Will August Spending Bring November Taxing?


Government, especially local government, tends to prove Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.”

Monday night, the Park Ridge City Council once again displayed its insanity when it approved raises for 32 employees represented by the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”) and 46 non-union salaried employees.  The non-union employees’ raises will cost the City $48,000 this year. 

Unfortunately, whether because of ineptitude, subterfuge, or a more benign reason, the Agenda Cover Memorandum for the ICOPS three-year contract doesn’t explain what “Salaries $1,436,052” means.  Is that the amount of just the raises for only this year?  Or the raises for the life of the contract?   Or the salaries for only this year?  Or some random number stuck there just to bedevil anybody who’s actually paying attention?

It’s a truism that when somebody says “It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” it’s really the money.  But in this case, it should be both – with principle the more important of the two.  That’s because $48,000 (the non-union employee raises) may be small potatoes when it comes to a $60 million annual budget, but it’s still $48,000 that could be used for something else that might be more essential to the well-being of the entire community. 

But as Finance Committee chairman Ald. Dan Knight (5th) pointed out in voting “no” on both sets of raises, the City has failed to conduct any comprehensive study of its various salary structures to determine their interplay and how they compare to equivalent private sector compensation.  “We have these discussions on a one-off basis,” Knight noted, “and it’s leading us down a bad path.”

In reality, that one-off mentality already has led the City into a de facto policy of spiraling raises, with each group’s becoming the justification for another group’s; and so on, and so on, and so on.  Such a situation becomes even more problematic should the City ever actually try to hold the line on police and fire union increases, because those personnel are entitled to mandatory arbitration where one of the more significant factors arbitrators can look at is the increases received by other City employees.

But only Knight and Ald. Marc Mazzuca – who provided the other “no” vote on both sets of raises – seem to “get” this concept, along with Mayor Dave Schmidt, who has used his veto power to hold the line on employee compensation increases and a variety of other expenses, with mixed success.  That’s why, when newbie Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton suggested that he and the City’s department heads could identify $48,000 of expenditure cuts to offset the non-union raises, Schmidt replied that if there still was $48,000 of fat in the budget it should be cut for economic reasons independent of enabling more spending on raises.


But none of the 5 aldermen voting for the ICOPS contract and the salaried-employee raises – Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) – seem ready, willing or able to address employee compensation in anything other than a here-and-now basis.  Which causes us to wonder whether any of them understand Appendix A to the ICOPS contract; and, if so, can they explain how that compensation schedule compares to compensation paid for equivalent employment in the private sector – assuming anybody with equivalent private sector employment gets a whole month (“20 days after 11 years of service”) of annual vacation, which is, amazingly, “a reduction from 29 days after 15 years of service”!

Which begs the question of how they got to that point, which is partially answered by then-city manager Jim Hock’s August 11, 2011 Memorandum.   That memo, besides admitting to the “10%-15% [increases] most ICOPS employees received from movement through the steps during the 2008-2011 time period or the minimum 6% lump sum payments,” also provides a little insight into the “step increase” world of public sector union compensation that, according to Appendix A, ensures ICOPS employees between 2% and 2.8% per-step increases.   

We also look forward to what kind of explanations these same five aldermen will offer for their recent largesse this coming November, when they will vote to levy the taxes needed for the 2013-14 budget. 

Because of the continuing recession and the dismal performance of the Uptown TIF, there already have been vague mentions in Council meetings of 10-11% tax increases just to keep City finances from sliding back into the red after finally moving into the black the last two-three years.  Perhaps those five aldermen are counting on the taxpayers’ inability to remember this bit of August generosity or, even if they can remember it, on their inability to link it to tax levy hikes in November. 

After all, reliance on public ignorance and/or inattention is supported by the well-known H.L. Mencken’s quote: “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

And we’ve seen that exact situation play out so many times before with City government…and our other local governmental branches.

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