Public Watchdog.org

Youth Campus Referendum Deferral Could Be Lemonade For Voters

08.21.12

We’re not exactly sure how to take the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s announcement that it won’t be going to referendum this November for the bond financing it needs to acquire and develop the Park Ridge Youth Campus property for Park District purposes.

Our suspicious nature would cause us question whether this is a conscious attempt by the Park District to avoid the traditionally heavier presidential election turnout – and the anti-tax voters who just might come out in droves to barbecue that pack of losers commonly known as the Illinois General Assembly who are all up for re-election in November – by pushing the referendum to the April local election, where turnouts are always lighter.

But from what we’re reading and hearing, while avoiding the bigger November turnout certainly may have been a factor in the decision, the more significant factor(s) may well be some changes in how the project might get done.

For example, it sounds like residential developer Mark Elliott may be walking away from his “partnership” with the District and may actually be preparing to compete with it for the Youth Campus property.  Rumor has it that Elliott was trying to push more costs onto the District and the District, for a change, pushed back.

But unless the owners of the Youth Campus are willing to sell it in pieces – which we doubt is the case – that means the Park District will need to spend $6.4 million to acquire the whole parcel instead of the $4 million-plus it was planning to spend on roughly 60% of it.  And as the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate recently reported, the high-end costs might be moving into the $15 million range.

Hello!

It’s too early to tell whether this Youth Campus plan will turn out to be  a sound “investment” or another publicly-funded goat rodeo.  We can see it both ways, although we’ll try to reserve judgment until the District figures out what it intends to do and then comes up with its business plan for how it intends to manage the new “campus” in an economically sustainable way.

But so long as the plan is to keep the Youth Campus property pretty much “as is” without any expensive new construction of immediately-depreciating public buildings, it will retain most of its raw-land value.  That will enhance its salability should it not be able to generate a reasonable rate of return from its operations.

Some additional good news is coming from the Park Ridge Historical Society, which announced that it intends to retain its current Solomon Cottage headquarters.  If Elliott walks away from the project, the Society may not even need to move the building from its current southwest-corner of the property location to the northern portion, as it had been discussing.  But either way, the Society claims it won’t need funding from the Park District or the taxpayers.

Well done, you zany local historians!

While we prefer referenda to be held during elections that promise the highest possible turnouts, the deferral of this one from November to April may have one positive effect: it may increase turnout in April, when the mayo r is expected to be running for re-election against at least one declared challenger, while 3 aldermanic seats (Wards 2, 4 and 6) and various School Board (both D-64 and D-207) and Park Board seats will be contested.

So that might be making lemons into lemonade.

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7 comments so far

I want the Park District to acquire this land. However I wish they’d stop talking about the high end ($15 million) of the plan. That’s a frightening number for voters to absorb (although from what I’ve read it would translate to roughly a $100 tax increase per resident, which doesn’t sound so terrible) and subsequently reject.

At this point I think the PD should just focus on acquiring the land and perhaps even hold off on developing it — whatever it takes for voters to sign off on the deal. I’d hate to see a developer acquire the whole thing. With new-ish houses already standing vacant and starting to decay in the country club neighborhood, the last thing we need is dozens of new McMansions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of public policy considerations favoring governmental bodies engaging in what amounts to land-banking, especially when that land costs multi-millions of dollars and may be ringing up interest expense on bonded debt while generating no revenue and staying off the tax rolls.

Who owns the Youth Campus now?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not sure now that the Children’s Home and Aid Society of Illinois, a not-for-profit corporation, reportedly merged with The Park Ridge Youth Campus not-for-profit corporation.

Does it have to go to referendum if the Park District has the borrowing capacity to acquire the property?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope, but we trust this Park Board would not be as foolish and arrogant as the last Park Board to max out its non-referendum borrowing power on one project: the Board that purchased the old YMCA property in 1990 and built the half-baked Community Center for a total cost of approximately $8 million, which tied the District’s hands economically for the next decade and sucked up cash, thereby contributing to the decay and closing of Hinkley Pool (temporarily) and Oakton Pools (permanently).

Wow I sure hope that 5th Ward is reading this. It may turn out that….“I am forced to pay for a park that I will never use, and if I don’t, the government can take away my home.” Crazy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like it or not, in communities such as this one parks are amenities, not necessities. That’s why we said we will try to give the Youth Campus project the benefit of the doubt until the plans are finalized and we see what kind of business plan for it the Park District comes up with.

Unless I’m missing something, no one’s being “forced” to pay for anything. It’s up to us as voters to make the choice, correct?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We suspect that, by “forced,” the commentator meant that if he/she doesn’t pay his/her property taxes, the taxing authority can effectively force the sale of the assessed residence to pay the taxes.

It was a combination of slack management and natural aging out of the pools that led to the temporary closure of Hinkley; to the permanent closure of Oakton you can also add underutilization, as you yourself have so often said in public. The pools were all 50+ — a ripe, sweet age for humans but not for pools, whose life expectancy is reportedly supposed to be 25-30 years. It was not the building of the inadequate but far better than nothing Community Center’s fault, at all. I think you know this having been on the inside (of the PD, not the big house)

EDITOR’S NOTE: What you call “slack management” of Hinkley we consider outright neglect – because money that would/should have been spent on necessary maintenance was being diverted instead to the debt service on the half-baked Community Center, to the point where Hinkley became so unsafe it was closed.

As for “useful life” of pools, When the Centennial water park referendum was placed on the November 1995 ballot, those pools were being labeled as “at the end of their useful life.” But when the referendum failed, the District got 17 extra years out of them for modest additional expense. Go figure.

Just to be clear, what I meant was that the post in the prior thread by 5th ward was just plain stupid. I cut and pasted and put in the word park rather than education.

The reality is that there are a variety of services, necessities and amenities that our tax dollars pay for and that some of us will never use – it is called living in a community. The fact also is that if we do not pay our taxes are homes could be taken. 5th ward apparently finds this particularly irrating related to education. He seems shocked by this even though the US has had public education since something like the early 1800’s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The reality is that for a lot of selfish Americans “community” has become a euphemism for “somebody else should pay for stuff I want.” Anybody other than the idiot (or, as Twain noted, the school board) realizes that there are necessities only government can effectively provide, such as streets, sidewalks, sewer, water and public safety. And even those aren’t always a purely “community” expense, as we see from user charges in the form of toll roads, water usage rates, ambulance service charges, sidewalk cost-sharing, etc. And, in the case of D-64, certain fees.



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