How Much Is Enough – Part 2?


After borrowing over $20 million between 2013 and 2016 to build the Centennial water park and the new Prospect Park, one might think that the Park Ridge Park District might want to cool its jets about taking on more debt and more capital projects.

But, instead, it held a “Public Input Meeting” on November 30, 2017. The “public input” being sought? Coming up with a wish-list for borrowing and spending multi-millions of dollars at Oakton Park.


Because the Park District recently learned that the Oakton Ice Rink’s R-22 refrigerant will be eliminated by 2020, meaning that the Park District will have to tear up the rink and replace all the mechanicals to accommodate a new type of refrigerant.

But simply replacing the ice surface and mechanicals apparently isn’t enough for the Park District, even though the ice surface was replaced back in the mid-1990s because (as we recall) of cracks in the surface – and, ironically, the phasing-in of the R-22 refrigerant to replace a more environmentally-unfriendly refrigerant – without adding millions of dollars to the project for accessories.

According to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pools, more ice among citizen suggestions for Park Ridge’s Oakton Park,” 12.04.17), although money for the actual replacement has been budgeted, there reportedly is no funding for any additional expansion of the ice rink or other wish-list projects at Oakton. But (per the H-A article) that didn’t stop the District from going out and hiring “Wight and Company architects and two other professional firms” to seek input from residents about what should be done at Oakton.

We’re big on “input from residents” but we’re not big on such input without any price tags affixed – especially since the Park District went to referendum on three Oakton projects in 2005-2006 – all of which were soundly rejected by the voters.

Although there is no video of the Public Input Meeting posted on the District’s website, a string of comments posted to the H-A article on the H-A Facebook page indicates the strongest support for either: (a) a major renovation of the Oakton ice rink and the addition of at least one more ice surface; or (b) a new pool, indoor or outdoor.

Back in 1994-95, the District spent over $100,000 on studies and actual plans for a Centennial water park. The then-board intended to use those plans to steamroll the taxpayers, but a group of 40 or so Centennial Park NIMBYs organized and made enough of a ruckus that the 1994-95 park board backed off and submitted the project to an advisory referendum. That project got soundly rejected by the voters, and its proponents took their cue and dropped it – until it was taken up again as one of the two referendum questions by the Park District in April 2005: The Centennial water park lost by 70% to 30%, while a referendum for building an indoor recreation center at Oakton failed 73% to 27%.

In March 2006 another Centennial water park referendum failed 69% to 31%.

And in November 2006, a $10 million plan to put a new aquatic center/water park at Oakton failed 57% to 43%.

Mindful of those failures, in December 2012 that park board chose to blow right past “permission” and head directly to “forgiveness” when it committed, based on very limited resident input, to borrow $7 million to build the current second/third-rate water park – sans the “lazy river” which was the single most wanted feature of the original design, based on 682 survey respondents – without a referendum. We wrote about it less than kindly in our posts of 12.05.12, 12.13.12, 12.19.12 and 12.29.12.

That decision by that board was both dishonest and gutless. Which, to paraphrase the fictional Dean Vernon Wormer, “is no way to go through [public] life.”

Frankly, we don’t care what the Park District wants to build at Oakton so long as it puts whatever the project(s) might be – along with a credible price tag – to referendum, preferably binding but advisory being better than nothing.

Before that is done, however, a lot more information and discussion is needed to determine what kind of project(s) deserve a referendum question, or two, or three on the November 2018 ballot. That’s assuming the Park Board doesn’t rush to judgment and try to ram something onto the March 2018 primary ballot by the filing deadline of January 2, 2018.

We trust that won’t be the case with this Park Board, the new majority of which act and sound as if they actually understand and respect the interests and concerns of the taxpayers as much, or more, than those of the users of the District’s resources. Such a rush to judgment would be a major dis-service to all the District’s stakeholders except for the highly-motivated special interests who, like their water park counterparts in December 2012, can be counted on to turn out and dominate any discussion over the next few weeks while the majority of folks who will end up footing the bills are busy getting ready for the holidays.

The deadline for putting a Board-originated referendum resolution on the November 2018 ballot is August 20, 2018. That should provide plenty of time for an intelligent, well-informed debate by both the Park Board members and the general public about what project(s) deserve consideration for a referendum question.

Because how much is enough at Oakton, or elsewhere in the Park District, is a question that needs to ultimately be answered by the countable votes of a fully-informed electorate, not by rank speculation and anecdote from a few handfuls of the specially-interested.

To read or post comments, click on title.


10 comments so far

Had the new Centennial pool gone to referendum it would have lost which would explain why they did not let it go to referendum. Since then Mel Thillens got religion and wants lower taxes even if he has not repudiated his support of the Centennial pool. Probably because he is not running for anything else where he thinks he has to play that conservative card.

We can use a number of things up at Oakton, but a second ice sheet isn’t one of them. That’s for the one-inch-wide-one-mile-deep hockey players who don’t care if the rink sits empty from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (or later) every week day.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Going all the way back to when this editor was on the Park Board (1997-2005), analyses for a second ice sheet always showed insufficient demand to make it economically self-sustaining. Maybe that has changed, but we tend to doubt it.

We’re getting more and more younger families moving in (or back) with an enormous sense of entitlement. More pools for their convenience, more ice for their convenience, more and cheaper programs, and spare-no-expense schools.

For them, there is no “enough” because they have figured out that the more they use, the less they pay because increases in their taxes are barely a fraction of the cost of what they are using.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s the Kathy (Panettoni) Meade philosophy of local government.

Absolutely love this post PWD because it’s spot on! My only comment is just because a referendum doesn’t pass mean that it “failed”. Unfortunately, while I like both of them, Biagi and Thillens need to share some accountability. Both were in a hurry to get their pictures taken and move on to “bigger” political positions but left behind a tax and spend legacy rather than going with binding referendums for projects involving significant tax dollars. When both of them seem to be saying the right things now, actions will speak louder than words in their current roles.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks. Referendums generally are viewed as having “passed” or “failed.” But if you are alluding to the referendum being the giving of taxpayers/voters a direct voice in the decision-making, then we would agree that every referendum is a “success” rather than a failure.

We are not aware of either Mr. Biagi or Mr. Thillens publicly repudiating their roles in the Centennial water park fiasco, but you can’t treat them equally. Biagi’s vote for that facility was a single-instance aberration while Thillens had been an unapologetic cheerleader for feel-good, make-us-happy local government until he ran for the Illinois House as a “conservative” Republican in November 2014. Biagi subsequently returned to his steadfast fiscal conservatism while Thillens, to his credit, seems to have become a legitimate convert to that philosophy.

But to your point: Our public officials have to earn our trust every day.

The Centennial aquatic facility was a black mark on the record of any public official who claims to believe in H.I.T.A., so both Biagi and Thillens owe the taxpayers for that.

I do agree, however, that a referendum should be held for whatever the Park District plans to do at Oakton.

While a referendum should be used for any Oakton development, the real issue is the likely failure of the park administration to build out any project successfully.

Look at Prospect Park. The then PRPD board and the administrators lied about the amenities to be included in the park in order to,get the referendum passed. Once it passed, the build out was mismanaged and we now have a barely used park where the trees were cut down, old buildings not taken down and a new building put up-all requiring taxpayer money to maintain. Use of the splash pad is sparse. And an athletic field littered with construction debri is stil not usable. And no lights to use the field or park after dark. Yet right down the street the country club built paddle tennis courts that are lit up well past sunset.

So why given the failed $13,200,000 Prospect Park build out would the taxpayers of the PRPD give any more money for construction of new facilities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A strong argument could be made that the Park District baited-and-switched, and then botched, BOTH the Centennial water park AND Prospect Park, including for some of the reasons you identified. It’s clear that they seriously under-budgeted BOTH of those projects, which is one reason why the lazy river was lopped off the water park and paddle tennis and other amenities were sacked at Prospect Park.

Perhaps that explains, in part, why Joan Bende and Jim Phillips lost their re-election bids this past April, while Mary Wynn Ryan lost hers in 2015 – although she did so to Cindy Grau, effectively a “push” between two big-government, anti-H.I.T.A. tax/borrow/spenders.

The Park District’s trustworthiness to handle any new project(s) at Oakton would, and should, be one of the issues for the taxpayers/voters to consider if one or more referendums reach the November 2018 ballot.

“Bait and switch” is what they did. I did not support the new Centennial pool because outdoor pools are money losers up here, so when they got rid of the lazy river (but said they could add it later) I knew we were getting lied to. And where’s the artificial turf lighted field at Prospect?

“How much is enough?” is a great question that can apply to our entire lives, as can be seen from the following 7 questions by Leo Babauta of “Zen Habits”:

1. What are the main things that make you happy?

2. What do you need to thrive?

3. What do you need to survive at a comfortable level?

4. What do you have beyond those things needed for survival, comfort, happiness, and thriving?

5. What do you desire that goes beyond enough — beyond what’s needed for survival, comfort, happiness, and thriving?

6. If you didn’t want to have more than enough, could you work less?

7. If you worked less, could you be happy with enough, and happier doing other things?

I don’t see another swimming pool or ice surface doing that for the majority of us here in Park Ridge, and that’s why I support a referendum for whatever is selected to go into Oakton. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Park Ridge (Park District) facilities are terrible. They are the worst in the suburbs.
It’s actually sad when you visit other burbs and see how poor Park Ridge compares.

Park Ridge needs a multi-gym building…and much better baseball, fields with lights.

The NIMBY’s have held this city back enough.

Niles just built ANOTHER beautiful multi-use facility (very quickly) for basketball / vollleyball…and then a soccer facility.

Park Ridge parents drive all over and spend our money since PRPD is too cheap and scared to have the guts to build something modern.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Park Ridge “needs” whatever the taxpayers say it needs – except when our elected officials arrogantly claim to know what that is, and deny the taxpayers a referendum vote.

Niles has 29,803 residents with a median household income of $48,627, a the median family income of $58,215, and 5.4% poverty. Park Ridge, on the other hand, has 37,480 residents within a total area 2 square miles larger than Niles, with a median household income of $91,674, a median family income of $110,842, and 2.2% poverty.

Maybe the people of Park Ridge are just smarter than the people of Niles and don’t want to waste their money on amenities they can get from the stupid people in neighboring communities.

Pub dog, your analysis is very flawed from my post 12/12 at 8;24am.

Niles pays LESS taxes that Park Ridge, but has better facilities by a WIDE margin, and better city services. Their park district has three facilities better than our awful community center. I passed by Prospect Park yesterday… WHAT IS THAT? What a waste of money and land. Please don’t call Park Ridge “smart” when we have this beautiful land, and that’s what the Park District delivers. Fraud.

So I would conclude, PR has no idea what the heck we are doing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And, not surprisingly, you would conclude wrongly.

“Niles pays LESS taxes that Park Ridge” because Niles has way more retail, commercial and industrial property than we – which properties pay their taxes at a higher rate than residential. And with all its retail, it also has far more sales tax revenue than Park Ridge.

As we’ve written many times, the Community Center was an undersized, half-baked “camel” instead of a “thoroughbred” from the time it was built. Now that it’s nearing 25 years old, were this Niles (or “Blaseville,” as we like to call it) – where heavy-handed politicians do as they please because they’ve got all that retail/commercial/industrial money – they would just knock it down and build something else.

But while we’ve got less of that non-residential tax money than Niles, we’ve got much more transparent and accountable government here. And our Park District knows that taxpayers won’t pass a referendum for a new “community center,” especially with a brand new privately-owned, RE tax-generating FFC right down the block.

If you’ve got a beef about Prospect Park, blame the 5,118 voters (56%) who approved it via referendum. That’s called “democracy,” which barely even exists in the ultra-blue Blaseville.

But maybe that’s the style of government that suits you.

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