Two Lessons On Governmental And Political Integrity (Updated)


Most of us have heard the old chestnut about how you know when a politician is lying because his lips are moving. 

Sadly, we’ve almost come to expect a certain lack of integrity from our state and federal officials – most of whom we never have met and with whom we are unlikely ever to have any meaningful discussions.  Nevertheless, folks generally still seem to believe their local government officials are different, perhaps if only because they are more visible and approachable.  

So when those officials play fast and loose with the truth, or speak disingenuously about public policy, it often feels like more of a betrayal than when state and federal officials do likewise.  And when that happens, we often try to blame it on a mistake by those local officials rather than on a lack of integrity.

Today we discuss two examples of this phenomenon.

The first relates to a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge aldermen postpone purchase of emergency equipment,” 01.21.13) about our City Council’s postponing the purchase of 5 replacement cardiac monitors/defibrillators commonly known as AEDs.  That purchase was deferred until the new fiscal year (beginning in May) because an expected federal grant that was to provide most/all of the amount budgeted for the new AEDs ($153,000 per the H-A story, $137,814.05 per Fire Chief Mike Zywanski’s 01.14.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum) did not come through. 

As best as we can tell, that’s the right fiscal decision by the Council.  The Fire Department can budget for that amount from its regular FY2013-14 funding rather than from OPM (“Other People’s Money,” in this case federal funds) and make the purchase when the new FY begins a few months from now. 

So why, then, does Chief Z seem to be trying to create the impression that even a short delay poses an irresponsible threat to public safety, while giving nary a thought to the fiscal considerations? 

In both his cover memo and as reported by the H-A, he notes that AEDs were used on nearly three-fourths (73%, to be exact) of all emergency medical service calls last year.  That sounds like a lot.  But why didn’t Chief Z choose to include the total number of “emergency medical service calls” in his cover memo or in his H-A comments, so we can’t tell how many calls that three-fourths figure actually represents?

Chief Z’s cover memo also makes it look/sound like the current AEDs are failures waiting to happen, pointing out that they have been “out of warranty for three years and are beginning to experience increasing rates of downtime due to repairs.”  In the H-A story, he ominously states: “Obviously, I can’t predict a breakdown.”

That sounds like classic panic peddling, made more troubling by Chief Z’s failure, again, to explain or quantify in any meaningful way how much “downtime” and what kinds of “repairs” he is talking about, as well as whether the safety and operation of “out of warranty” AEDs is any more problematic than the safety and operation of out-of-warranty automobiles, appliances, etc.

But from just a little quick research it appears that, irrespective of the warranty, many/most AED manufacturers publish an “expected useful life” of their AEDs of 10 years.  And the actual useful life of an AED appears to be virtually indefinite so long as the AED passes its daily self-tests designed to ensure that all of its components are functioning properly; and so long as the battery and other components are replaced as needed.

Of course, those kinds of details – along with the other missing details we’ve pointed out above – might not be nearly as effective in stampeding the herd (i.e., a majority of aldermen and their constituents) into dipping into the City’s General Fund as are Chief Z’s generalizations about percentages and risks.  And holding the Fire Department accountable for its FY2012-13 budget (which included the federal grant money the City never received) rather than providing a General Fund-based bailout might be a “first” in City fiscal management.

All in all, that’s misleading by omission – the omission of the relevant information both Chief Z and the Council should have had in order to make a well-informed decision on this issue.  Whether that kind of misleading is the product of negligence/a dumb mistake, or intentional deception, remains an open question.  But, either way, it’s fundamentally bad government.

Our second example relates to a story in last week’s H-A, “Park Ridge voters to decide Youth Campus purchase,” about the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s issuing of $13.2 million of bonds to purchase the 11-acre site previously occupied by a non-profit provider of supervised residences to troubled youths, and to develop that site into a park and recreational campus.

The H-A story reads like a puff piece written by the Park District’s own public relations person – or by Park District commissioner Mel Thillens, who is the District’s point man and head cheerleader for that project.  And the foremost factor making it a puff piece is that there’s no mention (or even a hint) of the fact that the Park District is going to referendum on this project not because it wants to, but because it HAS to: the District doesn’t have sufficient non-referendum bonding power to do this project without a popular vote.  

That’s a significant missing detail that becomes even more problematic when (as reported in the H-A) Thillens figuratively wraps himself in the American Flag by grandly proclaiming: “I think empowering the citizenry to make that decision is important.”  This, from the same Park Board member who didn’t give one whit about “empowering” that same citizenry to provide advice, via an advisory referendum, on whether or not the District should borrow $6.3 million over 15 years to build a third-rate water park that will dominate a good chunk of Centennial Park for the next 30-40-50 years.

Not to be outdone, Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan echoed Thillens: “I don’t think we can say we should keep this [Youth Campus referendum] from the public because a handful of people said they don’t like the idea.”  This, from the same Park Board member who voted to proceed on the new Centennial aquatic project without an advisory referendum because a handful of people said they like that idea.

Rest assured that if Thillens, Ryan, and their fellow travelers on the Park Board could legally have gotten away with doing the Youth Campus project without a referendum, that deal already would be signed, sealed and delivered – the voters/taxpayers be damned by a lack of governmental and political integrity.

Two different local governmental bodies, two different lessons about local governmental and political integrity, and two more reasons to be skeptical and suspicious.

Next stop: pessimistic, misanthropic, or cynical?

UPDATED (01.25.13):  A commentator correctly pointed out that what we termed “AED”s are, instead, cardiac monitors/defibrillators.  The former are the heart jump-starters readily available in most public buildings, while the latter are more elaborate, multi-functional and expensive devices.  All information about useful life, maintenance and repairs related to the AEDs should be disregarded for now; and we apologize for our error. 

Subject to that correction, however, we stand by the rest of our post. 

To read or post comments, click on title.

24 comments so far

Why is it that the people we elect or whose salaries we pay can’t tell us the truth, provide us with all the relevant facts, or take consistent positions even if occasionally they conflict with their own personal interests or those of their families, friends or supporters?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wish we knew. But in each instance, it seems they want something that they’re not sure the public supports – so we suspect they just try to stack the deck in their favor and hope they don’t get called on it.

There’s no pleasing you, is there? Now you’re beefing because the Park District IS putting something to referendum?
Please devote your considerable focus and energy to getting fiscal policies changed at the state level so that you can force the Park District and other government bodies to hold public elections (referenda) on every important decision they make. Meanwhile, it’s likely governing bodies will go to referendum when they must and make the decision as representatives when they can. Once you succeed in forcing every big decision to referendum, you can then devote your waning years to beefing about how slow government is.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we’re easily satisfied by the best.

Re-read the post again (move your lips if you have to, that’s okay) and you should see that we aren’t “beefing” about the Youth Campus referendum but about the deceptive way it is being presented – both in the newspaper account and by Commissioners Thillens and Ryan.

The State of Illinois is a lost cause so long as Mike Madigan runs it, which is why we focus on Park Ridge. Too bad Thillens and Ryan, et al., are trying to run plays from MM’s play book.

When is the Park District going to let the voting paying taxpayers know how this park is going to pay for itself on a going forward basis? The nearly $100 increase in the average taxpayer’s PRPD tax bill will cover only the cost of carrying the $13.2 million in debt.

Based on a review of the PRPD financials, it appears that the PRPD spends just over $11,000 per acre to maintain its park land. This results in an estimated additional cost of $121,000 per year for the Youth Campus land maintenance. This does not appear to include the cost of maintaining any parking lots, roadways or other equipment that may be part of the Youth Campus renovation.

The PRPD and the Our Parks Legacy group dictated to the PRPD how this land can be used have said that beyond the cost of carrying the debt, the operation/maintenance of the park will be budget neutral. What new programs-not current programs that will be moved to the Youth Campus-are planned to cover the expenses the PRPD will incur to own and maintain the property? Is there detail anywhere that can support this “budget neutral” claim?

The reality appears to be that The Our Parks Legacy group wants all of PR to pay for a low use park on an extreme end of town. Will they really support the PRPD putting in a parking lot that can accomodate over 100 cars? A gazebo? A splash pad? They have already said “NO LIGHTS” once again limiting the use of the proposed park for night time anything like baseball, football, soccer or lacrosse games or tennis, concerts, etc.

The PRPD currently manages about 135 acres of park land. How often are these parks crowded to the point that they are “full”? Instead of building one grand park for one neighborhood, how about the PRPD fix up the land they already manage. Many of the parks are big enough for a walking path. How many need new playground equipment? Spend a little money to make each neighborhood park a destination within walking or biking distance.

It seems the PRPD really thinks that money grows on the trees on the Youth Campus. There are embarking on Phase I of an over $10,000,000 swimming pool renovation. Now they want to spend $13.2 million on a low use park. These are simply not priorities in a time when families are still struggling and the town and the school board will continue to want more money from the taxpayers. We as taxpayers don’t have more to give for nonessential wants.

If the Youth Campus is purchased, this should absolutely have lights. It is ridiculous that the board would be scared of the NIMBYS, who would be benefitting by their property value going up being by a new park instead of what was there.

Also, why is the Historical Society allowed to rent something for 50 years? Who’s representing the Historical Society, the Chicago Parking Meter Company?

While I’d like PRPD to purchase the land, let’s make it something. Park Ridge needs a destination baseball field. Park Ridge needs modern basketball courts….
PRPD board needs to understand that our facilities aren’t good enough.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Having studied this issue since 1994, we have yet to see any credible – or even any incredible – evidence that parks or other Park District facilities measurably increase the value of neighboring property in Park Ridge.

But if you really want “a destination baseball field” in Park Ridge, better talk to the City about condemning 1 of its 7+ square miles of private property and then get the Ricketts family on the phone before they sign those Wrigley renovation contracts.

SMR has some valid points but I think he or she is missing the point on the importance of this parcel of land in terms of our City’s ratio of developed space to undeveloped space, and our history and character.

Ours is a densely developed town. If we don’t protect this open space then all we’ll end up with is more development. I for one think that the physical and psychological breathing room that a park would provide — regardless of whether I ever set foot in it and regardless of any amenities it may or may not have — is far better for our town as a whole than more houses. Of which we do not have a shortage.

Just look at it. It’s an idyllic piece of land, with some architecturally significant buildings. It’s a piece of history and part of what sets us apart from the Schaumburgs and Napervilles. To imagine it gone and replaced with a bunch of characterless McMansions would be a shame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our “densely developed town” is not 8 square miles of concrete and tenements – it’s mostly single-family homes that contain significant amounts of private green space from which to create their own “psychological breathing room,” wind chimes and crystals included.

Fortunately, the taxpayers will get to vote on this project – no thanks to the Park Board, whose members profess to love referendums…but only when the law jams those referendums down their throats.

I know you hate to let facts get in the way of your teabagger rants, but a cardiac monitor is very different from an AED. An AED usually is mounted on the wall and is rarely, if ever, used. A cardiac monitor in an ambulance gets used multiple times each day, in the rain, cold, snow, etc., and is also bounced around in the back of the ambulance. Not to mention that the two machines are completely separate and distinct pieces of equipment. The AED’s have one function and are run by the internal computer. Cardiac monitors can do many different tasks and need to be operated by trained medical personnel. So, your “research” on AED warranties was a waste of time. You’d have been better off looking up the warranties on a toaster.
As for the budget issue, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this and had to look it up on PR’s website. The previous finance manager who was the greatest employee in the history of Park Ridge, according to you, logged in grant money as income to offset the planned expenditure of funds to purchase these cardiac monitors??? That is absolute insanity and has no place in any budget, especially a municipal one. That is like making your family budget for the year and planning to pay your mortgage with Powerball winning tickets. You can’t just make up income and expect to run a city. But, I understand why you were such a big fan – you make up facts to run a website.

That’s all for now – please feel free to start the usual name calling that you reserve for anyone who confuses you with actual facts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Facts are our stock in trade, which is why we thank you for the correction; and we have updated the post accordingly. Now, with that out of the way, how are Chief Z’s memo and his comments in the H-A any more complete or truthful?

Your criticism of Ms. Stutts’ budget is just plain wrong, as is your analogy. As we understand it, the inclusion of those monitors/defibrillators in the FY2012-13budget was based on the representation (by Chief Z?) that the federal grant money would cover their cost. Of course, by hanging that cost on a federal grant, that conveniently freed up tax dollars for other purposes near and dear to Chief Z’s heart, like increased compensation. But now that he has gotten his other goodies while the grant money remains MIA, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. No surprise there.

And while we’re on the topic, we wonder why Chief Z didn’t bid out that $100,000-plus purchase rather than try to hand it over to the supplier of the existing equipment. As we understand it, contracts for equipment like this are supposed to be spec’d out and competitively bid. Is there another kink in this deal we’re missing?

Finally, so long as the various “parties” – Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Communist, Green, Tea, etc. – are more concerned about accumulating money and power than they are about the good of the country, we will continue to dislike and distrust them all. So while we learned at an early age about “sticks and stones,” your throwing around a vague and virtually meaningless term like “Teabagger” is not only silly but, like most of the rest of your comment, just plain wrong.

So just to clarify, all of the research and information in your piece related to AED’s expected and actual life are still valid for more complicated devices??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good point, which is why we have just clarified our update. Now how about making a case for Chief Z’s competence and integrity on this matter.

Right on, SMR. Mr. Mel “I’ll-spend-your-money” Thillens is actually saying the extra tax burden is “only” $72 per some “average” level of household property value, but there’s no published calculation backing up the claim.

Um, Anon. 8:10 p.m., “physical and psychological breathing room”? Really? I’d like some of that breathing room in my savings account, but property taxes have been going up dramatically the past few years (unless you’re politically connected). I’d venture to say that higher property taxes do more to turn away home buyers than amenities — which are more than sufficient — do to attract them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Be careful, FWT, you don’t want to upset those folks over at D-64, who take a third of our property taxes but can’t seem to deliver the kind of ISAT scores that our “comparable” communities – e.g., Glenview, Northbrook, Western Springs, Glen Ellyn, etc. – produce for the same money.


I wrestled with the idea of a response in this forum, one controlled by you, giving you always the last word. Plus, as the thinking goes with many who disagree with you on any given point, “If a blogger rants in the woods, and no one is there to argue with him, is he relevant?” But these issues have importance, and I would prefer my thoughts on these matters come from me, rather than you.

I do believe that the Youth Campus purchase is a good idea. Now is the time to buy. The property, construction, and bonds will probably never be less expensive, and it would surprise me if the investment decreased in value, especially over time. By every study and comparative standard, we are short on space in the Park District. Thriving programs are limited, and our services are lessened by that lack of both indoor and outdoor space. This decreases fee revenue, and provides for a park district that compares unfavorably in many ways with communities that compete with Park Ridge for home buyers.

The sentence in your post I take most exception with is this: “Rest assured that if Thillens . . . could legally have gotten away with doing the Youth Campus project without a referendum, that deal already would be signed, sealed and delivered – the voters/taxpayers be damned by a lack of governmental and political integrity.” That isn’t true.

As I said to you directly back in June, and as I have said numerous times in open session, I believe that the acquisition of a new piece of land is a question that demands voter agreement in the form of a referendum. Furthermore, the costs to acquire that property should not be shoehorned into a budget that wasn’t constructed to fit that purchase. The voters should know exactly how much it will cost, and make a binding decision whether or not to make the purchase.

“What about Centennial pool?” you argue, “Where is the referendum on that?” As we discussed in June, the pool project is the replacement and upgrade of a current, well used, widely enjoyed, and profitable facility. As I have said often and publically, I believe that the Park Board has a responsibility to plan for and make the decisions that allow us to continue operating those amenities. Back in June you mentioned that you understood that, but you thought the voters might not.

The worst part about your rant is that you charge me with thoughts that I’m pretty sure you know I don’t believe. Also, you yourself, at least at one point, agreed with me. I am upset that you are exploiting your perceived voter misunderstanding to promote the idea that I lack integrity. I know Mayor Schmidt believes that referenda that bring out young parents are good for his re-election chances, and a pool referendum would’ve done more of that. And I know that you support his re-election.

I also know that you at one time promoted the failed referendum that supported the Park District acquisition of the old Lutheran Home property on Canfield, and that a few months ago you favored the Youth Campus purchase.

In spite of what you’ve written, I am staying consistent with my stated beliefs. Will you?


According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, a “rant” is “a bombastic extravagant speech” or the use of “bombastic extravagant language.” I don’t think this post qualifies, but if it makes you feel better to call it that, knock yourself out.

Reasonable arguments can be made for and against the Youth Campus purchase (although “[n]ow is the time to buy” isn’t one of them, unless you’re selling stuff on the Home Shopping Network), which is why I’m delighted it’s going to referendum so that the taxpayers of this community can have their say in an objective, measurable way through their votes.

But your adopting your view of referendums after you knew the PRRPD had two projects on the horizon – Centennial Pool and the Youth Campus – that cannot both be done while staying under the non-referendum debt ceiling, is just too convenient to be believable. And if you and the rest of the Park Board were really taking seriously your “responsibility to plan for and make the decisions” on things like a new Centennial Pool complex, you wouldn’t be mortgaging the next 15 years with $6.3 million of bonded debt without at least an advisory referendum – as every Park Board has done for the past 18 years.

Unless, of course, you were pretty certain that the voters were going to tell you “no” on that kind of expenditure for this third-rate, 3-month/year amenity.

For the past 25 years I consistently have advocated for holding referendums for every project that involves big bucks, big debt, or a long-term imprint on the community. And I always have wanted the biggest voter turnout, irrespective of who’s running.

But I doubt you can understand that, Mel. Because during your relatively short time as a Park Ridge home owning taxpayer, you have shown that instead of listening to, trusting and empowering The People, you only want to hear from your people – the ones who agree with you and want the same things you do.

And as we’ve seen with Centennial Pool and the Youth Campus, you’ve shown that you favor referendums only when the law absolutely requires it.

To SMR –

The data on projected park maintenance costs and revenue sources will be on the PD website soon. It is revenue positive, which is another reason I support the project. The new revenue comes largely from paddle tennis rentals, day camp, facility rentals, and the increase in revenue at Maine Park cause by freeing the space there for more preschool, nature center programs and more.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Park District has been planning this prolect and referendum for months, yet it still doesn’t have any business plan or any financials for the taxpayers to analyze just a tad more than 2 months before election day. Looks like just another page from the Richie Daley/Rahm Emanuel playbook of local government transparency.

What world do you live in where you can get off making veiled accusations of at best incompetency, and, at worst, criminal activity from the fire chief? Based on what, I might ask? Your many years of working on a municipal budget? Your years of experience with cardiac monitors?
You rant and rave on here as though you are an expert on every issue under the sun, you attack and insult anyone who dares to disagree with you, and hen often insert quotes from famous people in an effort to appear intelligent. That’s why it’s nice to see posts like this to see the curtain pulled back to reveal how little you really know. The mighty Oz is just a lonely jealous old man who chose a reviled profession and now has to try to pull down others in a sad attempt to make himself look better.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions vary. Plus, most of this stuff is just common sense rather than expertise – although common sense seems to be heading towards the endangered species list.

When it comes to Chief Z, we watched as he sat in stony silence during the City Council meeting on May 2, 2011, while Mayor Dave Schmidt asked the simple, straightforward question about who agreed to the “Ground Rules” that required the City to keep the details of its negotiations with the firefighters union secret – only to admit 2 weeks later that not only was he responsible for agreeing to them, but he actually proposed them.

So when Chief Z wants to make a $100,000-plus purchase of equipment on a no-bid basis, we aren’t about to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

10:15, Of course I would like “breathing room” in my savings account, too. Wouldn’t we all? But that doesn’t mean that I’d prefer to see our town taken over by shoddy development so that I can save a few bucks.

As for property taxes, I personally feel ours are in line with what we do and don’t “get.” A relative lives in Wilmette in a home that’s comparable to ours and pays double the taxes. We lived in Chicago until 2 years ago and paid about the same in taxes that we pay now. While I know folks around here think our schools are crappy I think my kids are getting more than a decent education, which was not something we could count on from the public schools in the city.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What “shoddy development” is taking over Park Ridge?

SMR is right on. Is everyone forgeting that an open park with playgrounds,basketball courts,tennis courts, and playing fields exists right across the street (to the east) of the youth campus ? Can any taxpayer or park borad afford around $ 22 million in debt. $7 million for Cenntenial and $14 million for the youth campus?

Ozzie dearest, I think it would be more useful to keep questioning the longterm fiscal wisdom of things you don’t like, rather than distracting yourself and others with personal character attacks on others’ personal integrity. And that includes the knee-jerk comparison, Frimark-style, of any decision you don’t like with “Chicago politics.” The red states take far more than the blue states from the federal coffers, but those yellow dogs in favor of public funding for this ‘n that don’t constantly bring up that fact. You may think it’s silly that Mr. Thillens opines that Mayor Schmidt would like a pool referendum because it brings out more young voters. That’s no sillier than many of your reaches here. Just stick with the facts, Jack. If you’re right, they’re plenty damning on their own.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Harriet, a hallmark of “Chicago politics” is limiting information so that the opposition can’t make substantive arguments against the proposals. That’s exactly what the Park District is doing, so we are calling it what it is.

But what do “red states” and “blue states” have to do with this discussion?

After reading this post and others over the course of the last 6 months, I couldn’t be happier that we sold our home in Park Ridge last year and moved to Middleton, WI.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Middleton’s loss is Park Ridge’s gain. But did you get all the taxpayer-funded “free” education for your kids before you left?

Mr. Editor, do you censor and delete sections of all of the public’s blog posts or just mine?

Yes, our kids went to D64 schools for two years. And your point….?

I’m glad that my move helped Park Ridge gain ground with the problem of hundreds of flights overhead each day, the lack of open space, conservatism, ridculous real estate taxes and high population density. Truth be told, I liked Park Ridge, but I think it’s comical how you sit in your ivory tower and shoot down everyone’s viewpoints that don’t align with yours. If you’re so smart, why don’t you run for office. I’m sure Park Ridge would live up to it’s Pleasantville moniker within a year of you being in office.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No. You’re just special.

If you’ve so happily given up on Park Ridge and become a Middeltonian Cheesehead, why are you wasting your time reading and commenting on this blog?

Mel- I hope you get your word out to the voters. I will be spreading the word as well as voting for the Youth Campus referendum. Thank you for thinking long-term. Unfortunately, there are too many crotchety people with nothing better to do in life then hate any change in life. The editor calls you a “new” taxpayer” to Park Ridge. Isn’t it sad, that a “new” taxpayer cares more about the future of Park Ridge than a long-time (and very loud) resident? In 10-20-30 years, will people of this town be happy with more open space, or would they rather have more population density?
Editor- I’m not sure if you’ve picked up a paper, but now is the time to buy land.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like so many other public officials, Mel loves to think “long-term” (and short-term)…with other people’s money. But at least with this “long-term” project – unlike with the “long-term” new Centennial Pool – the taxpayers will get to vote. That’s our primary concern.

Elected officials like Thillens want us to believe that they know what “the public” wants, but they hate like hell to let “the public” vote on what it wants. You are right, PW, when you say that Thillens etc. want referendums only when they can’t avoid them. Maybe somebody who isn’t such a newcomer to town might respect the taxpayers more.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Respecting the taxpayers more” doesn’t appear to be one of Mr. Thillens’ top concerns, otherwise he would have let the taxpayers vote on the Centennial Pool project – knowing full well that if he didn’t like the outcome, he and his compadres could do exactly what they’re doing now, only they would have to explain to the taxpayers why they disregarded the taxpayers’ advice.

Newcomer? I’ve lived all but 12 of my years in Park Ridge, including the last five, when I decided to raise my family in the town I was raised in. My mother still lives in the home where I grew up. My sister and her husband, and many of my lifelong friends live in town.

False implications about me have been made by the editor and followers of this blog before, but suggesting that I don’t have a stake in this in town a respect for the people who live here has me scratching my head.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you wish to identify the specific “false implications about you” that “have been made by the editor…of this blog,” this editor will address each of them.

Mr. Thillens-Thank you for your response. I find it hard to believe that the PRPD has yet to come up with a proposed estimate of the revenue and expenses for the Youth Campus, including the costs of maintaining a second administrative building, the PR Historical Society, the parking lot, the roadways, the playground equipment, the gazebo, a field or two for baseball, soccer, football or lacrosse, courts, walking paths etc, on top of the cost of the debt service on $13,000,000+ and the new revenue that is estimated to be generated to make this a budget neutral acquisition. In addition, since you are working in conjunction with the “NO LIGHTS!” Our Parks Legacy group, it will be intersting to see how the PRPD plans to generate enough revenue to offset nondebt maintenance costs on a sun up to sun down park.

This estimate of revenue and expenses should have been developed before the PRPD announced it was going to issue $13,200,000 of bonds to buy land on an extreme end of town. Without this information, there is no way for the PRPD to give the taxpayers any assurance that the claim of budget neutrality has any merit at all.

There is already a park right across the street from the Youth Campus. There is also a big open space at the Country Club. The PRPD is already committed to a $10,000,000+ waterpark. Enough with increasing our taxes for nonessential wants.

Money does not grow on the trees of the Youth Campus. Get the word out. Vote NO on April 9!

EDITOR’S NOTE: SMR, it is our understanding that there will be no “second administrative building” because all administrative functions will be moved from the Maine Leisure Center to the Youth Campus.

Wait a second…could the real reason for this boondoggle be that Gayle and her staff just want new offices??? Police Department, take note!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t get carried away, FWT. New offices would just be acceptable collateral benefits.

Mel, I’m glad you took the opportunity to comment here. Regardless of the forum, we need to have more dialogue whenever residents are asked to consider a $13.2 million loan, plus whatever other costs have yet to be identified. The dialogue is even better when people sign their actual names, as you and I are doing here. That said, I’ll stay out of the personal comments between you and the publisher of this blog, and stick to the matter at hand.

Regarding your rationale, above, for the youth campus purchase:

While it is true that the purchase and development price is likely to be relatively low, the future value of the property is relevant only if we envision selling it – which we probably don’t. The purchase price only matters if we think the youth campus is going to drive up other kinds of value. So far, the measures of value, like “thriving programs” or a park district that “compares unfavorably … with communities that compete with Park Ridge for home buyers” are vague generalities. Where are the specifics? What kind of fee revenue will the youth campus generate?

Likewise, your assertion that we “are short on space in the Park District” is a subjective statement. The park district continually cites a National Recreation and Park Association guideline as to how many acres of open space Park Ridge “needs”. Everyone should know that NRPA is not a neutral source; it’s a 501(c)(3) lobbying group. They exist for the purpose of lobbying for more park district space. Does the park district use some of our tax money to pay dues or fees to these lobbyists?

The only thing close to a specific fact – that property taxes will rise by less than a hundred dollars per half million dollars of property value – has yet to be publicly verified. Where are the backup calculations for this claim? Surely these must exist; the factoid has been tossed around in public meetings and in the press for months now. Why is it taking so long to produce the backup?

Someone else in the comments section said they didn’t believe the cost would be “only” $13.2 million. I’ll be a bit more charitable and say that I am skeptical. The staff of the park district and its allies on the elected board should also provide a complete accounting of all possible future costs. (“SMR,” in a comment earlier today, gives a pretty good list of these.)

I really don’t know what the blog publisher believes, or if he has changed his opinion as you say. And I really don’t care. I’m writing only as an individual taxpayer who is tired of nine years of consistent property tax increases. Yes, the school districts represent most of my tax bill, and most of the increases. That doesn’t mean I should welcome an increase from another taxing body.

I will echo the point of a commenter who said it shouldn’t matter how long one has lived in Park Ridge. Those of us who care about the community are in for the long haul ahead. But “caring” is not a synonym for just writing blank checks. People like you and I also demonstrate our caring via community service.

I thank God I am still employed. My take-home pay, however, is smaller due to higher state and local taxes. Moreover, Springfield may still try to stick us with the bill for teacher pensions.

This is no time for a big-ticket project a la Emerson School, Uptown TIF, or Napleton’s $400,000 clean-up giveaway. I will vote “NO” on the referendum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with you and the other commentator who state that it shouldn’t matter how long one has lived in Park Ridge for them to have valid interest in the community. But we also suggest that people don’t begin to really be “invested” in the community until they start paying property taxes – either as homeowners or as part of their monthly rental – and stop coasting on mommy’s and/or daddy’s dime.

Mr. Thillens-your list of revenue generating activities includes day camps. The PRPD has been offering summer day camps for years. Are these new camps or is the PRPD moving current camps to the proposed $13.2 million dollar park? What are the enrollment trends for these day camps over the years? How about population trends for the town as it relates to toddlers and grade school age children who will use the day camps?

These questions would also relate to the PRPD preschool. Is the preschool full? Are children being turned away? Is there enough demand for adding more teachers and classes?

Also, the rental of courts and facilities may require an attendant to supervise so include salary and benefits to the costs.

Again, it seems like the PRPD has little support at this times for the claims of budget neutrality and the fact that an estimate of revenue and expenses is still not available would suggest that the PRPD wants the taxpayers to trust that our property taxes will only be increased by the debt service costs.

But if you look at the most recently available financial statements, the PRPD does not generate that much net income. The risk that the cost of maintaining the Youth Campus will exceed the revenue it may generate is real and the PRPD has nothing to counter this risk. Given everything else going on with the taxing authorities in this town and state, this is not the time to move forward on buying an expensive park that the PRPD cannot pay for without raising our taxes by more than they have estimated and program user fees.

Get the word out. Money does not grow on the trees on the Youth Campus. Vote NO on April 9.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s not polite, SMR – these are the kinds of questions and criticisms the Park Board has been trying to postpone and obscure until there’s a lot less time before the election for citizens to act on them.

I’m not sponging off my parents. My husband and I work hard to provide for out family and are saving for college. We’ve been paying property taxes for nearly two decades. Yet I still support the acquisition of TYC (and the Centennial project for that matter). Sometimes we have to invest in our communities in the interest of progress. And because I care about this City and the legacy we’ll leave for future taxpayers to enjoy, I will vote YES on April 9.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before we give you and your husband a parade for “paying property taxes for nearly two decades,” let’s take a little closer look at the economics of your pseudo-altruism.

We’ll assume that your total property taxes averaged $10,000 a year, of which $7,000 went to D-64 and D-207. That’s $200,000 all in, and $140,000 of school-related contributions.

Now, if you had just one child go through D-64 (K-8) and D-207 (9-12) schools during the most recent 13 years, you would have received “free” education for that child totaling well in excess of $75,000 (D-64) and well in excess of another $50,000 (D-207), or a return of $125,000+ on your $140,000 school-related tax “investment.” Throw a second kid into the mix during roughly that same period and you effectively have covered ALL of your property tax payments AND received SURPLUS benefits of over $50,000.

If you have put any kids through our public schools, maybe you should be throwing a parade for all the taxpayers who didn’t have kids in D-64 and D-207 schools but paid the same taxes for your kids’ benefit.

If during that same time period, however, you “invested” a total of $10,000 (because the PRRPD comprises approx. 5% of your total tax bill) in the PRRPD’s major new structures constructed during roughly that same time period (e.g., the Community Center, new Hinkley Pool, new South Park Pool), the fair market value of your real estate “investment” is basically just the land value – LESS the cost of demolishing those structures because they have no real market value.

So if you want to “invest” in the Youth Campus project and the new Centennial Pool, have at it. But don’t expect a call from Warren Buffett asking you to take over the management of Berkshire Hathaway.

Have a nice day.

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