Most people are familiar with the plaintive cry: “Don’t just stand there, do something.”
When it comes to government, that call often proves an irresistible Sirens’ song to the aim-to-please politicians and path-of-least-resistance bureaucrats. And when doing “something” can be accomplished with other people’s money (“OPM”), the sky is often the limit on how much OPM will be spent.
The City of Park Ridge currently is hearing the steady drum beat from certain residents who want “something” – anything – done about flooding. And we’re with them…to a point.
Since his election in April 2009, Mayor Dave Schmidt has pushed for some form of solution to at least the worst areas of our chronic flooding problem. He formed the Flood Control Task Force and staffed it with a number of knowledgeable volunteers who produced some solid work product, with the exception of a penny foolish, pound foolish mis-step: recommending that the City’s taxpayers subsidize individual homeowners for their installation of “private” flood control devices like overhead sewers and check valves.
Blame it on OPM intoxication.
The City Council also engaged Christopher B. Burke Engineering to study the flooding problem and devise a seemingly comprehensive flood remediation program. Unfortunately, it appears the entire Burke program would cost the City $100 million or more, which might make some kind of sense if it provided the entire City with protection from the 100-year floods we seem to be getting every year or so.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, it provides a handful or so of areas with protection against only 10-year floods. And, frankly, spending multi-millions of dollars on multi-year bonded debt merely for 10-year flood protection is, in a word, “irresponsible.” And if that word’s not enough for you, try “wasteful.” Or “stupid.”
Unfortunately, access to OPM often inspires ideas that fit those descriptions.
And for people with flooding problems, the only questions seem to be: “Why not?” and “How soon?”
Certain folks around The Horseshoe at 505 Butler Place have indicated their concern about spending that much money for what looks to be very little relief for a relatively few people. City staff promptly held its collective finger to the wind and then suggested that the City hire another engineering firm to “validate” the Burke report. Or, failing that, hire another engineering firm to provide a “second opinion” of the Burke report. Or simply decide to move forward on the Burke recommendations, costs be damned.
Fortunately for City taxpayers, this mayor and these aldermen – unlike so many of their predecessors – seem to understand that difficult problems needing expensive solutions require serious thought and sound judgment. That’s why we hold out hope that they won’t let themselves get stampeded by the folks who want to blow millions of tax dollars on half-baked flood control measures of dubious value.
Which includes any 10-year flood solution, for starters.
As best as we can figure it, the only ways to achieve meaningful flood control are to: (a) pump the water out of Park Ridge; or (b) safely store it in Park Ridge – what is commonly called “detention.”
Pumping it out of Park Ridge, however, requires a cooperative receiver of that water. And from what we’ve seen over the years, when flooding hits this area there seems to be a decided shortage of neighboring areas pleading: “Send us your run-off, your back-up, your stagnant ponding yearning to flow free.”
To the contrary, in almost every such situation the widespread suspicion among Park Ridge flooding victims is that somebody – the IEPA, the MWRD, the Army Corp of Engineers, or Satan himself – is actively preventing the evacuation of water from Park Ridge by every avenue.
That leaves detention as the most dependable way for Park Ridge to independently manage its flood water.
Under the Burke flood control program, two of the three main projects involve storm water detention: at Northwest Park and at the Park Ridge Country Club. And it might be part of the Mayfield Estates project, although that would require the City to acquire and demolish as many as 8 of the 23-homes in that neighborhood, at a cost of several million dollars.
Residents living west of the Park Ridge Country Club want the City to build a detention area on Country Club property. But that would cost at least $23 million and would only address 10-year floods for approximately 165 residences. Adding the splitting of sanitary and storm sewers to the Country Club detention area would benefit 680 properties, but would drive that cost up to almost $49 million and still protect against only 10-year floods.
That kind of money for merely 10-year flood protection should be considered D.O.A. by the Council…unless the residents of those affected areas would be willing to turn them into Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) that would be separately taxed to cover the cost of what appear to be expensive and incomplete solutions to localized flooding problems.
For those 165 properties west of the Country Club, 10-year flood protection would cost them around $140,000 each, while the amped-up $49 million project for 680 properties would cost a relatively bargain-basement $72,000 per property. That’s without debt service costs, of course.
We’re not sure of all the legal wrangling required to get these SSA referenda on an election ballot, but there’s no way all the details can be worked out and the language finalized before the filing deadline for putting them on this March’s primary ballot election. But there should be plenty of time to get that done between now and the filing deadline for next November’s general election.
Expect to hear a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by the folks in those proposed SSAs if the Council starts moving in that direction. Expect to hear ”Why not?” and “How soon?” replaced by: ”We pay taxes so why should we have to pay extra to keep our basements dry?”
That’s the kind of changed tune you get when OPM becomes YOM:
“Your Own Money.”
To read or post comments, click on title.