Public Watchdog.org

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

06.12.14

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.

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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.

To read or post comment, click on title.

14 comments so far

Happy to attach my full name to the analysis attributed to me above. And, like Alderman Millissis, am a PW fan. On this particular issue, however, I think many of the arguments made against the projects (next Uptown TIF/will pressure the city’s finances/will keep the city from doing future projects) just simply aren’t supported by objective analysis. The editor is welcome to contact me to discuss.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for “coming out” on this, Shawn. While this editor is always open to private discussion, let’s keep this one public in the hope of giving our readers more substantive things to think about on this important issue.

“A compound and confusing question is almost certain to not only get challenged but defeated.”

Interesting we didn’t hear much objection from Ald. Millisis or any of his colleagues when they crafted the library referendum. I guess we can now assume what has not yet been spoken out loud — they hope the library referendum is defeated. Nice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t think a majority of the aldermen care all that much one way or the other how either referendum comes out – they are seriously interested in finding out what the taxpayers who bother to vote think about these issues. Unlike the Uptown TIF mayor(s) and aldermen, or the Centennial water park Park Board.

I don’t know if the information provided are facts or perception but I do like the attempt at providing a complete picture.

In that vain, providing a complete picture, are the cost numbers provided solid current cost information that can be referenced to a legitimate third party?

$20 million sounds plausible, but is contingency built in, does this include money for street restoration, does it help two areas but make a third area even worse, etc., etc.?

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we understand it, $20 million is a low-ball amount – in no small part because the costs of the work necessary to turn Northwest Park into a temporary reservoir are still “soft”; and any intergovernmental agreement between the City and the Park District on NW Park will almost certainly include indemnitees and hold-harmless provisions that could raise those costs signficantly in the event of multi-day water detention which damages/destroys the athletic fields.

I can’t recall any project in Park Ridge’s history, other than the Uptown TIF, that cost as much as this flood control and for what I hear will be 450 homes. So how do we justify this, other than if the voters approve it by referendum or those affected people pay half the cost?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor has lived here since 1988 and he cannot recall anything like this other than the Uptown TIF, which has been an unmitigated financial disaster for the City so far.

I understand Ald. Milissis fighting for his constituents, and I have no problem with that. However, I also expect my alderman and the other five aldermen to look out for their constituents. And if the $30 million (???) Uptown TIF debt has another 12-15 years to go (???) and we add another $20 million plus for 2nd Ward flood control over at least 15 years, where is any extra money for flood control for the rest of Park Ridge going to come from, other than substantially higher property taxes. And in view of the city’s bond rating still being suspect (PW 4/29/14 post) and subject to further downgrading, I can’t imagine that layering on another $20 million plus of new debt WITHOUT big tax increase to cover it would do anything but cause another bond rating downgrade, making future borrowing for future flood control projects even more expensive. This sounds like the bad advice all those financial advisors, bankers, mortgage brokers, etc. were giving all the way up to the bursting of the real estate bubble. So I’m sorry, Ald. Milissis, but you are the one who is jumping the shark on this matter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just one year ago the City’s “Sewer Improvement Project Phasing Plan” dated 05.15.13 and apparently authored by City Engineer Sarah Mitchell projected the cost of all 12 of the Burke priority flood control projects at $27,081.632 over 7 years. Under that scenario, Mayfield Estates cost $1.3 million and Northwest Park cost $4.1 million – although the Mayfield Estates project was then described as “Upgrade or replacement of existing pump station, regrading roadside ditches and replacing driveway culverts, and establishing overland flow routes throughout the subdivision”; and the Northwest Park project was then described as “Construction of a new relief sewer network of approx. 15,000′-17,000′ of new relief sewer from DeCook and Vernon…flowing south and west to a new outfall near Sibley and Riverside Drive.”

Now, Mayfield Estates is up to $3.3 million, with just the tie-in to the new Dempster sewer line costing around $500K; and Northwest Park is up to $16 million because of the plan to use the park itself as a detention area, assuming the Park District permits it. At 19.3 million for less than 450 homes, that’s almost $43,000 PER HOME – and a whopping $143,000 PER MAYFIELD ESTATES HOME – compared to the roughly $9,000 per home that it appears the average relief-sewer costs.

So when Ald. Milissis refers to the average relief sewers as “similar (albeit cheaper) projects” than the two projects he is promoting for his ward, he’s basically comparing a dinghy to the Queen Mary.

Mother Nature is not the sole cause of the flooding problems in Park Ridge.

While the city contemplates spending taxpayer money on expensive flood relief projects, the city should revise the building codes to eliminate as much as is possible the man made contributions to the flooding problems in Park Ridge.

Increase the green space requirements and then enforce them, further restrict the depth of basements, enforce the code that does not allow for changes in the grade of the property, put a limit on the number of multi-family housing units. Given how much money PR has paid Burke Engineering for their flooding mitigation studies-they should have suggestions on ways to address flooding concerns from a building code perspective.

Why spend millions of taxpayer dollars to mitigate 10-100 year flooding if the man made contributors are allowed to continue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Excellent points, about which debate should begin immediately. You can bail all you want, but at some point you need to stop punching more holes in the boat.

The editor of this blog deserves plaudits for providing Ald. Millissis a platform to articulate his position on flood relief. Likewise, Ald. Millissis does a public service by describing his position.

But, I would take exception to at least one of Ald. Millissis’ statements. His statement that Park Ridge taxes won’t be going up because the flood control expenses will be paid for out of increases in sewer fees strikes me as misleading. In truth, Park Ridge residents would be paying more money to the City of Park Ridge. Whether that additional money paid to the City is described as “more taxes” or “more sewer fees” constitutes a distinction without any difference.

I also appreciate the comments of Shawn O’Leary. But, I don’t see how an existing claim (by the TIF) to future tax revenues could NOT impinge upon the future spending options of the City. So, I hope Mr. O’Leary will expand on the point he made in his post (above).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Mr. Godfrey, both for the kind words and for your spot-on observations. And that’s coming from an enthusiastic proponent of “user fees.”

“I can’t recall any project in Park Ridge’s history, other than the Uptown TIF, that cost as much as this flood control and for what I hear will be 450 homes. So how do we justify this, other than if the voters approve it by referendum or those affected people pay half the cost?”

OK 4:15AM. What exactly did you think making a dent in an issue that has been ignored for 50+ years was going to cost?? If the city and it’s residents really want to address PR flood problems this is only the beginning. There is already a suggestion for a 100mil comprehensive plan and that is probably to low if the goal s to really fix the problem.

So you are confused and amazed that it is the second highest project expense you can remember?!!!? Second to a 4-5 story building with some restaurants, retail and residential. Again I have to ask, how serious are you (and the city as a whole) about fixing the problem.

What did you expect it to cast??

EDITOR’S NOTE: 4:15 can answer for him/herself, but it’s just absurd to think that ALL of the City’s taxpayers must now contribute $143K PER HOUSE so that Mayfield Estates residents – many of whom apparently purchased or built houses there in the last 5-10 years when anybody not in a catatonic state KNEW there were flooding problems up there AND that there were NO STREET SEWERS – can bolster their home values without having to put any extra skin in the game.

But, hey, if you think it makes that much sense then the referendum will give you the chance to persuade a majority of voters to agree with you. OR you could show up at City Hall with hat in hand and try to work out an SSA arrangement where the City covers the equivalent cost of relief sewers, and maybe a few dollars more, while the owners INVEST in the solution to a problem more of their own making (or the making of their predecessor owners) than of the City’s.

OK 12:51pm… tell us how much you would be willing to spend to “fix” the problem AND what does “fixing” the problem mean?

Personally, I don’t think the problem is “fixable” in some areas. Land slope, grades and the like conspire against the City to fix some problems. And some might be “fixable” but at a cost so exorbitant it’s not really worth rationally considering.

It might make sense to raise a ton of money, your $100 million for instance, to address City wide problems but even then some projects simply won’t make sense to do, and right now, as an example, the so-called Country Club project is one of them.

1:58:

I asked first. What did you think it was going to cost? The poster complained that the cost of these fold control projects was second only to the Uptown TIF. So go ahead and get rid of the projects you do not like in this round. That will only leave more in the future. Again, there is a 100mil “comprehensive” plan floating (pun intended) out there.

So again I ask what were you expecting it to cost?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Who is talking about projects people “do not like”? This isn’t a question about whether or not these are useful projects but whether they are affordable ones – providing the most bang for the buck to the entire community, both the direct beneficiaries and everyone else, while considering the long-term economic effects on the City’s ability to address future economic challenges related and unrelated to flooding.

A referendum is a worthwhile thing to do. If a majority of the taxpayers want it, that gives the city council the support it needs and should have for such a major project and expense.

I like how they say the fix will affect 450 homes. I wonder how many properties out of the 450 actually have flooding issues caused by overland flooding. Did the city ever think to survey them? No need to answer…. I wouldn’t doubt that project actually has 20-30 homes that are in need of repair, that is due to overland flooding.
Is this project even guaranteed to work? I thought it was stated earlier that it was not a guaranteed fix.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nobody – neither City officials nor the Burke folks – are willing to guarantee anything. But that lack of a guaranty, standing alone, should not be the determining factor of whether or not to pursue a flood control remediation program, because even the far less expensive relief sewer installation program comes with no guaranties.

Watch Dog,

It appears that you’ve been watching quite selectively. It has come to my attention that you live in Bristol Court, along with Alderman Muzzuca. And as you’re well aware, Alderman Muzzuca is petitioning the city to take over things like snow plowing, street and sewer maintenance on your private property. You’ve been referring to the residents of Mayfield Estates as “freeloaders”. I’d love to hear how/why you think your situation is any different than ours. How we’re “freeloaders” (your words) and you’re not? Why we should pay special assessments and you shouldn’t? How our 1967 with the city matters, but a 1967 agreement between the builder of Bristol court and the city shouldn’t? To be very clear, I support the condo residents on the the basis of tax fairness and I think we’re both paying taxes for services we’re not receiving.

Thanks,

Dennis Sladky

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Sladky: We DON’T think Bristol Court’s, or Park Ridge Pointe’s, situation is ANY different from Mayfield Estates’. Clear enough for you?

We have not heard one good reason why either Bristol Court or Park Ridge Pointe deserves to get out of the deal their developers cut years ago, and the folks running City government back then foolishly cut with them for what sound like substandard and/or Code non-conforming infrastructure – just as we have not heard one good reason why Mayfield Estates deserves the freebies its residents are looking for when their predecessors in interest, and another group of boneheaded City officials, cut their deal back then.

Equally clear?

Thanks Watchdog. It’s clear now. I’ve searched your blog and it doesn’t seem that you’ve written about this one ever. Knowing that Alderman Mazzuca has been pushing this since 2007, your silence seemed way too convenient.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Sladky: No intention of being MIA on this issue, just trying to get the time to write about it.

And you can be sure that upcoming post will carry the same message as contained in the Editor’s Note to your last comment.



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