Public Watchdog.org

How To Balance The City Budget

05.27.09

We here at PublicWatchdog don’t make the approx. $200,000 (all in) City Manager Jim Hock is paid each year to be the City’s chief operational officer.  Or the approx. $120,000 Assistant City Mgr. Juliana Maller receives.  Or the approx. $115,000 paid to Community Preservation & Development Director Carrie Davis.  Or the approx. $130,000 paid to each of Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, Acting Police Chief Tom Swoboda, Fire Chief Craig Gjelsten and Finance Director Diane Lambesis. 

(Frankly, we don’t make anything running this blog.  The only good thing about that sad fact is that it’s harder to accuse us of having a conflict of economic interest.) 

Throw in the $12,000 paid to Mayor Dave Schmidt, and the $1,200 paid to each of the Alder-dunces, and we’re talking about almost $1 million a year in payroll for the people who, in one way or another, are responsible for balancing the City budget – which means they are being paid pretty big bucks, collectively (and even individually), to saddle us with the $2 million deficit budget the City Council recently passed. 

And despite the demand from Mayor Schmidt that they come up with amendments to get the budget in balance, the occupants of this financial clown car recently added to that deficit by giving away even more handouts to a bunch of private organizations which – as a matter of public policy – have no business sucking public tax dollars out of the City’s coffers while legitimate City infrastructure needs are neglected for lack of funding. 

Because the folks paid to balance the budget have yet to display the intellectual honesty and intestinal fortitude needed to get the job done, we’re going to give it a try – secure in the knowledge that we can’t do worse, and that we’re costing the taxpayers nothing.  So here we go:

· Implement a pay-as-you-go policy for every fee-based service, starting with water.  Just passing through the entire 2009 water rate increase [pdf] charged Park Ridge by the City of Chicago will not only take a big bite out of the deficit, but it just might encourage more water conservation, making it a win/win. 
  Reduction: $400,000. Deficit remaining: $1,600,000.

· Freeze wages at 2008-09 rates. And when the employees (and the union) beef, remind them of the 570,000+ private-sector workers in Illinois who are currently jobless and the fact that a “flat” paycheck is better than no paycheck at all, especially when it comes with a great pension and all the other benefits that most of the people paying the bill for them don’t themselves enjoy. 
  Reduction: $800,000. Deficit remaining: $800,000.

· Chop two-thirds of the $900,000 budgeted “to complete construction of the streetscape on Summit, Touhy to Prospect.” [pdf]  Once again, folks, it’s a question of priorities. During a recession/depression, things like appearance need to take a back-seat to necessities. Frankly, given the sad state of the City’s finances, we have to question the sanity of the City even commencing this project in 2008.
  Reduction: $600,000. Deficit remaining: $200,000.

· Rescind the $39,000 over-budget “welfare” payments to local community groups [pdf].  It’s just plain bad public policy for City government to funnel tax dollars to private organizations, at least unless and until there is an official determination by the City that: (a) each such organization receiving City tax dollars provides services that the City itself must/should provide; (b) each organization provides those services at a lower cost than that at which the City could provide them, or provides better services at the same cost; and (c) each organization provides the same degree of financial and operational transparency that is required of the City.   
  Reduction: $39,000.  Deficit remaining: $161,000.

· Eliminate the “original” (pre-increase) $34,000 contribution to the Park Ridge Senior Center.  The Senior Center is already gorging at the public trough to the tune of the $159,740 in tax dollars the Park District has budgeted for it in 2009 [pdf].  And last we heard, the Center has less than 1,200 members, many of whom aren’t even Park Ridge residents/taxpayers. That means we are paying $130+ a year for each member to belong to this little club – if not more, depending on whether any public money makes up that “miscellaneous” revenue source that is supposed to provide an additional $97,445 of revenue in 2009.
  Reduction: $34,000. Deficit remaining: $127,000.

· Eliminate the “noise abatement” funds [pdf], which are supposed to go for the rental of noise monitors to tell us what we already know; and about what nobody in a position of authority seems to give a rat’s derriere about: That we’ve got high levels of air plane noise over Park Ridge.  Unless and until somebody with any clout – the FAA, either of our two U.S. senators, or any members of our state’s congressional delegation – assures us in no uncertain terms, and in writing, that they will actually do something about the situation if, and just as soon as, they are provided with specific noise readings, we’re just chasing our tails with noise monitors and decibel levels.
  Reduction: $25,000. Deficit remaining: $102,000.

· Eliminate the funds that have been earmarked for training ($9,000), tuition reimbursement ($12,000) and new carpeting ($40,000) in the Library [pdf].  If police training is being cut back, there’s no reason to spare the training of library staffers.  And why are we giving anybody “tuition reimbursement”?  As for new carpeting: not this year.
  Reduction: $52,300. Deficit remaining: $49,700.

And for that last $49,700, we’re going to let Ald. Don Bach – who has been whining about too many City employees for months – put his money where his mouth is: we invite him to recommend which single City employee should lose his/her job; and we promise to publish his selection should he finally demonstrate that he has the cojones to actually make one.

Tick tock, Bach.

20 comments so far

Thanks for suggesting something other than the status quo. Your post makes me jealous I didn’t come up with this list. It may make some others angry that you DID come up with this list, and to those people I say: Well, what would you cut instead? Bonus points to PubDog and to anyone else who can balance the budget on spending cuts alone, resisting the Quinn-Stroger-Kotowski-Mulligan method of raising taxes.

A very nice plan.

I suggest to Alderman Bach that he propose a $10k salary reduction, not to be reimbursed later, for each of the 7 top managers in the PR Admin who are listed in your article who could not or refused to come up with a cost reduction driven, balanced budget plan

This gives a $20k cushion because the library board will scream bloody murder that they are independent and their budget cannot be changed by the city no matter how insensitive the budget is to the times

Excellent work…This list is an excellent starting point – and one that doesn’t cause too much pain for the workforce or residents.

But the above post is just step # 1.

I suspect here are many other places where additional “fat” can be trimmed. We really need to look for cuts in all possible areas. Given long tail challenges facing our city, it’s not unreasonable to seriously consider cutting salaries (maybe police/fire union contracts excluded) by 10% and eliminating a few assistant positions. We need to get into a financial position to start discussing how to allocate the excess revenue so we can begin investing in our “interstructure”.

Hock – I hope you’re reading the blogs. The pressure is building for you either to step up to the plate and be a leader or move back to be closer to your son. Maybe there are some legal/contractual/logical reasons some recommended cuts can’t be made…but in your public silence people assume the worse of your performance. Are you back from Hawaii yet? Vacation’s over…you’re collecting the biggest paycheck at 505 Butler – time to do the job now. The first step is to set the tone and offer to reduce your salary by some token percentage. Take the lead and your staff will follow easier when you have to make the tough decisions in the coming weeks.

Mayor Dave – we love you…but now is the time to not be the nice/conflict adverse person you are. Start putting pressure on senior staff to do their job and start working the phone to get your council on the bus to make the budget changes we need. There’s a big difference between leading this effort and meddling. Time to lead – you have the residents behind you. Let us know how we can help.

P.S. – Pubdog, 88 minutes was an excellent movie.

Excellent post. Mayor Dave, can you please ask the city manager and aldermen to either accept these suggestions or come up with some of their own?

While you are at it Mayor, how about some of your own suggestions?

I’m not sure whether these are the right cuts, but somebody’s gotta get off the dime on this and get it done. And this is a better way to start than the people at city hall have come up with.

Finally! Somebody put out a plan! Thank you to the Public Watchdog.

please note that the Mayor isn’t taking a salary this year.

Excellent. $900,000 for a streetscape in these times! The alderman should be ashamed.

Also please note that the job of Mayor of PR is not his only income source. He has a full time job at a law firm – I believe he is a partner. He is in no way relying on his PR check to feed his family or pay his mortgage. If he ran for mayor because of the 12K he is an idiot.

If you are somehow equating the Mayor forgoing his salary (a nice gesture) as motivation for city employees to accept wage freezes or cuts, I am sorry but it is not the same.

anon on 05.27.09 3:34 pm:

No, you can’t equate Mayor Schmidt’s part-time wages, or even the part-time wages of the aldermen, with the wages of full-time employees who have to live off what the City pays them. But it’s about $%@&-ing time WE THE PEOPLE who are PAYING them to do a job actually started doing their $%@&-ing job!

For Hock to even propose a $2 million deficit budget is inexcusable. And for the city council to pass it is outrageous.  Instead of those aldermen throwing candy to the crowd in the Memorial Day parade, they should have been dodging rotten fruit and vegetables from the spectators.

PW is absolutely right on passing through increased costs to service users at 100% of the cost, starting with water rates. And Frank Wsol should take his political head out of his political a** and support that, or else tell the taxpayers the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about why he doesn’t want to raise water rates – because this b.s. about “the taxpayers have already paid for the water” is so ridiculous on its face that either Wsol is a nut case or he’s a bold-faced liar.  Which one is it, Mr. Wsol?

Bravo, PubDog, in setting a standard for determining whether the City should give taxpayer funds to private organizations like the community groups receiving $200,000-plus this year alone. And I also agree with you about it being bad public policy.

For example, check out Brickton Art Center on GuideStar.org. In its fiscal year 2007 (the last Form 990 posted), it shows almost 48% of its revenues coming from contributions (public and private) and only 52% from operations. That means Brickton is on welfare…and performing about as well as you’d expect a welfare recipient to perform, seeing how it booked a $37,111 loss even with all those public and private donations.

What that tells me is that either Brickton provides goods and services for which there is no viable market, or that Brickton is badly managed. Or both. So why should the taxpayers be forced to subsidize it, especially when there are so many other demands and uses for the money the city keeps giving it?

Hoover, I understand everything you have said but, as I have said before, you are making the mistake of looking at Brickton as a traditional business. You argue that Brickton is providing services for which there is no viable market of they are badly run. What you ignore is that they provide services at a reduced rate and even give services away for free. They are a non-profit for god sake. They were created to be supported by donors and, yes, tax dollars. You may disagree with their mission and not see value in what they provide. Quite frankly, I do not see real value in what they provide – it does not apply to me. But do not pretend that they should be a profitable business. You are judging them based on something they were never intended to be. Do we rail against the Special Olympics, who receives millions in state and federal funds, because they do not charge the athletes enough? So Brickton can feel free to keep my 33 cents per year in tax dollars if they like.

I love PD’s budget reduction exercise. I think it is hysterical and pathetic that a blog comes out with a map to reduce the budget yet we hear nothing from our elected officials. But even PD’s analysis, only 73K comes from funding for community groups. Almost 50% of the reduction comes from one freakin’ project. There has to be more projects that can be delayed or eliminated to reduce the budget shortfall. As previously stated, they could skipped repaving my street.

anon on 05.28.09 10:47 am

I have no problem with Brickton relying on private donors all they want. But if the people who started Brickton did so with the intention and expectation that they would be getting tax dollars, then a pox on them and on any elected official who votes to give them money that could and should be used for PUBLIC purposes, not given to a private “business.”

And a half-baked “art gallery” cannot be equated with the Special Olympics, although I might very well be willing to apply the same standards to the S.O. because I’m not exactly sure what overarching public purpose is being served by them that warrants support via taxation.

Hoover:

So what you seem to be saying is that absolutely no “public” money should be going to organizations like this unless they meet your driteria for overarching public purpose. What exactly is that definition? For many it would seem to be whether or not it applies to them.

The world must be a very frustrating place for you to live. Our tax dollars are given out to all kinds of private organizations. Ever heard of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP)? The Department of Health and Human Services gives out money to organizations like United Way all the time. You must have gone crazy with George Bush and his “faith based initiatives”. That was over 3 Billion if I am not mistaken.

Do I find all of these programs to be or overarching public purpose? No but some of them I have never used and many others I am very greateful do not even apply. I do bleieve there are children and adults that are helped and find value in Brickton or the Senior Center or Teen Center…etc.

I guess it depends on how one looks at it. I find it difficult to get all worked up over 12.5K for a program that does provide services to PR children when PD found 900K in one project. Why is it that as soon as we have budget issues the first place some go is to the community organizations. Put another way, addressing the no bid Halliburton Iraq contracts would probably fund S.O. for the next 100 years.

Wow, I can’t believe you went thru the budget and came up with what seem to be pretty easy answers! Lots of no brainers there – lots of PR residents aren’t getting raises from their bosses, why should city staff, btw?? I am quite surprised at these fully loaded salaries – ridiculous!!! Anyone do a comp study to other local munis to see how our staff is paid? Based upon performance to date, I say they don’t earn the big bucks.

Meant to say our city staff doesn’t DESERVE the big bucks.

AIA on 05.28.09 2:54 pm:

We took the low-hanging fruit precisely because we wanted to show that balancing the budget might be able to be done as simply and easily as 8 cuts – instead of 100 or 1,000 cuts.

Based on what we currently know, we would have no problem voting “yes” on the cuts we proposed. But we also have no problem with Staff or the Council coming up with their own alternatives, so long as the result is a balanced budget.

That being said, if one of those cuts isn’t the 100% pass through of the water rate increasee, we would seriously question what cuts were substituted for that one.

anon on 05.28.09 12:48 pm

I’ll take the PubDog’s 3-step process of determining whether a public purpose is served by the City keeping these local organizations on the public dole.

Just because stupidity and wastefulness are widespread doesn’t justify it. In fact, that probably explains in large part the financial problems so many levels of government are having, starting with the Feds (including Bush’s “faith based initiative” funding) and working down to Park Ridge, the Park District and District 64.

As I said, so long as Brickton, the Sr. Center, Teen Center, etc. live off what they earn and what private donors will contribute, they can wallow in mediocrity and inefficiency – and lose money – for as long as they want. But if they dip into the public treasury, then the public body should effectively “own” them and they should be as accountable to the taxpayers as the government itself.

If “12.5K” of tax dollars is going to be spent by the City, then it should be spent for “City” things like road repair, flood relief, etc. – not “for a program that does provide services to PR children.”

This is outstanding! Way better than the other ideas I read here about not planting flowers or not trimming trees and giving out pink slips.



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