The Uncertain Effects Of Dropping EAVs


If you read the local papers last week, two headlines might have grabbed your attention: “Property Values Here Take A Hit” (Park Ridge Journal, June 25); and “Park Ridge city taxes could rise more than 16 percent (Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, June 26).

According to those articles, City Finance Director Kent Oliven is reporting that the numbers coming out of the Cook County Clerk’s office show a 17.8% drop in the equalized assessed value (“EAV”) of all Park Ridge property collectively. That’s the biggest drop of any taxing body in Cook County, and it is accompanied by Maine Township’s having the largest drop of any Cook County township.

Solely for comparison purposes, Niles’ EAV dropped 14%, Glenview’s 11.6% and Des Plaines’ 16.8%. And the average drop for the entire group of northern Cook County suburbs subject to the triennial reassessment of values for the years 2010 through 2012 was 12.8%.

One saving grace, according to Oliven, is that some of Park Ridge’s larger new developments – like the new Whole Foods store – do not appear to have been counted as part of the 2013 reassessment.  But, according to Oliven, the EAV of properties within the Uptown TIF have “fallen more than the rest of the city” throughout the past decade, and he expects that to be the case this time around as well.

What does that mean for the typical Park Ridge homeowner?

If we’re lucky, perhaps nothing.

Viewed in the most simple way, the City and our other local governmental bodies still need to collect a certain number of tax dollars to operate. So if the value of the taxable property declines, the tax levy rate needs to increase to produce the same tax revenues. Conversely, when the EAV goes up, a smaller levy rate can generate the same amount of tax dollars.

So if each of our local governmental bodies operated the “wise and frugal” government Thomas Jefferson envisioned and advocated, both the new EAV and the resultant new levy to be passed this December would probably be little more than a footnote – with a higher levy being assessed on a lower EAV. But as we keep on pointing out, none of our local governing bodies appear to be all that “wise” or all that “frugal” – although the City in recent years seems to have been doing a better job than the other local governmental bodies, especially the two school districts that keep spending and spending with no increases in objectively measurable performance vis-à-vis the upper-echelon comparable communities to show for it.

And despite the Park District seemingly doing a good job at aligning its operating expenses with its operating revenues over the past few years, we’re hoping “no” but betting “yes” that the debt service for the new non-referendum Centennial water park and the new referendum-based Youth Campus Park will start turning the District’s black ink into red.

But that likely won’t happen until most, if not all, of the current Park Board members responsible for both projects have left the Board; and until the mastermind of those projects, Director Gayle Mountcastle, has either leveraged her dubious achievement into a move to another District, or retired.

That’s what occurred with the perpetrators of the Uptown TIF who ordered the whole menu of bonded debt and subsidies for the private developers, then disappeared into private life while sticking the taxpayers with the bill – and leaving Mayor Schmidt and the current Council to unravel the mess and take the public shelling for all the bad financial news about the TIF and its adverse effects on the rest of the City’s activities like flood control.

It reminds us of that line from the movie “Under Siege,” where the Tommy Lee Jones character (a former CIA agent) succinctly explains his going rogue on the U.S. with: “I got tired of coming up with last-minute desperate solutions to impossible problems created by other [%$#@ing] people.”

The Uptown TIF may not be an “impossible” problem, but it’s unlikely to be solved in any better way than through one of those hold-your-nose deals that are becoming increasingly familiar to Illinois residents as they struggle to cope with the effects of at least 30 years of virtually non-stop corrupt governance by the likes of Mike Madigan, his Democratic toadies in control of the General Assembly, and the occasional Republican accomplices like former Govs. Thompson, Edgar and Ryan.

With the Uptown TIF, we can only hope that it was merely a stupid idea.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Measure Public-Sector Compensation With Private-Sector Benchmarks


Once, just once, we’d like to see somebody, A-N-Y-B-O-D-Y, in a management position within one of our four main local governmental bodies actually offer something insightful and constructive about how to compensate their – or, more correctly, OUR – public employees.

And we don’t mean by simply increasing the previous year’s pay by the cost of living, or by some arbitrary percentage.

Heck, we’d even offer a trophy for the accomplishment, something at least as tall, shiny and expensive as those silly faux self-esteem “participation” trophies given to kids just for showing up – or sometimes even just for signing up – for a sport or activity.

Unfortunately, City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton won’t be winning any trophy this year, judging by his “Compensation Study” dated June 23, 2014 – the basic premise of which is that the best way to determine fair and reasonable compensation for our public employees is to look at what other communities are paying their public employees.

That kind of thinking is seriously flawed because it assumes three key facts not in evidence: (1) that what other communities are paying their employees actually is fair and reasonable for those communities, rather than inflated amounts; (2) assuming it is, that the job duties and conditions of specific positions in those other communities are directly comparable to specific positions in our community; and (3), assuming they are, that such “comparable” compensation is fair, reasonable and affordable for our community and its taxpayers.

Interestingly enough, Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum suggests that his own study fails to satisfy all three of those criteria, as he writes:

“Not all the communities [in the study] are of similar size, nor would each community be considered comparable to our City. In addition, employees with similar job titles do not necessarily perform the same duties and may be treated differently for overtime purposes in some instances.”

So what’s the point, Shawn? Did you set up that compensation study as one of your goals for this just-concluded fiscal year, and then figured you had to provide some kind of deliverable no matter how worthless it might actually be?

Setting appropriate public employee compensation has become more difficult in the past decade or two, as the membership and power of public-sector unions has far outstripped that of their private-sector counterparts. The union-directed wages and benefits also have trickled down to the non-union employees, who seem to keep getting raises for nothing more than holding their jobs for another year – as do their counterparts in neighboring communities, presumably because all the bureaucrats managing those staffs sing from the same hymnal.

Which is why the idea of basing what we pay on what other communities pay is just plain foolish.

First of all, does anybody but our own public employees think they are being paid too little and/or receiving too few benefits?  If so, can you identify the City (or D-64, or D-207, or Park District) employees who have voluntarily left their employment here to accept a comparable position in any of those neighboring communities – and by “neighboring” we mean the greater Chicagoland metropolitan area?

We can’t think of many. In fact, we can’t think of ANY.

Second, the pay and benefits our community offers its public employees should be viewed in light of the fact that when any public-sector jobs open up here, there reportedly are far more than enough quality applicants, especially for police and fire jobs.

And why not? Not only is the pay good, but the work isn’t all that difficult or dangerous, relatively speaking. For example, our police don’t have to ride herd on groups of gang-bangers shooting it out every Saturday night in front of the Pickwick, or play real-life Grand Theft Auto; and with no building other than Lutheran General topping 5-stories, firemen don’t have to worry about battling prospective Towering Infernos.

That’s not meant to disrespect either department but, rather, to highlight how fortunate we (and they) are to be living and/or working in such a safe and affluent community – one where the crime rate actually keeps dropping to the point where Location, Inc., a leading location-based data and risk analysis firm, last year ranked Park Ridge the 72nd-safest community in the nation, based on the number of reported property crimes and violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2011.

In light of these happy facts, we have a suggestion for Mr. Hamilton:

Instead of wasting time studying what neighboring communities pay their employees, try studying what it would cost the City to outsource as many of these services as possible. And once you’ve done that, correlate those costs with the fully-loaded (i.e., including the costs of pensions, sick days, vacation days, uniform allowances, etc.) costs of the City’s in-house people who currently provide those services, to determine what the economic differential is between in-house and out-sourced.

We can’t find anything in the Illinois statutes, or in the City Code, that requires all of these services to be performed by City employees.  So with the Uptown TIF albatross chained around the City’s neck for at least another 11 years, multi-millions of dollars of flood remediation to be done, and the recent report that Park Ridge’s collective property value has dropped 17.8%, all City costs need to be put on the table if our community is to stay afloat financially without extremely painful tax increases.

That’s why the “this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” management style of years gone by no longer cuts it. If City taxpayers can’t get the best price AND the best value from the current system of in-house public employee staffs, then it’s time to look at private-sector alternatives.

Maybe exploring the private-sector option will show that we’re already getting a bargain from our public employees.  Maybe not.  But it’s time for an outside-the-box approach to what has become a chronic problem of ever-increasing personnel costs with no end in sight.

And if our $155,000/year City Mgr. – who just happens to be the third lowest-paid city/village manager on his list of 27 comparable communities – can’t figure that out on his own, then it’s high time the Mayor and City Council told him so.

In no uncertain terms.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Time Is Now To Step Up For Change At School Dist. 64


For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know that we write a majority of our posts about City of Park Ridge government.

One reason for that is that City government is the most transparent of the four principle local governments; i.e., City, Park District, D-64 and D-207. Another reason is that the issues are generally easier to understand, and because the current mayor and many of the current aldermen seem to try to simplify them more than do their counterparts running the other governmental bodies.

But the City represents only about 10% of our property tax dollars, while the two school districts combine to take almost a 70% bite and the Park District grabs around 5%.

So today we’re going to take a look at D-64 – specifically the topic of a June 17 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate titled “District 64 school board approves 112 salary hikes, kills bonus program” – which reports that 112 D-64 staff members will get raises ranging from 2% to 3.75%, costing D-64 taxpayers approximately $157,000.


What have those administrators done that has measurably improved the quality of education at D-64?  What have they done to deliver even the same quality of education more cost-effectively?

Don’t expect to have those questions answered if you watch the video of the June 9, 2014 D-64 Board meeting.

If you jump to the 15:09 mark and watch to 42:15 , you will see the Board vote on 6 salary increases and one bonus payment, 5 of which were passed with barely a whisper of discussion by the Board members. And although Business Mgr. Rebecca Allard claimed the raises were tied to both performance and the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), as best as we can tell only the $40,636 in raises for “Building and District Administrators” and the $18,500 of “Merit Awards” were anything even arguably merit-based.

All $18,500 of “Merit Awards” – including the $2,000 award departing Supt. Phil Bender tried to toss Allard’s way for alleged “exemplary performance and leadership” – were cancelled by a 4 (Board president Tony Borrelli, Dathan Paterno, Terry Cameron & Vickie Lee) to 2 (John Heyde & Scott Zimmerman, predictably) vote of the Board. But at least each of the proposed recipients of those awards, and the amount of his/her proposed award, was specifically identified in a June 9 memo of Supt. Phil Bender.

Neither the recipients nor the individual amounts of the $40,636 of raises passed by a 5-1 vote (Borrelli the only dissenter), however, were identified. And when Allard was asked about them, the H-A article reports that she effectively told the questioner to pound sand, stating that the information should be obtained through a FOIA request.

That’s what far too often passes for “transparency” at D-64.

You may recall from our 02.19.14 post that Allard herself is the recipient of a major sweetheart deal: she’s going to get $212,063 for the upcoming school year, allegedly her last before retiring with a guaranteed pension of what we understand will be upwards of $125,000 a year. For those of us who haven’t made a career of feeding at the public trough, that’s about $3 million worth of 401(k), assuming it’s well-managed.

Why does all this matter? Because D-64 taxpayers are paying premium prices, starting with the price of its personnel, for what is nowhere near a premium education.

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find the information on the D-64 website (we tried for 20 minutes and struck out), a list of D-64 full-time personnel and their compensation published on the Better Government Association website reveals that 79 teachers are paid over $100,000 a year (orange highlight), another 64 are paid over $90,000 a year (yellow highlight), and another 61 are paid over $80,000. And that’s for only 8-9 months of work, meaning it annualizes out to over $130,000, $120,000 and 100,000, respectively.

That’s more than Park Ridge’s median household income of approximately $90,000.

That’s with no risk of their employer relocating to another state or country, virtually no risk of their services being outsourced to private providers, and basically no chance of being fired.  Those great salaries also come with guaranteed defined benefit pensions that generally start at around 75% of the final years’ salaries, and increase annually by a cost of living allowance.

For those teachers who become administrators it gets even better, especially on the pension end.

According to the BGA website, our former D-64 superintendents are doing just fine, thank you: last year Elaine Rieger, who retired in 2000, drew $83,612, while Fred Schroeder, who retired in 2003, drew $170,974; and Sally Pryor, who retired in 2010, drew $183,377.  Meanwhile, former Emerson principal Vicki Mogil, who retired in 2011, drew $133,750; and former Lincoln principal Jim Blouch, who retired in 2009, drew $135,552.

And we believe all of them retired before reaching age 60.

Meanwhile, our elected representatives on the current D-64 Board – like their predecessors for the past 20+ years, at least – keep doling out the cash with no rhyme or reason, just because they can. Without any major qualms, without much in the way of serious debate, without any evidence that our kids got a better education this year than last, and without any demands that our kids will get a better education next year than they did this year.

If you don’t believe that’s acceptable or sustainable for a community such as ours, you can do something about it. But you have to act fast.

Board member Terry Cameron is moving out of the area and must vacate his seat, so the Board will be interviewing for his replacement in the next few weeks.  However, the deadline for applying for that appointment is 4:00 p.m. TOMORROW, MONDAY, JUNE 23!

You can get all the information you need on the D-64 website’s Board member vacancy pageBut you had better act fast, because you can be sure that the Park Ridge Education Association will do its best to fill Cameron’s seat with someone who can be depended on to rubber-stamp higher pay and even less accountability for teachers and administrators – while claiming it’s all “for the kids.”

And because D-64 practices faux-transparency rather than the real thing, the Board claims it will be conducting the candidate interviews during an open Board meeting – but then will adjourn to the ostensible secrecy of CLOSED session to deliberate over its members’ choice of who gets the vacant seat.

Because a majority of the current Board members have no desire to share their decision-making process with the taxpayers who got to elect Cameron but aren’t getting a vote on his successor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Referenda Provide The “Public Voice” Everyone Needs To Hear


Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting has two significant issues on the agenda: (1) final approval of the language of the binding Library tax levy increase referendum; and (2) further discussion of an advisory referendum for flood remediation for Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood.

The simplistic view, seemingly shared by more than a few residents, is that these are just individual one-off decisions about the Library and a couple of Second Ward flood projects. Worse yet, these are nothing more than attempts by the Council to pawn off on the voters tough decisions on two very different issues, with the victory or defeat of each being the only consequence.

The real take-away from these two exercises should be how they enhance our City’s representative (i.e., republican with a small “r”) form of government. Both of these referenda demonstrate how giving the taxpayers a voice on major issues in the most objectively measurable way – through their countable votes – actually adds even greater transparency, accountability and legitimacy to the process.

Let’s start with the Library referendum, which was initiated by the City Council because the Library (i.e., senior Staff’s and Library Board majority’s) refused to live within its statutory taxing authority. Rather than propose a tax increase referendum, however, the Library administration chose to demonize the Council for ignoring the will of what it claimed to be the vast majority of residents who purportedly wanted more City funding of the Library. And when that didn’t cause a majority of the aldermen to cower and buckle, the Library amped up the pressure by intentionally and irresponsibly inflicting gratuitous pain on Library users and its own staff by closing the Library on 14 Sundays this summer.

But thanks to the Council, this Library referendum will give all taxpayers who choose to vote this November the chance to tell the Council(and the Library administration) in no uncertain terms whether they are willing to pay higher taxes for certain Library amenities. And because it will be a binding referendum, even the slimmest-majority – 50.00001% of the vote – will give the Library the extra cash it wants for each of the next four years, without having to sway a Council majority on that issue.

So although the Council said “no” to the Library, it was willing to give the Library – and the voters – a chance to prove a majority of aldermen wrong. And even if a majority of voters say “no,” the Council still has the ability to reconsider and give the Library more money, albeit without any illusion that such a handout is what a majority of voting taxpayers wants.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

That is representative/republican government in action, in one of the ways Madison described in Federalist No. 10:

[T]o refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.

Whether the referendum passes or fails, the Council will have the benefit of having heard the “public voice…pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

While a Library referendum will be on the November ballot, the mere thought of obtaining a similar “public voice” on flood control for Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood seems to have inspired fear and loathing from the residents of those areas.

Like the Library administration, those Second Ward folks would prefer to browbeat the Council into simply handing over $20 Million in bond proceeds, plus interest, for flood protection for less than 450 homes – even though that $20 Million figure is “soft” because no “hard” cost for turning Northwest Park into a temporary detention area (assuming the Park District will permit it) has been determined.  And as is so often the case when a small group of people claim entitlement to Other People’s Money (“OPM”) for their own personal benefit, those Second Ward folks are insisting that a referendum would be “divisive” and pit one area of town against the others.

That’s what’s known as the pot calling the kettle black. Or, in this case, the takers calling the payers “cheap.”

Whether by selective blindness or outright dishonesty, those Second Ward folks fail to see that THEY are the ones creating an “us v. them” mentality – if one exists – by demanding that all the City’s taxpayers foot the bill for Second Ward flood relief projects costing (in the case of Mayfield Estates) more than TEN TIMES what flood relief for other parts of town is costing ($100,000+ per home v. relief sewers at a cost of approximately $10,000 per home).

Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd), with the help of an analysis by municipal finance expert and resident Shawn O’Leary, has come up with a variety of arguments for why no referendum should be required by the City to take another plunge into the deep end of the debt pool – and the sooner, the better. And, not surprisingly, those arguments purport to demonstrate that adding another $20 Million of bonded debt to the current $30 Million carried by the City won’t have any effect on the City’s bond rating or on future flood relief projects for all those other areas of town experiencing flooding.

We vigorously disagree. But that’s not the point of this post.

If those arguments are legitimate and not just a bunch of municipal finance mumbo jumbo, can’t the taxpayers be trusted embrace them – via an advisory referendum vote? Shouldn’t those taxpayers who choose to vote have a chance to voice their opinion on whether they want the City saddled with another $20 Million of long-term debt, especially when it will provide flood relief to no more than 450 of the City’s 13,000-plus households?

And if this $20 Million of additional bonded debt truly is the great idea its proponents are proclaiming it to be, persuading the voters should be an easy task.  Heck, from the way Mr. O’Leary talks up such debt (“I am…astonished that any city with significant capital needs is not jumping at the opportunity to take advantage of this rate environment”), why aren’t he and Ald. Milissis advocating for $150-300 Million of bonded debt to address ALL the City’s flooding issues – before the rates go up and/or” our bond rating falls any further from its already-downgraded Aa2, with a negative outlook, thanks in large part to the Uptown TIF?

Thomas Jefferson noted that “[w]henever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  So let Ald. Milissis, Mr. O’Leary and their fellow Second Ward residents inform the rest of us about the abiding wisdom of the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park flood relief plans.

And then let the “public voice…pronounced by the people themselves” be heard via an advisory referendum this November.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Milissis: PubDog Has “Jumped The Shark” On Second Ward Flood Projects


Today we are posting what was submitted by 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis as a comment to our 06.09.14 post.

While we vigorously disagree with many of its “Fact”s (and its conclusions and opinions masquerading as “Fact”s), it is the most thorough and thoughtful argument we have heard, to date, for the City’s undertaking the two flood control projects intended for the Second Ward at the expense of all Park Ridge taxpayers.


Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, signaled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in an attempt to keep viewers’ interest. The phrase is based on a scene from a fifth-season episode of the sitcom Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis. The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort’s evolution declines.

Pub dog I count myself as one of your fans but I have to say in this latest post you have jumped the shark.

Without adding to what has become an already emotionally charged conflict I will attempt to address several disturbing positions that have been brought up in council by other aldermen, by you and some of your anonymous posters.

Someone far wiser than me said: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. So here we go in no particular order:

MYTH: Northwest Park and Mayfield are projects that will cost 100 million dollars or more.

FACT: Northwest Park and Mayfield are the only two projects that are currently deemed feasible at the 100-year level protection and have engineering designs that are construction-ready. Should the council approve them they could start tomorrow for a combined price of under $20 million dollars (3.3 for Mayfield and 16 for Northwest). Country Club is the third area with the heftier price tag and with a guarantee only against a 10 year flood. The council is not currently considering that option as presented and is seeking better alternatives. Lumping all three projects together, which are at different stages, have different solutions and different levels of protection is merely a tactic to artificially inflate the price tag and create sticker shock.

MYTH: Mayfield Estates refused to install sewers when it was annexed 50 years ago and again refused to install them subsequently when the city approached the residents there and offered them that option.

FACT: The city chose to annex Mayfield in an “as is” condition. The city and its elected officials at the time made that decision knowing full well that Mayfield wasn’t developed with a sewer system. The city at the time had every right to set any requirements and terms it wished as part of the annexation agreement. It didn’t. That point is now moot and the city has been responsible for Mayfield for the past 50 years. The only paperwork that exists from that situation half a century ago is a now expired agreement in which the only provision was that the city couldn’t force the Mayfield residents to install a sewers for the first five years after annexation. Those five years came and went and the agreement expired. Now we seek to punish residents who were not part of that agreement and who have been paying the same taxes everyone else pays in Park Ridge by wanting them to pay for desperately needed infrastructure. The city took on Mayfield, enjoyed the extra taxes it realized by annexing it for five decades and did zero to at least maintain the rudimentary system Mayfield had in place (clean culverts, maintain drainage ditches etc). Now the city officials will turn around and ask that Mayfield shoulder the costs of the only solution there is to prevent it from literally disappearing under the flood waters? I don’t think so. Oh and by the way, Park Ridge Pointe which was developed many years after the Mayfield annexation and which brought the City hundreds of new taxable property parcels, resides on Mayfield land which would not have been part of the City had it decided 50 years ago not to annex. Mayfield residents have been paying their share like everyone else in our city towards hundreds of infrastructure improvement projects over the years that benefited many other places around town. Let’s stop calling those poor neighbors and full fledged Park Ridgians freeloaders.

MYTH: Funding these projects will be the equivalent of another Uptown TIF.

FACT: This is a very deceptive way to compare the Uptown TIF to legitimate capital projects. This argument can be reduced to: “The sewer projects could cost as much as the Uptown TIF and the Uptown TIF is really squeezing the budget!” But this is a false comparison. First, the Uptown TIF identified two payment sources for the bonds: TIF increment from the projects and, if that was insufficient, a citywide property tax levy. When the TIF increment proved to be insufficient the city made the policy decision to abate the property tax levy for the bonds and make up the shortfalls from the city’s existing budget (i.e. the general fund). It’s not that the debt-in and of itself-pressured the budget: it was the combined insufficiency of the increment coupled with a decision by the city itself not to make use of the other available and reliable revenue source (property tax levy). The TIF situation is not analogous to bonds issued for bread and butter capital improvement projects. Whether secured by sewer fee revenues and/or property taxes, to assume the debt would have the same impact on the city’s financial picture is to believe that the city would see both a collapse in sewer fee payments and a spike in property tax delinquencies heretofore never experienced in Park Ridge. Barring such a collapse, why on earth would this council or any future council ever abate a levy for duly issued capital improvement purposes and bring those obligations into the operating budget (such as has been done for the Uptown TIF debt)? It makes no sense at all and simply would not happen under any reasonable scenario. (My thanks to resident Shawn -a municipal financing market professional- for this analysis. For verification purposes I can provide his full name to the editor of this blog who has my contact info).

MYTH: Avoiding these projects will save the city and its tax payers money.

FACT: These problems are not going away and recent experiences show flooding is getting worse and occurring more often. Flooding will continue to affect residents who in turn will continue to seek assistance from the city and their elected representatives. A slim majority of aldermen on this council seem intent on killing these projects and as a result any subsequent ones. However, elected officials come and go and the make up of the council changes every two years. A new council a few years down the line, or as early as 2015, might decide to move ahead with the projects. What will it cost the city to complete these same projects in one, five or ten years? Again I turn to my friend and expert Shawn who says: It is astonishing that any municipality with capital needs would sit on its hands at this point in time. We are living in a period of near generational lows in terms of financing costs for state and local governments. This period won’t last forever-we will revert to the mean at some point. I believe it is likely that if this council passes on this opportunity today the flooding issues will only continue and at some point, a future council will move ahead with the projects. The problem is that interest rates (and likely construction costs as well) will be higher by that time. Shawn goes on to calculate that this delay could end up costing the city 15% to 36% more to complete the same projects. The bottom line is that these projects are necessary, affordable and don’t, by any reasonable analysis, present a threat to this City’s financial future. Delay will only ensure that Park Ridge misses this prime opportunity to finance these projects at rates we are unlikely to ever see again.

MYTH: If these projects are allowed to go forward the city won’t have any money to help those in other areas with flooding issues.

FACT: See analysis above. Projects can be completed in stages much as they have up to now. Northwest and Mayfield are number 10 and 11 in a list of 12 projects 9 of which have already been completed around town. This council is concurrently working with and has asked Burke Engineering to identify additional areas for which to complete flood remediation projects. Don’t listen to the rhetoric and outright lies meant to turn you against your fellow citizens. More projects are being identified and should the elected officials carry out their duties instead of trying to find ways to derail any progress, eventually all will be helped. Preventing the two projects from happening will only bar any other ones from happening down the line, mainly because no other alternative or solutions have been provided. The momentum and substantial money already spent in the studies leading up to these projects will be wasted.

MYTH: My taxes will go up if these projects are approved.

FACT: These projects will be financed through a raise in the annual sewer fee not your taxes. If both projects (Mayfield and Northwest Park) were to be approved that would translate to $9 per month on every household’s sewer bill across town.

MYTH: This is a Mayfield/Northwest Park problem not mine.

FACT: This is a Park Ridge problem. When flooding in those areas is reported in the newspapers people outside our city don’t differentiate between areas in Park Ridge. They only hear and see that Park Ridge (or Flood Ridge as it is now being referred to) floods and now its city government refuses to fix the problem. If you think that doesn’t affect everyone’s property values or how potential buyers decide whether they will move here or not you are sorely mistaken.

MYTH: The people who live in the areas where the projects are to take place are irresponsible freeloaders looking for a handout from the city.

FACT: Many other residents have already been helped by similar (albeit cheaper) projects without being subjected to this level of verbal abuse and animosity on this blog or scrutiny by the elected officials. For example, a project was completed in Alderman Sweeney’s 1st Ward (which of course he voted in favor of) that benefited a miniscule number of houses in the Lahon/Overhill area. Yet now he is denying (through his latest vote) the same relief to a much larger number of residents in the 2nd ward. Interestingly enough he justified his vote in favor of a referendum by saying there are more areas in his ward that need help so he’ll vote against the Northwest Park and Mayfield projects being completed through bond issuance/no referendum (i.e. the way the Overhill/Lahon project in his ward was completed). I guess that somehow seems fair in his mind. The people in the Northwest Park and Mayfield areas are responsible homeowners. They are not simpletons or cheapos who are not aware or don’t want to spring for any possible measure they can install themselves. They have already spent tens of thousands of dollars of their own money on overhead sewers, check valves and even changing the grading of their driveways in order to control flooding on their property. The problem is not on their properties. It’s overland flooding that they have to deal with. Overland flooding is a direct result of inadequate (too small, antiquated or non existent) sewer infrastructure which becomes overwhelmed during rapid and severe storms and the water ends up on the streets. Only the city can address that problem. When your street turns into a river and the water starts coming in from your front door or in from your downward sloping driveway your overhead sewers and check valves are not much good.

It’s indicative that you chose to highlight Ms. Schwieder’s (a resident attending these meetings for the first time) understandably and justifiably emotional outburst but ignored those of residents like Della Burns who spoke poignantly and logically about the issues I covered above.

MYTH: A referendum is the best way to decide this question once and for all.

FACT: A referendum in this case is highly inappropriate and an easy way for those who voted in favor of it to avoid having to make what in their mind is a difficult (not to mention unpopular) decision. This is not a question of public policy. We are not asking the residents whether smoking should be banned, whether a pool that will be used by everyone should be built or a police station that will serve the entire city should be expanded. These are infrastructure projects in specific areas of the city, each with its own set of challenges, solutions and price tags. Trying to compound two or three different projects in one referendum question violates the standards and requirements of a legally valid and acceptable referendum question. Some aldermen have been swept along the excitement of “referendum fever” (there will potentially be three on the ballot this coming November) without giving much thought to its viability and/or feasibility. A compound and confusing question is almost certain to not only get challenged but defeated. So for those opposing these projects it’s a win win. They will either get the voters who are unaware of the above lengthy analysis to vote it down or the referendum will be defeated before it even makes it to the polls. Either way they have detrimentally delayed or outright killed the only viable solution for these areas problems.

I could go on but I won’t since I have already taken up a lot of space. I thank you for indulging me and hope you and some of the anonymous posters here will at least consider the information provided and rethink your positions on this subject.

Nicholas Milissis

Alderman, 2nd Ward.

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Council Triumphs Over Unenlightened Self-Interest…For Now


Last Monday night (June 2) the Park Ridge City Council held a special committee meeting to once again discuss the elephant that’s been parked in the corner of the Council chambers for the past few years.

Flood control.

This time, however, the discussion focused on whether the entire community should be allowed to vote in an advisory referendum on spending – or, more accurately, borrowing and spending – upwards of $20 million on flood control for two relatively small areas of Park Ridge, both in the Second Ward and serving approximately 450 homes: Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood.

Most of the assembled multitude in the gallery last Monday seemed to be from those two areas, and they were vocal in their opposition to such a referendum. They branded it “divisive” even as they insisted flood control was “a Park Ridge issue” affecting the entire community.

In other words, “we’re all in this together” – with everybody sharing the cost of what benefits only a few of us – and don’t you dare take a vote that might prove otherwise!

That’s a standard tactic for people who want to spend OPM (“Other People’s Money”) on their own pet project while insisting that “everybody” wants it, especially when they don’t think they can muster the 50.01% majority of “yes” votes needed to pass a referendum for the project.

We call that the “Tim Schuenke Rule,” which is as dishonest as it is anti-democratic and anti-republican (note the small “d” and “r”) because it’s based on manipulating and/or intimidating a majority of the officials of the relevant local governing body – assuming that a majority of that governing body hasn’t already convinced itself to cut the voters out of the process, as the City Council did back in 2003 with the Uptown TIF; and as the 2012-13 Park Board did with the new Centennial Water Park that opens this coming weekend.

Manipulating/intimidating the aldermen is what almost every speaker tried to do last Monday night, with one speaker even threatening litigation…a hollow threat, to be sure, because those folks aren’t about to spend their own money on lawyers to file a losing lawsuit, as Farmers Insurance appears to have conceded in dropping its flooding suit against all Cook County municipalities including Park Ridge.

With the legal claim to public monies for expensive flood control infrastructure gone, the Second Ward residents seemed to be desperately scrambling for some kind of moral high-ground. That meant continuing to portray themselves as helpless victims of unfair treatment, such as by pointing to 9 other City flood control projects totaling over $5 million that already had been done without referendum.

Not surprisingly, however, they failed to mention that those other 9 projects provided a total of approximately 2.5 miles worth of relief sewers to a number of different areas of town. By a purely back-of-the-envelope calculation, those projects benefited almost 10 times the number of residences projected to be benefited by the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park projects combined – and at around a quarter of the cost being projected for those two projects.

Those facts, even if articulated, probably wouldn’t have made that crowd any less ornery.

Which is why a Watchdog bark-out goes to Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) for his solid job chairing that raucus meeting.

He was spot-on in noting how this Council has taken on these tough flood discussions that previous councils ignored. And he demonstrated his knowledge of Santayana’s warning that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by comparing the long-term financial burdens of flood control to the burdens of the Uptown TIF.

Such comparisons and history lessons, however, seemed lost on most of the crowd – no more so than on Birch Street resident Meg Schwieder, whose unenlightened self-interest can be seen and heard in all its glory from 52:45 through 1:01:12 of the special meeting video.

We particularly liked her “That’s your problem, not mine” response to Mazzuca’s invocation of the TIF-created financial problems. We can’t tell whether she just couldn’t grasp or simply refused to accept Mazzuca’s point that every major long-term bonded debt incurred by any of our local governmental bodies becomes “all of our problems,” often for a decade or more. But her comments highlight just how shallow, short-sighted and greedy a view some of our fellow residents take of this flooding problem, if not other City problems.

Fortunately, four aldermen – Mazzuca, Marty Maloney (7th), Dan Knight (5th) and Joe Sweeney (1st) – expressed their support for an advisory referendum, with Sweeney pointing out that areas in his ward flood almost as often and as much as Mayfield Estates. He also advocated a comprehensive City-wide flood mitigation program, which could run over $100 million.

But only if it gets taxpayer support via a City-wide referendum.

That’s not what the folks in the audience Monday night wanted to hear. But that’s what they needed to hear. Now let’s see if that 4-alderman Council majority can hang tough on putting this issue to referendum.

And let’s see whether those Second Ward residents reconsider some Special Service Area cost-sharing arrangements rather than risk going “all-in” with a referendum.

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D-Day Plus 70


Seventy years ago today 73,000 Americans became, or revealed themselves to truly be, men.

They did so as part of the Allied expeditionary forces landing on the beaches of Normandy under withering enemy fire, fighting and dying to stop the spread of tyranny antithetical to our Constitution, our traditions, and our way of life.

By D-Day’s end (according to the most recent studies), 2,500 of them were dead, another 4,000 seriously wounded, and as many as 2,000 missing. None of the survivors were left unchanged by the experience.

And because of such sacrifices by our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, uncles and cousins (and the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts and cousins who supported the effort in non-combat roles), we remain free today – including free to openly discuss and debate local issues, to vote for and elect our local officials, and to determine through sometimes spirited advocacy and by referendum vote, the policies, procedures, practices and projects financed by our tax dollars.

So take just one minute out of your busy day today to stop and give thanks for those brave men and women, especially those who paid the ultimate price so that, 70 years later, we continue to live free.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

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