and dimes,” please share with our readers your grand ideas for saving millions of tax dollars. Or are you just interested in raising taxes so the City can waste more of them?

I for one haven’t had a raise in quite a while but I’m very happy to have a job. This city council is a joke.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, the previous City Council was “a joke” – one that cost the City’s taxpayers several million dollars in mindless deficit spending and fund depletion. And the Councils for a decade before that weren’t a whole lot better, posting deficits in all but one year.

The current Council, in sustaining at least some of the mayor’s vetoes, saved the City $315,000+ with the budget they inherited from the departed clown-car Council; and they did that in less than 30 days on the job.

While we are unimpressed with what appears to have been (based on the minimal debate that occurred) minimal analysis and policy considerations concerning the blanket 3% raises or the arbitrary give-aways to those four private community groups, we’re willing to give the new Council until one budget-cycle of its own to see whether they can actually step up to the challenge of re-thinking the tax-borrow-and-spend paradigm of local government.

This is all so nice and I hate to change the topic, but now that my power is back on I turned on my computer and watched the meeting. I get to the part where the Com-Ed mouthpiece gives a report which outlines all the “improvements” they have done and “short” the repair times are. I kid you not. If you haven’t watched it you should. Then he asks if there are any questions? Guess what? Not one. They all sit there. All seven of them and the Mayor just sit there. No one asks what specific improvements have occurred since the last power outage or the one before that or the one before that. They should have asked because evidenced by what took place over the last twenty-four hours is clear evidence it was not enough.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree, which is why it’s the topic of our June 23 post.

A little nitpick here, you keep referring to the Youth Commission as one of “four private community groups”. It isn’t. I’m not sure the official designation, but it is a task force or committee of the city council, not a private enterprise. The Youth Commission members are appointed by the mayor, much like planning and zoning or the flood task force. If it is to be a city run commission, and needs funds, it should be funded by the city.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nitpick away – that’s an error that deserves correction, as the Youth Commission is the only one of those four entities that is “city run” and is entitled to funding by the City.

and according to the youth commission minutes, it ran a fundraiser: expending 990 or so dollars and raising 220 for a loss of about 700 taxpayer dollars. There’s your city run attempts appointed by mayor NO it all. Hah, what a joke!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the minutes of the Youth Commission meetings and what you will find is a joke of a commission whose major accomplishment appears to be merely existing. That being said, however, it remains a commission OF THE CITY and is legally entitled to the funding the Council wants to give it.

As to its losing $700, however, that’s a few thousand dollars less than the loss the City has been incurring year after year from Taste of Park Ridge, and tens of thousands of dollars less than Center of Concern is costing the City without any kind of legitimate accounting of the value of the services it purportedly is providing to Park Ridge residents.

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