Burke’s $106 Million Flood Control Plan Means Time For City Council To Make Decisions


We’ve always liked the motto of the Public Television show “This Old House”: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That tends to be good advice in most situations, and especially good advice when it comes to the operation of government: The expenditures of substantial sums of taxpayer money and/or the undertaking of substantial amounts of public debt for some project or program.

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, the Park Ridge City Council, so far, has taken that approach when it comes to the City’s adoption of proposals for addressing the City’s flooding problems. Because of the grand scope of the flooding problems and, therefore, the cost of the projects that will be needed to solve those problems, measuring twice – or even three and four times – is the prudent thing to do.

At the Council’s September 11, 2017 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, Christopher B. Burke Engineering presented its most comprehensive flooding remediation plan to date, intended to address flooding in 13 areas of Park Ridge. The price tag: $106 million for what Burke is claiming will provide 100-year protection, even in those semi-disaster areas like Mayfield Estates and the basin just west of the Park Ridge Country Club between Oakton on the north and the METRA tracks on the south.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: That $106 million doesn’t include the additional $10-20 million of potential debt service costs for the bonds that likely will be needed to fund this mega-project, depending on the amount and the duration of those bonds.

Flood remediation has been the 500 lb. gorilla, and a political football, in Park Ridge for decades. For most of the 1990s and ear ly-2000s our City politicians and bureaucrats not only did nothing to remediate it but, in many instances, they took a variety of actions that actually exacerbated the problems – including diverting the funds budgeted annually for relief sewers (to hold stormwater) to other more popular pursuits and pet projects.

Only after the election of mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009 did the City begin to get serious about flooding, forming the Flood Control Task Force chaired by former public works director Joe Saccamano and comprised of residents like Gail Fabisch and Bob Mack, both of whom are career professionals in dealing with water management and flooding.

In connection with the task force’s efforts the City made Burke Engineering its flooding consultant of choice. Based on studies and recommendations by Burke, the City began some of the more inexpensive remediation projects – the low-hanging fruit – while working toward a more comprehensive and more expensive global plan, which is what Burke appears to have come back with last month.

Burke’s power-point presentation is posted on the City’s website and can be found here. And it prescribes the 100-year protection that should be the goal of any such project.

Such a comprehensive plan will not be able to be accomplished in a year or even two. It also cannot be accomplished by the City unilaterally because it will require the cooperation of the Park Ridge Park District for the detention area recommended for Northwest Park, and of the Park Ridge Country Club for the construction of the underground vault on the east side of Greenwood that will run pretty much the full length of the 3d hole, and that appears crucial to flood control in that area.

The cost of these projects will impose a substantial burden on the City’s taxpayers for years to come, no matter how successful the City’s storm water utility proves to be.

That’s why we think that NOW is the time for the Council to start taking the action necessary to determining whether there is sufficient taxpayer support to move forward with the projects contained in the Burke plan. And that should involve a referendum – the 10-letter word that terrifies and infuriates those public officials, elected and appointed, who distrust the taxpayers/voters, and/or who think those taxpayers/voters are incompetent to express their opinions about projects such as this through the ballot box.

At least two, if not three or four, current aldermen are known to have opined that elected public officials – such as themselves, of course – are elected to make these kinds of decisions, without needing no stinking referendums. And should they want any taxpayer advice, they can easily get it by talking to their constituents , a la former 3d-Ward alderman Don Bach, who once voted to give Napleton Cadillac up to $2.4 million of taxpayer money, even though he was against the idea, because he had talked to “about 30 people” in his ward who thought it was a good idea.

But make no mistake about it: NO current mayor or alderman has EVER run for the offices they currently hold on the promise that they would support the taxing, borrowing and/or spending more than $100 million on flood remediation/prevention. That means none of their voters elected them to do that.

We’ve got two elections coming up in 2018 that would be suitable for such a referendum: The primaries in March 2018 and, even better, the general election in November 2018. Both the primary and the general election regularly produce a significantly larger voter turnout than our odd-year local elections and, therefore, would be the better vehicle for measuring public support for any $100 million-plus expenditure and/or indebtedness.

Because referendum questions have to be submitted months ahead of the actual elections, however, the deadline for the Council to put a flood remediation question on the March 20, 2018 primary ballot is January 1, 2018. That might be cutting it too close, thereby making the August 20, 2018 deadline for putting one or more referendum questions on the November ballot more reasonable.

We would hope Mayor Maloney and a majority of the current Council will voice their support for a referendum on such an important issue, and do so sooner rather than later.

Unless, of course, they want to play Springfield-style politics and kick the flood control can far enough down the road that it rolls past the April 2019 City elections – when the terms of Aldermen Moran (1st), Wilkening (3d), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) will be expiring. That way, should they choose to run, neither they nor their challengers would have to handle any potentially difficult questions that might arise from the results – up or down – of a November 2018 referendum.

Hope springs eternal, however, so we’re willing to make a modest wager that the Council will move forward on the Burke plan so that one or more appropriate referendum questions will find their way to the November 2018 ballot.

But if they don’t, every homeowner in Park Ridge who has flooding problems should be demanding to know why not.

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

Referendum – Yes. November 2018 – Yes.

Good for the City Council to resist the easy fixes that so many people were calling for. Now it is time to see if the voters support this plan.

I live in the Third Ward. I paid to install my check valve system several years ago and have not had back-up since, but that means I do not want my taxes used to pay for other people’s check valves or overhead sewers. That should be on each homeowner.

I also have had some overland flooding that I would like to see prevented, but I am glad now that the council did not cave for some of my more vocal neighbors (Barbara Gafke, for example) who wanted the city to spend whatever it took just to get only 10-year protection instead of the 100-year solution now proposed.

Even though I would benefit from the program, it should go to referendum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no idea whether you are or are not a 3d Ward resident, but we agreed with your comment.

But don’t underestimate the pressure that will be brought to bear on some of the “politicians” who may be running in 2019 to do a deal without referendum, like they did with the Uptown Redevelopment project that is projected to end up costing the City $10-20 million, depending on how good a deal the City can get on refinancing the tens of millions of dollar of debt it took on – without referendum, of course.

Referendum, absolutely. Also should be for $150 million because by the time construction would begin two -three years out, costs will go up.

Also, increase should be stratified with a higher amount of tax going to homes built after 2000. These Mc Mansions are causing some of the problems. Anyone that expanded square footage by more than x% should be the next tier after year 2000. The last tier would be at a lower rate.

If you don’t want higher taxes, vote no. If you do want flood control and are willing to pay higher taxes, vote yes. If you don’t care you will not vote anyways. If the vote increases taxes and you didn’t want them to, you have the option to move. If the vote goes against the flood control and higher taxes, and you get flooded, you can move as well!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why are you concerned with WHEN the home was built? If 80% of a lot is covered with structures and non-permeable materials, why should it matter whether the house was built in 1990, 2000, or 2010?

This kind of flood remediation program may be the most significant public works project in Park Ridge’s history. It must be done right, and that means a referendum based on one or more questions (we can have up to 3 on one ballot) that are honest and fair.

August 20, 2018, is not that far away.

Good post Bob. Referendum, definitely! More importantly, residents need to be equipped with facts and other information so they can make an informed decision on such an important referendum. Accurately managing expectations needs to be part of the referendum process too. Will the proposed plan from Burke unequivocally “protect” the city from a 100 year event…..don’t bet on it! Does the Burke study include input from any Hydrologists? The impact from each 100 year event can vary based on conditions leading up to, during and past the actual event….such as back to back 100 year events, or sustained power outages (like those in 2008). My point, 100 year storms do NOT translate into 100 Floods. Also, what happens if PR suffers a 500 year event how will the $100 million taxpayer investment protect them? ANSWER: all bets are off and residents should know what the predictable impact would be to their properties…..if anyone thinks the 500 year event is not possible….the city of Houston has had “500 year events” each of the last three years and the rains of Harvey in 2017 were eventually categorized as an 800 year event…The Iowa Flood of 2008 is another example. Other questions include, what would the impact of the $100million plus project be on those areas of PR who currently do not have a problem? I could go on, but realize I’m better off showing up to a CC meeting to further explain my concerns. Mayor Marty and the gang need to be very careful with this one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can bet the ranch, the farm, etc. that even 100-year protection does not mean we will be flood-proof. And power outages – with their consequences – are still too darn frequent, in no small measure because virtually all our power lines are above-ground and, therefore, more vulnerable than if they were underground.

Houston, NOLA, etc. probably aren’t comparable because they have hurricanes that are far more damaging than our tornadoes.

And while we agree that “Mayor Marty and the gang need to be very careful with this one,” they also have to avoid paralysis by analysis. This project basically started in 2009, so we’re 8 years into it. This needs to be teed up for a referendum, most likely next November in order to give the City and the voters time to digest the Burke plan and its costs, and then let the chips fall where they may at the ballot box.

I think that when the house was built is important because the City rubber stamped any and all house designs, encroachments, and variances without public comment. Homes that are built up to the property line that block sunlight seems to be the norm in Park Ridge. The homes on Engle are on double lots or lots that are more than 1.0. They should pay higher amount for this project because of the proportional size of their home and property. The bigger and newer the house, the more you should pay for this project. The older and smaller the house the less you should pay for this project. Newer homes are worth more theoretically based on how the homes are priced for sale.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So what if “[t]he homes on Engle [or anywhere else in Park Ridge] are on double lots or lots that are more than 1.0” IF the total lot area they cover with “hard” surfaces is no more than double the allowable size for the two lots combined? And why should “old” houses pay less, assuming their “hard” footprints are the same size as that of “new” houses?

A referendum is the a great idea. And I hope that there will be accurate information-not propaganda-distributed to all the voters of Park Ridge about the nature of these projects that make up the $100,000,000 plus of expenditures and who will benefit from these projects.

In looking at the map of the proposed projects I don’t see one near or in my neighborhood. So how does spending $100,000,000+ that all the taxpayers of PR will pay for but only benefit some make sense? The better and more equitable way to handle this is to assess special assessments to the homes and business that will benefit from the flood control projects as they are constructed.

In addition, the building and zoning codes must be rewritten to mitigate as much as possible the man made contributions to the flooding issues in various areas of PR. Deep basements, property line encroachments, huge footprints that take up green space and rain water retention should be eliminated. I am sure most neighborhoods can point to a McMansion or 2 or 3… that contribute to flooding issues. 322 S Vine comes to mind. And now the god awful behemoth at the corner of Vine and Belle Plaine. Why assess a tax/fee to build 100 year flood control projects if the building and zoning codes are not also revised?! This seems reckless and irresponsible.

It would also be good information to see how much in consulting fees Burke has been paid to come up with these projects that will cost the taxpayers of PR over $100,000,000.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What is your “neighborhood”?

The age-old question “Why should I pay for what I don’t use?” is a good one which, here in Illinois, is almost always answered by Madigan and his Madiganocrats: “Because we say so.” Which is one reason why this project most definitely needs a referendum.

Perhaps we also should have a referendum on the proposed stormwater utility designed to raise new revenue for flood mitigation projects by charging all property owners a fee based in part on how much impervious surface each property has – with the fee charged to each property depending in large part on how much of a property’s surface cannot absorb water. That would deal with the “huge footprints” and the “McMansion[s]” about which you complain, rightly so.

Finally, the fees paid to Burke should be an open book, just like the fees paid to anybody by every public body should be an open book.

Yes to a referendum on the SWU Fee/Tax. I vote NO! Enough is enough. We are taxed/assessed enough already. Charge a special assessment to those homes and businesses who will directly benefit from each of the 10 proposed “100 year” flood projects costing over $100,000,000 in total before carrying costs of the debt.

EDITIOR’S NOTE: We take a perverse kind of pleasure in folks who beef to high heaven about being “taxed/assessed enough already” yet always point to the City and the Park District – which together account for about 15% of our RE tax bills – while consistently giving free passes to D-64, which sucks up around 40% of our RE taxes, and D-207, which takes another 30% or so.

Especially when the City and the Park District are the two most transparent of our four local governmental bodies, with D-64 and D-207 just a tad better than the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

Where did I state I was giving a free pass to the school districts? This editorial is about the proposed $106,000,000 “100 year” flood control projects that will benefit 10 neighborhoods or areas but tax all of PR to pay for it.

The schools are another topic as you cover quite frequently. A $75,000 slush fund given to an overpaid administrator to divvy up at will. Some of the highest paid teachers and administrators in the state for grades K-12 yet school rankings are falling. Etc. etc. No free pass. But not the topic of this post.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fair enough. But let’s get back to our previous question: “What is your ‘neighborhood’”?

Why do you care about the neighborhood I live in? Looked at the Burke presentation on the city’s website that includes the map of the 10 proposed projects. My neighborhood is not included.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the reason “the neighborhood you live in” may not be part of the latest Burke presentation could be due to its already having had its flood remediation completed; e.g., the North Park/Burton project, the Overhill/Lahon project, etc.

There are a number of people in this town who, once they have gotten their freebies, don’t seem to want to pay for anybody else’s. That’s one species of the folks we’ve labeled “freeloaders.”

My neighborhood not on the list past present or future. We have lived on this block for over 26 years and can’t recall any sewer work being done. And we are not freeloaders. Happy to pay within reason for education, the park district, good city services, etc. But it seems to me the freeloaders here are those people in PR demanding that everyone in PR pay for flood control for their property.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s fine for you to say, but we don’t have to believe it and neither do our readers – especially when the latest Burke proposal, combined with the flood remediation already done, is supposed to pretty much address all Park Ridge flooding. So without your telling us where you live we can’t independently evaluate whether you’re lying or not.

So you probably are.

Believe whatever you want. Not lying. Have looked at the Burke plan so maybe my neighborhood not subject to significant flooding concerns. But we don’t want to pay for other neighborhoods’ flooding issues-particularly if the builiding and zoning codes won’t be changed as part of flood remediation planning.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve left us no choice but to believe you are lying – perhaps so that you can conceal the fact that you live in a neighborhood that already has benefitted from flood remediation so you’re taking the freeloader position.

But if you want to link support for the flood remediation plan to changes in the building and zoning codes, show up at a Council meeting and say so (But, of course, you won’t because you’ve already gotten your free remediation).

Have already contacted my alderman via email concerning this matter. Heard norhing back from him. I therefore can only assume he thinks it’s ok to keep the building and zoning codes unchanged and the man made contributions to flooding in place. So much for having representation on the council.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So you, our anonymous commentator, contacted your unidentified alderman about your unidentified neighborhood?

Yeah, right!

But thanks for displaying typical freeloader thinking for our readers to see and understand.

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