Public Watchdog.org

Time To Prioritize City Projects

02.29.16

In our never-ending quest to keep our finger on the pulse of this community we regularly check out our local social media sites. And over the weekend a February 27 post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page caught our eye.

Kicked off by Josh Chapman’s complaint about the deplorable condition of his unpaved alley that was ignored even as the City spent wasted “$15K fighting a developer in court when 2 law firms told them they wouldn’t win” over the density of the 400 Talcott residential development, the comment string took a few twists and turns while touching on other City projects that somebody wants done.

Without much knowledge or concern about their costs, and how the City – a/k/a, the taxpayers – will be able to pay for them.

Acting Mayor Marty Maloney provided some very good information and insight into the paving issue, to which Chapman provided one trenchant comment (“[I]t might be a good exercise to do an ROI on the cost of continued maintenance on the unpaved alleys vs. investing to pave them.”). Doing such ROI analyses – and having them prominently posted on the City’s website for all the special interests to see – would be a big step in reducing the ignorance that fuels too many of these special-interest discussions.

On the other hand, like many of the folks up in Mayfield Estates who knew or should have known of that area’s lack of storm sewers and propensity for flooding when they bought their bargain-priced property and built their McMansions, the complainers about the unpaved alleys didn’t wake up one morning to find their paved alleys torn out and replaced with gravel. Nor, as best as we can tell, were they ever unequivocally promised that their alleys would be paved at City expense by any specific date, if at all.

So while perhaps the City could do a better job of maintaining the alleys, the high dudgeon and semi-hysteria about their disrepair must be taken with a couple of heaping scoops of Kosher salt.

But perhaps the best contribution to that comment string came from Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd), which we are reprinting in its entirety except for inserting paragraph breaks that the alderman must have overlooked in what appears to have been his homage to William Faulkner:

Sure, let’s add paved alleyways with sewer drains to: a new police station, major flood resolution projects, paying down the uptown TIF, providing salary increases every year for police, fire and the rest of city staff, buying new ambulances and fire trucks, the list goes on and on and the reality is each and every one of us has something in their radar that they believe is of the outmost importance and a need.

At the same time everyone agrees we pay a lot in taxes and can not tolerate any increases. Of course many ignore the inconvenient fact that a majority of our taxes go to the school districts and not the city. Yet from that small slice of tax revenue the city gets everyone wants everything yesterday.

Sorry but that’s not how it works folks. We try to prioritize as best we can but we can’t do everything for everyone.

Not diminishing the asks that are on this posting but I choose to prioritize a bumpy alleyway that might look unattractive as a lower priority to flooded homes and destroyed properties that lower the value of everyone’s property value around town. New lockers in the police station can wait in line behind residents losing cars and basements during major storms.

I am all for addressing actual health issues in the police station such as mold remediation and air quality. The problem is that some use the air quality issues as leverage for is to build a Nile’s style station with Sally ports and other unnecessary luxuries. We have to be realistic for the sake of our residents. Police just received brand new equipment, squad cars, a nice salary bump so let’s not pretend we’re mistreating our officers and tone down the rhetoric on these forums.

And kudos to Milissis for also pointing out in a subsequent comment that “too many infrastructure fixes and improvements were swept under the rug for decades” while “outright negligent decision making stuck us with the crushing debt of the uptown TIF” that the fiscally-responsible city councils since 2011 have had to address with many “unpleasant decisions” – including project prioritization and larger annual tax increases.

Of course, all those former City officials responsible for the decades of neglect are long removed from the days of their irresponsible public office-holding, and their disappearance from public life suggests a kind of terror at the thought of stepping into any of these debates – either on social media or, like big boys and girls, by showing up at Council meetings – and taking ownership of their FUBARs. Not surprisingly, many of them, including all three living former mayors and twenty-five former aldermen or other City officials, endorsed our late Mayor Dave Schmidt’s opponent in the 2013 election, an unprecedented exercise in futility that we wrote about in our 04.12.13 post and that actually may have contributed to the increase in Mayor Dave’s vote total and margin over 2009. 

But with all these projects vying for attention, the City needs to make a list that explains each project and attaches the best-available cost figure to each, then let this Council prioritize that list and publish it prominently on the City’s website so that everybody can see what those priorities are – and can challenge them if so inclined. Or accept them and shut up.

Take the unpaved alleys, for example.

We understand that a reasonable guestimate of the cost of alley paving is $400,000 per block, which includes relief sewers for the run-off. But that’s without any debt service that would be incurred if it were to be funded by bonded debt. Additionally, under previous alley-paving programs there was a split of the costs between the City and the homeowners on the affected bloc, with the split being either 50/50 or 75(City)/25(homeowner). But given the rise of the freeloader mentality, we wonder how many complainers would be willing to pick up 50%, or even 25%, of the cost of paving their blocks.

We suspect the City spends less than $400,000 per decade on the maintenance of each unpaved alley, even if they are graded – and gravel added – a couple/few times a year.

On the other hand, an argument has been made by City staff that paved alleys contribute to sewer flooding, even though the relief sewers have restrictors that limit the speed at which alley water enters the main combined-sewer system. We have yet to read or hear, however, how much water the unpaved alleys absorb versus their paved counterparts, which also raises the hot-button issue of “green” v. “grey” infrastructure.

Installing an estimated 50 blocks of “grey” at an estimated $400K/alley is $20 million, not counting debt service. And as best as we can guestimate, Milissis’s whole list represents close to $300 MILLION of wishes, many of which are special-interest ones. Those need to be more accurately valued and prioritized if they are to be managed in a way that reduces the one-off “Where’s ours?” influence of the special interests and focuses on what the entire community’s needs and  wants.

And, most importantly, to demonstrate their willingness to pay for it by measurable referendum votes.

Because, to paraphrase the old English proverb: If wishes were horses, freeloaders would ride.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

The police conditions are deplorable. The city council and mayor should be embarrassed that they allow 1st responders to work in those conditions. The past councils and mayor should also be embarrassed.

In fact, the voters, should be embarrassed.

RE Police station, Ald. Millissis response is dishonest. The two options are not only
“Niles Style” with “Sally Ports” or some pretend/feel good mold remediation.

And a livable building that isn’t full of mold and disgusting, should not have anything to do with salary increases. We should have pride in our city and our employees (of which I have no personal interest.

The right answer is to budget in a new police station that can last a generation, it doesn’t have to be “Niles style” as the litigious skills of Ald Millissis seem to think we are all stupid.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since you hide in the “anonymous” closet you’re claim that you “have no personal interest” in improvements to the police station is not credible.

And the folks who should be MOST “embarrassed” about the condition of the cop shop are Chief Kaminski, his senior staff, and their sycophants on the since-disbanded Chief’s Advisory Task Force who several years ago proposed a three-phase, three-year, $1.1 million-plus cop shop improvement plan that put off the all-important mold remediation until YEAR THREE – and then got a previous Council to approve spending over $300K on Phase I, that butt-ugly brick spit-house on Courtland that houses a bike corral, evidence storage and a workout room.

Priorities? Non-existent or upside-down.

It fries my chicharonnes when people carp about problems and inconveniences without any mention of the price of the solution. You bought a house with an unpaved alley! If you want to expedite the paving of alleys, get your neighbors together, go to the City Council, offer to pay half, and see what they say instead of whining on Facebook.

I love people who hide behind an “anonymous” tag. At least on social media I’m opening myself to criticism. My neighbors and I are willing to share the costs with the city, at one point we even offered to bring in a private firm to pave our alley and we were told no. I’m happy to talk through any of my points, about the cost to maintain unpaved alleys vs. doing it now and sharing the cost (with interest). Or the sewer issue, which as mentioned in this post is not accurate and is really just an attempt to deflect by bringing up another hot button issue. But I won’t do it with people who hide behind blogs or in comment sections. Come to the meeting on 3/23, I’m accepting the Acting Mayors invite and welcome the chance to discuss with anyone who is willing to do so in a civilized manner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Chapman:

Thanks for commenting in your own name. When we started this blog we consciously decided to allow anonymous comments on the grounds that ideas are more important than personalities. Some commentators have effectively exploited that anonymity to snipe from cover, becoming nuisances and annoyances to deal with. But at least for the time being we will stick with this format.

If your neighbors and you “are willing to share the costs with the city,” you should make that point to the Council at that March 23 meeting. But if the City turned down your offer “to bring in a private firm to pave [y]our alley,” we suspect that may have been tied to the Prevailing Wage requirement; i.e., the City is required under Illinois law to pay even private contractors the prevailing wage for union labor on these projects, while we would expect that you were using a non-union paving company charging a price for labor below the prevailing wage.

As to the “sewer issue,” please advise which point (or points) in “this post is not accurate and is really just an attempt to deflect by bringing up another hot button issue.” Because we pride ourselves on accuracy of the facts we present, and will correct any inaccuracies when they are identified.

I share Bnonymous’s irritation over what I believe is the ignorance of too many people. Or maybe it’s selfishness combined with ignorance.

But what is staggering is how the level of ignorance was far worse in the 1990s and early 2000s when previous mayors and councils were pretty much doing whatever they wanted with the taxpayers none the wiser because council packets weren’t available to the general public, the meetings were not televised or videotaped, and the newspapers might have sucked even worse then than they do today.

Which takes away the excuse for so many people to remain that ignorant.

Ald. Milissis is all about flooding because that’s what his ward is all about, so I can understand his prioritizing of that over unpaved alleys. But I know a number of real estate brokers in town and they don’t have Ald. Milissis’ citywide view of how flooding in the second ward affects all other property values. Which would explain why property values have bounced back from their recession declines, and residents in the non-flood prone areas of town are once again building bigger, more expensive homes.

Buy a home on an unpaved alley, that’s what you get. Buy a home in a flood-prone area, that’s what you get. If you want a paved alley, or no alley at all (like I have in the first ward), the price will be higher, as will the price of buying in an area that doesn’t chronically flood. If you want cheap, there’s a price for that as well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly.

And taxpayers willing to pay extra to buy/build in areas that don’t flood or don’t have un-paved alleys have a reason not to have their tax dollars used to subsidize the folks who, for example, chose to buy lower-priced property in flood-prone areas and now expect the City to spend approx. $100K (or more) per house in Mayfield Estates to alleviate that flooding.

Repairs and improvements related to storm water were completed over the past several years in the first ward and other areas. Those projects were addressed because their overall costs were low (affordable) compared to a few remaining potential projects that can be considered. No one was tallying how much it cost “per house” to make improvements when these projects were approved. The idea was to improve matters where we could afford to improve them. Resolving the flooding challenges in Mayfield Estates is not an enormous financial undertaking. Mayfield Estates is part of our community as well. The property was annexed long before most of the current residents lived there. Shame on past city officials for allowing an area to be developed without proper infrastructure. The city has a responsibility to improve storm water issues where it has the ability to do so throughout our community.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That “[t]he property was annexed long before most of the current residents lived there” is one of the main reasons why spending $100K per home is so problematic: most/all of the current owners consciously made the decision to shop in that bargain basement and, therefore, assumed the risk of a neighborhood without curbs and storm sewers. Shame on them to now want their fellow taxpayers who bit the bullet and paid more for non-flooding property to have to bail out the bargain-hunters.

2:17, Mayfield people from the beginning bought at a DISCOUNT, or at minimum with the clear understanding of the lack of sewer situation.

There is NO way the rest of us, should go in and bail these people out for making an uninformed purchase.

The alderman (Nick) should do what is right for his ward and the rest of Park Ridge and agree to an SSA of 1/2 the cost. Therefore, the rest of Park Ridge is not on the 100% hook for these buyers who stand to gain a lot from our bailout.

8:32, Every project we embrace is more of a benefit to some than to others. Fixing broken water mains helps the people effected by the break. Replacing stairs at the library is a benefit to those who use the library, but is no benefit to those who don’t. We are one community, regardless of the number of wards we have. Prior flood projects were approved with no questions related to how the homes impacted would improve in value after the projects were completed. It’s been said that everyone who purchased in Mayfield knew about how badly it flooded before they purchased. Ask yourselves, did you have any idea you would be faced with the level of flooding we’ve experienced in Park Ridge when you purchased your home? If you are honest with yourself the answer is, “no.” Let’s work together improve our city infrastructure, and release our knee jerk impulses to ask, “what about me?” We can make this town a place that we can all be proud to live in, together.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Your comment ignores the fact that “everyone who purchased in Mayfield”: (a) knew that there were NO storm sewers; and (b) either they or their predecessors compounded that lack of sewers by filling in the drainage ditches and culverts in their front yards. Which is why those properties were so much cheaper than similar properties in other areas of town.

And the community already has been “work[ing] together [to] improve our city infrastructure,” as ALL taxpayers have been paying the significant costs of the various flood studies, many of which appear to have focused disproportionally on Mayfield, Northwest Park and west of Greenwood.

The areas the Editor has noted were identified as hot spots by the engineers hired by the city. No actual work has been done in any of the areas you listed, but work has been disproportionately completed in other areas. This is s circular argument.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The work was done in those “other areas” because the engineers determined they provided the best bang for the buck.



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