Is Economic Change Finally Coming To City Hall?


It’s way too early to say that meaningful change is finally coming to the economic mindset at 505 Butler Place.  But a hint of change does seem to be in the air.

After finally deciding to put Taste of Park Ridge out “to bid” (technically, an RFP is not a “bid,” but that’s the drift of it) and requiring the winning proposal to reimburse the City for its approx. $20,000 in annual service costs, at last Wednesday’s 2012-13 budget workshop a slim majority of the Park Ridge City Council – Alds. Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th), Dan Knight (5th) and Marty Maloney (7th) – preliminarily rejected any more handouts of public funds to those 3 private “sacred cow” corporations who have been feeding at the public trough without a shred of credible proof that they have been providing essential services to Park Ridge residents: Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, and Meals on Wheels, which together will receive $61,776 this current fiscal year.

We realize that’s a small amount, considering the size of the City’s budget.  But it’s the principle that counts.

Even semi-regular readers of this blog know our objections to these giveaways, which we articulated in posts on 04/05/1008/23/1005/16/11 and 12/14/11: these corporations don’t provide services the City is required to provide; the City Council has never satisfied the requirements of Council Policy No. 6 for giving public funds to private entities; and these corporations don’t provide meaningful transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.  These reasons alone should be enough to prevent these giveaways.

But the other factor that may have swayed one or more of the four majority aldermen is that the City just doesn’t have the money, irrespective of whether or not those three “principle” objections could be satisfied.

That’s because, per City fund policy, the City’s General Fund should have a fund balance in the neighborhood of $7 million.  Instead, it is limping along at a level approximately $4 million south of there with no plan yet in place to increase it significantly – one of the main contributing factors to Moody’s recent downgrade of the City’s bond rating.

Meanwhile, the City has numerous infrastructure needs that have been “deferred” – in reality, just plain neglected – over the past 10 years.  Just the short list would include sewer maintenance, repair and replacement; water main replacement; tree trimming and reforestation; and street/parking lot re-surfacing.  The City also is looking at vehicle replacement and technology replacement needs for the coming years that will carry a significant price tag.

Makes you wonder what the heck has been happening at City Hall for the last decade, doesn’t it?  Maybe Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) can explain it, since he’s been there since 1995.

And let’s not forget that the City already is planning to raise sewer rates to fund the first phase of the flood remediation project, and planning to raise water rates to cover the City of Chicago’s latest price increase.  Given how mismanaged that city’s government has been for decades, we have to assume that Mayor Rahm will increasingly jack up the cost of water to Park Ridge and other water-dependent suburbs.  

Before Wednesday night’s preliminary show of hands on cutting community group funding, one of the Council’s two Center of Concern advocates, Ald. Tom Bernick (6th) – DiPietro is the other – may have sensed the direction the debate was heading.  Bernick began referring to CofC and the other two groups as a low-cost, outsourced equivalent of other municipalities’ “human services” departments, even while acknowledging that the actual benefits of those services couldn’t really be measured. 

He even went so far as to propose service contracts between those groups and the City – further proof that even a blind squirrel can find the occasional acorn.  Or that Bernick simply “borrowed” one of our ideas for dealing with these giveaways, albeit without attribution.  We’ll consider it flattery instead of plagiarism.

It must be remembered, however, that last Wednesday night’s Council action was just preliminary.  There’s still a long way to go before the 2012-13 budget is finalized. 

And we’re hearing that those community groups and their advocates – including current and former Park Ridge elected officials, such as all those on CofC’s Board of Directors and its Advisory Board, and even some state-level elected officials – are already burning up the phone lines and demanding face time with the aldermen in a full-court press to change the minds of the four “majority” aldermen.  They’ve learned over the years that it’s a lot easier to get taxpayer money out of compliant elected City officials than out of the taxpayers directly.  

Hopefully, our aldermen are finally learning that if the Council keeps doing what it has been doing economically, the City will keep getting the same unsatisfactory economic results it has been getting.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

I sure hope City Hall is getting it, because the editorial in today’s Tribune shows how we shouldn’t expect much help from the State of Illinois for the foreseeable future due to its heading toward insolvency becuase it can’t “break their addictions to current spending and debt obligations.”

That means the City will need to break its own addictions to those same things.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly right. And with a state legislature totally locked up by Mike Madigan and John Cullerton, along with their puppet governor, we can expect disaster before reform.

I don’t always agree with you, but on this one you are dead on. I’ll cross my fingers and hope that these aldermen will maintain this vote even after these charities start lining up at City Hall to sell their wares.

Well, we have to take this as a positive. A sign that some form of fiscal sanity is entering the discussions there at 505. That said, having skimmed the video a few points to make:

What the heck is with Smith? He says the writing has been on the wall and then almost falls asleep when it was time to vote. Then he votes down Meals on Wheels and Center of Concern but votes for maine Center…all without explanation…what the hell?

Bernick is goofy. His explanation of how the City outsources human services to these groups just doesn’t fly. Hey Mr.I Run My Own Business…when are you going to show some business sense-or any sense at all?

Never saw Ald. De Pietro get so worked up over the order of a vote. Man, Alderman, there are plenty more things to get exercised about.

I hope the majority that voted this spending out of the budget stick to their guns. This was long overdue.

And for those who will cry poor on behalf of these groups all I can say is dig deeper. That’s a damn impressive list for the CofC, both the board and the advisory board. If they can’t fill this gap I call bullshit on each one of them. Ditto for the other groups…get out and beat the bushes, there is money out there but it is damn competitive out there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The City needs to get somebody to work the camera like George Kirkland used to, because that constant wide-angle shot basically detaches the words from the speakers. Nevertheless, its still a huge improvement over the old sanitized-for-your-protection meeting minutes, or the City’s audio feed, for getting the full sense of what went on at meetings you you couldn’t attend.

Something’s wrong if these 3 “community group” corporations can’t raise from private sources the money they’ve been getting from the City. Should we start with the “strategy” behind putting a bunch of ham-and-egg local politicians on your boards?

Change just for change’s sake tends to be worthless. Change with the purpose of improvement is another story. The city council may be making baby step changes, but they are steps in the right direction. Let’s hope they continue and not backtrack on this.

$62K works out to $1.67 per resident.
Meals on Wheels that makes sure elderly people who are alone get a hot meal each day?
Maine Center that helps residents of all ages escape or at least cope with the agony of mental illness and the suffering caused by family, parenting and marital challenges that are overwhelming?
Center of Concern that helps seniors who are alone and without basic services, individuals who are homeless, trying to find work, and otherwise are Not You?
I heard you were a Catholic. Musta been a rumor.
$62K wouldn’t even cover Hock’s vacation pay.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Religion has nothing to do with government, or haven’t you heard about the separation of church and state?

If it’s only $1.67 per resident, why don’t all those current and former City officials on the boards of these organizations start pounding the pavement to collect such a paltry sum directly from those residents – instead of putting the arm on politicians who have a hard time saying no to anything. Let Beaumont, Radermacher, Kerin, Bateman, Brauweiler, DePaul, Henneman, Marous, Strauts and Stuercke work 6-corners, Starbucks, the Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Dominick’s and Morningfields this Saturday and see how much they can bring in.

Heck, we’d give EACH of them $1.67 for just the honest effort.

Least, you could make the “per resident” argument about almost anything any one wants to spend money on and then the next thing you know is that you are at some $100’s or $1000’s per resident. Where is it supposed to end?

“I heard you were Catholic”… WTF is that supposed to mean? Again, you can say that about any giving issue to any Catholic and what?, are they just supposed to empty their pockets for YOU and YOUR charities?

Cripes, if it is so damn little go out and friggin’ raise the money. Stop bleating here and at City Hall about why you can’t get a handout and go out and raise the money!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with your points, Anon, but have you considered decaf?

We also share your frustration with what appears to be certain people’s inability (or is it convenient refusal?) to comprehend the difference between a “private” organization/corporation and the “public” realm of government.

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