To Understand Evanston Water Option, Think Uptown TIF


About ten (10) years ago the government of the City of Park Ridge decided to lock our taxpayers into tens of millions of dollars of 20+ year bonded debt in return for the potential – the mere P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L – of approximately $23 million of net revenue. They called it the “Uptown TIF” and “Uptown Redevelopment,” depending on whom they were trying to cajole or bamboozle.

Needless to say, that potential net revenue never materialized. But the City was nevertheless stuck paying off that bonded debt, the cost of which has substantially reduced and even prevented certain infrastructure spending, while also causing property taxes to rise. Meanwhile, that $23 million net revenue has turned into (at last estimate) an approximately $17 million net loss.

And, not surprisingly, not one of those elected or appointed officials responsible for steamrolling the TIF fiasco past the taxpayers – without even giving the taxpayers a referendum vote on it – has ever stepped up to assume accountability for it.

So why are we bringing up the Uptown TIF financing in connection with a post about the City’s water sourcing?

Because, to quote George Santayana: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

And the City Council seems to be moving toward repeating that past TIF mistake with what we will call the “Evanston Water Option” (or “EWO” for short).

The EWO was devised by Morton Grove and Niles and consists of constructing a water supply line from Evanston, along with the necessary pumping infrastructure. Those two communities are putting the full-court press on Park Ridge to commit to picking up a substantial portion of the EWO’s staggering cost they don’t want to carry all by themselves.

What’s in it for Park Ridge?

If you listen to the Sirens’ song coming from Park Ridge’s would-be municipal partners, cheaper water. And if you listen to some of our town’s chronically under-informed shallow thinkers, the vast long-term savings from buying water from Evanston instead of Chicago will not only pay for all that new water line infrastructure but also can pay for flood control projects. (Yes, Kathy Panattoni Meade, we’re talking about you).

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, however, they now have elected City officials who are more intelligent, and far less ignorant and gullible, than their predecessors back in 2003-05.

Led by Acting-Mayor Marty Maloney and Finance Chair Ald. Dan Knight, this Council is demanding that City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Finance Director Joe Gilmore, and Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim get their hands around the cost of Park Ridge’s share of the project – which starts at around $60 million and could go as high as almost $100 Million, depending on who’s throwing the numbers around and what day of the week it is. And, as best as we can tell, even that low-end $60 million figure doesn’t include 30 years of debt service – which even at 2% interest could add almost $30 million to the cost.

Call that $90 million, at a bare minimum.

So when you look at Gilmore’s water-cost savings projections using a 3% annual increase in the cost of Chicago water and a 4% discount rate for the net present value of the water-cost savings over 30 years, his $26,285,068 savings will be completely consumed – and then some – by those bond interest costs the City will have to pay just on the lowest-end EWO cost. And that deficit could grow by tens of millions of dollars if the high-end cost becomes reality.

Sound familiar?

We don’t mean to suggest that continuing to do business with those incompetent and corrupt weasels who have run Chicago into the ground over the past 30+ years – a/k/a mayors Richie “the Evil Midget” Daley and Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel, along with more than a hundred of their sycophantic alderdopes – doesn’t come with a significant risk of future price-gouging as Chicago tries to prevent itself from going the way of Detroit.

But there are scores of variables, some of which (e.g., Chicago’s possible/likely municipal bankruptcy) could salvage Chicago financially and thereby result in a much less pressing need for it to gouge Park Ridge on water prices over the next 30 years. But once the City issues its $60 million (or $100 million) of bonded debt, our variables become pretty darn limited because that money needs to be repaid.

Just like the Uptown TIF bonds. Or just like Paulie Cicero’s loan to Sonny Bunz for the Bamboo Lounge in “Goodfellas.”

This matter is on tonight’s City Council COW agenda. Let’s hope the current Council – unlike its predecessor 10 years ago – figures out that something too good to be true usually isn’t.  Because this project already appears to be fool’s gold in much the same way the Uptown TIF and the City’s multi-million dollar “investment” in Uptown Redevelopment appeared to be, even before then-mayor Mike Marous and then-city manager Tim Schuenke sprinkled it with pixie dust and snake oil.

Otherwise, we might end up stuck with an EWO project so bad it ends up making the Uptown TIF almost look good by comparison.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

If it wasn’t for Morton Grove and Niles hustling Park Ridge on this deal, Park Ridge would never have looked into it. So why are we pursuing it when MG and Niles just want our money?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, this does seem to be more of a “solution” (or not) looking for a “problem.”

And, yes, it’s all about MG and Niles looking for money.

This didn’t make sense to me from the beginning, and after reading the stuff on the city’s website for this week’s meeting it made no more sense to me. I don’ have a flooding problem, but if we’re going to spend that kind of money I’d rather see it spent on flood control than a new water line from Evanston when we already have two from Chicago.

I’m on the Concerned Homeowners site and 90% of Meade’s posts are what you would call “freeloader” oriented. It’s like she thinks that by moving to Park Ridge she gets a golden ticket and shouldn’t have to pay for anything else ever again. I pay my taxes, including to the school districts where I have no kids. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have to pay for my community center membership, my metered parking, etc. And as you have pointed out, people with kids in the public schools (like Meade) are making out like bandits.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first clue that you might be dealing with a freeloader is if they make the statement: “I pay my taxes” – which is usually followed by a beef about how much those taxes are, and then a pitch for their entitlement to something or other.

I would hope that the Council figures out that, at least for as long as we have the TIF debt to contend with, we cannot afford to bond big bucks for anything that is not absolutely essential. And by “essential” I mean the repair or replacement of infrastructure that NEEDS it, not a fully-functioning water supply system.

Spot on analysis with numbers. Numbers do not lie. I have never come across a project that EVER came on budget or under. I have also become very weary when “projected” costs are estimated for any government project because experience has shown that once a project has been green lit, “unforeseen” costs come in. Add to that the interest rate you will be paying and you run into problems with the original “extra money” that we should get out of it. I do like that we have people on the council that DO understand financing and are asking the right questions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree that “[n]umbers do not lie” – so long as the numbers are legit. And as best as we can tell, the City’s numbers so far do NOT include debt-service costs – which we intentionally calculated at a 2% interest rate even though the City’s bond advisor has suggested a 4.5% rate just so we couldn’t be credibly accused of over-stating debt-service costs.

We need to focus on sewers and other infrastructure issues, save your 90 million BTW – we all know this will be 200-300 million. Watch out folks.

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