Having A COW Tonight Over Flood Control Handouts


Tonight the City Council’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) is scheduled to consider a recommendation (the “Recommendation”) by the City’s Flood Control Task Force (“FCTF”) togive away hundreds of thousands of public/tax dollars – if not more – in subsidies, or “incentives,” to various residents if they install private flood control devices to help flood-proof their property.

Why is that kind of a recommendation wrong-headed?  Let’s start with it being fundamentally unfair.

If you’re a responsible Park Ridge resident who already has spent thousands of your own hard-earned dollars installing flood control devices (e.g., overhead sewers, check valves, etc.) in your home to protect from sewer back-up, the Recommendation will take some of your equally hard-earned tax dollars and give them to those less responsible residents who have heretofore neglected to install their own private flood control systems.

What’s fair about rewarding the negligent?

We would contend “nothing.” But at their last meeting back on May 15th, some FCTF members argued that it’s no less fair than when the City used public funds to install the flood wall on Riverside Drive 20+ years ago that only benefitted around 250 homes in that area.

That wall, however, was designed to protect not only all the private homes in that area (rather than just certain ones) but also the public streets from flooding and becoming impassable.  The FCTF’s Recommendation, on the other hand, would only protect a sprinkling of individual homes in various areas and do nothing to reduce public-area flooding, such as in the streets and other public ways.  In fact, FCTF members have even acknowledged that adding more private flood control devices could actually increase public (or “overland”) flooding, albeit slightly, by eliminating what effectively were water detention areas – those flooded basements – that held water until the sewer system could empty out.

So if you’re one of those responsible residents, the FCTF’s Recommendation will give you something new to worry about: a slight increase in the overland flooding that might breach your foundation or your ground-floor doorways, even as you’re paying for other folks’ flood control.

From a public policy perspective, this Recommendation has already flown past “tone deaf,” rounded “stupid,” and is heading for “brain dead.”

But the FCTF members sure don’t think so.  In fact, they actually consider their Recommendation a “cost saver” because they claim it will reduce the number of homes that pile all that sodden furniture and carpeting on the parkways, costing the City (a/k/a, the taxpayers) extra garbage collection expense.  That argument was conveniently underscored by a recent story in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Flood debris pick-up cost Park Ridge $76,000,” May 24) that produced a $76,200 bill from ARC Disposal for the April 18 flood clean-up.

Not surprisingly for a H-A story, however, that figure assumes a lot of facts not yet in evidence, starting with whether all of the homes throwing out waterlogged carpeting and other items flooded because of no flood controls, or because of overland flooding, seepage, sump-pump failure, etc.  Nor did the H-A story address the issue of whether homeowners should be sur-charged for such extraordinary garbage pickup costs that may be resulting from their own negligence.

Why has a task force that was formed to help come up with innovative ideas for city-wide flood remediation become so obsessed with these patently quick-fix handouts to a limited number of local homeowners?

Could it be that those FCTF members already have effectively thrown in the towel on coming up with meaningful ways to remedy, on a city-wide basis, the so-called “50-year” or “100-year” floods we seem to be getting once or twice a year?  Could it be that individual subsidies or “incentives” as proposed in the Recommendation are simply an attempt to grab the lowest-hanging fruit, no matter how unsound it is as a matter of public policy?

Consider that some FCTF members – without dissent from their fellow FCTF members or City staff – noted that all the FCTF’s recommended improvements to the sewer system (at a cost of tens of millions of dollars) will, at best, make the system capable of handling only 10-year floods.

But even if a grand plan for preventing 50 or 100-year floods may not be easily achievable, does it make any sense at all to throw hundreds of thousands of public dollars (or more) at private homeowners who, up until now, have been too stupid, or too irresponsible, or just too darn cheap to install private flood control devices in their own homes on their own dimes?

At the May 15th meeting, resident Joe Weber and new Second Ward Ald. Nick Milissis – himself a flooding victim – wisely warned that subsidizing private flood control will distract the City’s attention and resources from the far more important and difficult task of controlling  “public” flooding.  They also wondered aloud about what kind of people could be content to run the risk of flooding until now, but suddenly become motivated to install flood control devices by the promise of a couple thousand dollar City subsidy?

How about “imbeciles” (a step above the “idiot” but still a notch below the “moron”)?  Or maybe the old reliable “freeloaders” who seem to be able to pick up even the faintest scent of public-fund handouts and get to the front of the line?

Several of the latter were at the meeting May 15th and they, along with a couple of FCTF members, were shameless in advocating for the Recommendation for purely private, personal benefit: in order to prevent losing flood insurance coverage (due to too many claims) and to make their homes more marketable.

Hey, maybe the City should spring for a new roof and some fresh paint while we’re at it, just to improve the curb appeal?

We trust that the City Council will not be bamboozled by this kind of soft-headed welfare for the irresponsible, because our community has serious flooding problems that require serious answers.  And handouts of public funds taken from the many for the private benefit of a few isn’t serious.

Except to the hopelessly shameless and the terminally silly.

To read or post comments, click on title.

22 comments so far

There are ways of making this fair….you could give a tax credit if you don’t need the subsidy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What kind of “tax credit”? And what about the person who doesn’t flood, never installed flood control devices, and has no desire to install them: what does he/she get?

And trying to make a stupid and unfair idea “fair” still doesn’t solve the “stupid” part. But the shameless aren’t likely to let stupidity – or unfairness – deter them from getting their hands on City funds.

I was thinking of a property tax credit for the portion that goes to the City of Park Ridge.

If they have extra money to give to the Park Ridge residents for the flood problem, I would love for them to lower my tax bill first.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And exactly how is the City’s reducing its tax revenue income any better than collecting all that income and paying some of it out as subsidies?

Of course you would. So would the folks who already emptied their own pockets for the $10,000 to install overhead sewers. And so would the folks who have their hands out for one of those flood control subsidies, because when you’re shameless there’s rarely any such thing as “too shameless.”

Is it possible that someone may not be able to afford $8-10k for a flood control system and yet be neither “negligent, stupid” nor “cheap?”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Almost anything is “possible.” But in Park Ridge, not very likely.

Plus while overhead sewers can run into 5 figures, we understand that check valves can be effective at less than half that cost.

“And exactly how is the City’s reducing its tax revenue income any better than collecting all that income and paying some of it out as subsidies?”

Are you seriously asking that question? You can’t be serious?

If any taxing agency can reduce the amount of taxes that its constituents pay and still provide the same level of service, that is a hell of a lot better than paying taxes and subsidizing the a specific group.

Have you gone from being a Libertarian to being another government official?

How can someone who advocates smaller government be considered shameless?

I really don’t understand where you are coming from anymore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That makes two of us.

Tax credits represent tax revenue that a taxing body foregoes for various reasons. So if, instead of giving away public funds to private citizens for the installation of flood control devices, the City gives away an equivalent amount of tax credits to those same people, what’s the net benefit to the City?

Anybody who “advocates smaller government” but wants public funds spent for his/her own private benefit is worse than “shameless.”

Your last paragraph leads one to think you may have left the right wing neck of the woods. You’ll have a hard time being a lobbyist if you keep that up. Demanding smaller government for the other guy and bigger handouts for the donor class is all in a day’s work. You are right that individual households should buy their own flood control solutions and leave the City to work on the shared sewer problems. But you are out of touch in assuming that it’s “not very likely” that Park Ridge residents have a problem dropping $10K on such a project. It’s a bigass problem for a lot of people, even those who are not morons, etc. etc. etc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor aspires to the title and duties of “lobbyist” with the same enthusiasm as to the title and duties of “cancer patient.”

We didn’t say that Park Ridge residents might not “have a problem dropping $10K” on a flood control project for their home. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it, or that $2K from the City will change it from a “can’t” to a “can.”


Yo just don get it do ya?? Ya se when it comes to teacher or public sector employees the citizens of PR akin to Bob Cratchit, but when it comes to affording flood control systems they have the cash.

I can assure he is not out of touch. He is simply playing both sides of the road as it suites what he wants.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, that must explain why D-64 and D-207 teachers are among the highest paid in Illinois.

Is there were a way to come up with a “need based” formula for assistance with installing a device? Proof of repeated flooding and income below a certain level might be two criteria, there may be more. Not sure that’s fair either, but might be better than handing out money to anyone who asks. I’m not sure the city has the money to give to anyone, so hopefully this “handout” idea will go the way of the dodo.

You may not want to believe it, but there ARE families in PR that are not wealthy and live on budgets that require compromises and hard choices. This situation does not make them negligent, stupid, shameless freeloaders. I agree that the use of public funds for private interests is problematic and shoud be scrutinized, however, your ad hominem attacks make you seem more a bitter zealot than a “public watchdog.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again, this isn’t about “wealthy” people. Many of the people who have installed some form of flood control in their homes aren’t “wealthy.”

But in 20+ years of watching all this stuff unfold, we’ve found that many of the bigger freeloaders are far from poor – including teachers and other public employees who individually earn more than the median Park Ridge household income.

Also if those same people spent thousands of dollars tearing down there homes building new McMansions, then you have to wonder.

Let me start off by saying that of course there should not be public subsidizing of flood control systems. However, that shouldn’t lessen the scrutiny of our current infrastructure. There are several blocks in Park Ridge where the sewers are terribly designed and not functional when there are heavy rains. There are owners who have installed systems only to have their systems overloaded due to the failure of public sewers.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know if the taxpayers are getting the best info. Like it or not, there are blocks in Park Ridge where basements flood due to long sewer routes or other structural faults.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You must have missed our 01.10.13 post.


“There are several blocks in Park Ridge where the sewers are terribly designed and not functional when there are heavy rains”.

I guess we are getting down to a matter of degrees (like what exactly constitutes a heavy rain), but my first reaction upon reading this sentence while sipping my coffee was…..several blocks?!?!?!?!!? ONLY several blocks?!?!?!?! How about a bunch of freakin’ blocks?!?!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch the video of Monday (06.10.13) night’s COW, starting at the 1:05:40 mark. You will hear Ald. Milissis question staff about how the City has been tracking the age and condition of the sewer system, and you will hear about “GIS” and the “vactor truck” but nothing to suggest that the City has any comprehensive map showing, for each section of sewer: (a) when it was installed; (b) when it was inspected and evaluated; (c) when it was maintained or repaired.

It sounds like, for all City staff knows, we have a bunch of old, occluded and/or crumbling sewers that may still be functioning at a minimum level…until we get heavy rains.

As Milissis wisely pointed out: flood relief isn’t just about big new anti-flood projects, but also about appropriate ongoing sewer inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement.

I do not disagree with Mr. Milissis.

Unfortunately we have a system that was designed for 50 years ago. Even if it was perfectly maintained, it is not designed to handle the additional water that runs into the system.

To give just one example, everyone wanted the alleys paved and I can understand why. Gravel does not plow well and is messy and developed pot holes. However, if you walk by a paved alley in a rainstorm you will see water flowing out of the alleys like a river and into the streets and the sewers. If someones property is a bit higher than the alley, the water runs off the property into the alley and into the street. This is all “new” run off water from when the system was designed.

The fact that the system has been neglected only compounds the problem. But the analogy I would use is my old Honda Civic from 30 years ago. If I had that car now and it was in perfect condition, it still would not fit my family.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would not be surprised to discover that many elements of the City’s sewer system are a lot older than 50 years.

As for paved alleys, it is our understanding that the initial paving process involves the addition of relief sewers to accept that run-off. Maybe those relief sewers aren’t 100-year flood-worthy, but we would expect them to be good for at least a 10-year flood.

@7:47, interesting comment regarding paved vs unpaved alleys. Ours is unpaved and our neighbor periodically tries to lobby everyone to kick in the money to have it paved. My kids would love that because they like to play hoops and playing on the gravel is not ideal. So far we haven’t had enough people agree, solely because of the costs.

I hadn’t considered that paving the alley might exacerbate flooding problems…I’ll have to keep that in my back pocket next time the neighbor comes knocking again to plead the case for paving.

…………….meanwhile, many PR citizens will be nervously checking in on as the day progresses…………

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, and then if they e-mail their friends about their nervousness over the weather, the NSA will know about it, too.

2 floods in a month? Please no. Watch property values plummet to those of our neighbor to the west with a name sake river if PR floods again. I say tear up the main arteries and build our own deep tunnel project under dee, oakton, tailcott and Devon. I don’t care the cost this is absurd

EDITOR’S NOTE: “I don’t care [about] the cost” truly is “absurd.” But are you also one of those freeloaders who’s hoping for a City handout to install flood controls?


At this moment (6:17 PM), I do not think most folks in PR care about the NSA……..100 YEAR STORM……

EDITOR’S NOTE: No surprise there.

did I ask for a handout? No. I said upgrade the sewers at whatever cost. The sewers are old and have obviously failed 3x in five years. It’s going to cost a lot, but this a wealthy town, and unless its going to be a requirement that every homeowner spend $10,000 on overhead sewers or a check valve, force the cost on everyone in town through their taxes. It’s our money at the end of the day and its better spent on fixing obviously outdated and arguably faulty sewers systems. It’s dumb to have an every man for themselves attitude when the entire town has flooding issues one way or another. My buddy told me last year before the 2013 flood that he crossed park ridge off his list of places to buy a home specifically because it has a reputation for ridiculous flooding. Des plaines has the same reputation and property values are hal what they are in park ridge, for now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “At whatever cost” still won’t cut it for 100-year flooding, according to both the City’s FCTF and Burke Engineering. But since we’re “a wealthy town,” taxing/borrowing/spending $100 million for uncertain benefits probably makes sense to you.

A reputation for ridiculous flooding? That sounds like a lot of hearsay. Yes I’ve known a few people who have experienced flooding with the last couple major storms but the vast majority of my friends and neighbors have stayed dry. And I know people in other towns such as Wilmette and Glenview who experienced blocks-wide flooding recently, yet those places don’t have a rep for bad flooding, do they?

Does the City have any data on exactly how many homes flood on a regular basis? I’m sure it’s concentrated in specific areas. It just seems a bit hyperbolic to say that we are any worse than other places.

I saw a link the other day that said 1 out of 6 homes in park ridge have made a flood claim in the last six years. 100 floods are happening with regularity. Sticking your head in the ground and ignoring it, or saying, “no one I knows floods” is ridiculous because its obviously occurring regularly. I don’t agree with the every household for themselves attitude towards a problem that affects the entire town. The sewers need upgrading to handle our new weather patterns.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t disagree that the sewers may need upgrading – although we question whether the Public Works department has a clue about the true comprehensive condition of the City’s sewer system; and we question whether the City (a/k/a its taxpayers) have the will and the economic wherewithal to shoulder the cost of any program that can be effective to meaningfully combat 100-year floods.

2 hundred year floods this year? I just got quotes for flood control last week. Took on more water this time than aprils flood. Time to raise taxes. This town has a huge flooding problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: $10,000 per home for approx. 13,000 homes gets the City $130 million. Assuming the taxpayers want to sign onto that kind of commitment, the next question is: What kind of flood control can the City buy for $130 million?

Milton, Irwin, even dee flooded. Submerged cars. I know these are crazy floods but $130,000,000 will go a long way. 2 major floods in 2 months is insanity. I haven’t even had the chance to pay $12k for my own flood control system. Got quotes but not installed yet. This is making my home uninhabitable. It’s not even overland flooding. It’s sewer backup.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “2 major floods in 2 months is insanity.” Hey, take it up with God. And check valves, although less desirable than overhead sewers, are only a fraction of the cost you are talking about.

Watch the news: streets, roads and even highways all over the north and northwest suburbs were flooded this a.m.; and the Union Pacific Northwest Line that serves Park Ridge has had service suspended because the tracks between McHenry and Crystal Lake have been washed out.

So if your home really is becoming “uninhabitable,” it sounds like you’ve really got only yourself or God to blame.

I blame park ridge

EDITOR’S NOTE: Now THERE’S a real shocker.

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