The City Budget Debate: Seeing Is Believing…Or Not


At the start of Monday night’s City Council Finance & Budget Committee of the Whole meeting, the City’s proposed 2010-11 budget was still projecting a $227,000 deficit.  Where it ended up at the end of the night is anybody’s guess.

By our very rough count, the Council added between $1/2 million and $1 million to that deficit.  But that’s without the $200,000+ in handouts to private community groups that City Mgr. Jim Hock left out of the budget, which will almost certainly be added back before the smoke clears and the budget is passed, even if it means wringing “voluntary” donations out of Park Ridge residents through a $10 increase in vehicle tags, or some other such subterfuge for another tax increase above the 5% that is already in the proposed budget.

We think it would make sense for the Council to post an oversized black/white board for keeping a very visible running tally of how the deficit goes up or down each time an alderman opens his mouth at these sessions.  That way, the taxpayers and the press – and even the aldermen themselves – could see, in “real time,” the tangible results of the various proposals, ideas and musings they were spouting throughout Monday night’s festivities and are likely to continue spouting until the budget is passed at the end of April.

But that would come too close to making the aldermen accountable.  And few politicians, even at the local level, are looking for any additional personal accountability for what they purport to do in the best interest of their constituents.

Frankly, we wish those of you who weren’t in attendance Monday night could watch the video of that meeting and see the circus for yourselves.  But now that City Staff has undertaken the uploading and hosting of meeting videos (still being filmed by volunteers George Kirkland and Charles Melidosian, fortunately), the most recent meeting you can currently (as of 8:00 a.m. today) view is the 3/22/10 COW meeting. (Feel free to insert “good enough for government work” here)

So for the time being you will need to be content with what you can read in the two local papers, as well as in what our dear friend, former mayor Howard Frimark, liked to call “the evil blogs.”

Which is too bad, because some moments lose so much in the translation to simple black print on white paper and really need to be seen to be properly appreciated. 

Like when Ald. Frank Wsol (7th) earnestly looked out at the massed police and firefighters in the audience and told them they would need to cooperate in the restoration of the personnel who were eliminated in the proposed budget – presumably by their respective unions accepting a significant number of furlough days (totaling approx. $700,000 in savings to the City) to get to what Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) termed “budget neutral.”

Or like when Ald. Tom Carey (6th) erupted (by Carey standards, at least) at Hock for letting the Council debate and approve cutting the position of Deputy City Manager now held by Juliana Maller, and move to restore the Economic Development Director position held by Kim Uhlig, only to have Hock reveal that Uhlig had already resigned.    

Or like Carey coming up with a “formula” to give tax dollars to the private community organizations, which formula is calculated not by the amount of services to Park Ridge residents that is provided by those organizations, but only by how much money can be saved by cutting actual City of Park Ridge employees and expenses in a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” arrangement.

So make sure you get those local papers and read the “evil blogs.”  Or you can watch the video of these and other points of interest on the City’s YouTube site.

Say, maybe, in another week or two. 

Balanced Budget Or Ticking Time Bomb? (Updated 3/30/10)


The City Council’s Finance & Budget (“F&B”) Committee will take center stage at tonight’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (City Hall, 7:00 p.m.) as the aldermen finally start discussing the nuts and bolts of whether, and how, they intend to approve a balanced 2010-11 City budget.  And from what we’ve seen and heard from those elected representatives so far, the next few weeks are likely to be a repeat of the past years’ profligacy as the Council begins its sprint towards the May 1 budget deadline.

Up until now, the aldermen have behaved pretty much as they did last year: A lot of hollow talk without any expression of the vision or the will necessary to change how the City spends a relatively flat stream of revenue by drawing down on its dwindling reserves.

At this past Saturday’s budget workshop, various aldermen made it clear to City Mgr. Jim Hock that they expected him to present a “balanced” budget tonight – the one he originally presented projected a $227,000 deficit despite substantial expenditure cuts and a 5% increase in property taxes.  But since that budget’s presentment, aldermen have told Hock they will oppose a number of his proposed cuts while refusing to tell him what they would cut to make up for the increased spending. 

That kind of posturing is both shameless and spineless.  But after two full years of watching this Council operate, we can’t say that we’re surprised.

For example, Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), joined by Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward), has demanded that in excess of $200,000 be put back in the budget for donations – not the “purchase” of specific services solely for Park Ridge residents on an agreed cost-per-unit basis, but just plain old handouts – to private community groups, without any suggestion of what else should be cut to make up for that new expense. 

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) has stated that he will vote against any cuts to police and fire personnel.  On Saturday, he supported that position by saying that he had recently received numerous calls from residents telling him that they did not want police and fire personnel cut.  Although Sweeney made it sound like this was some spontaneous outpouring of unsolicited concern, we suspect it had a lot more to do with the panic-peddling leaflets [pdf] recently distributed all over town, purportedly by the police and fire unions. 

Bach, in typical half-baked fashion, went so far as to present an overhaul of the City’s administrative structure…a mere six weeks before the budget approval deadline!  And he did it with a straight face, as if he didn’t see the total absurdity of such an 11th hour proposal that should have been made back in August or September for it to have had any chance of being fully debated and reasonably acted upon.  Chalk up another political stunt from a guy who talks the fiscal conservative talk but sure doesn’t walk the walk.

So we expect tonight’s meeting to be the first of what could be several goat rodeos.  Expect aldermen blustering about “essential” personnel and programs that can’t be cut, and then wagging their fingers at Hock while offering little in the way of constructive alternatives.  For those of you who were paying attention last year at this time, you’ve seen this all before.

But for those of you who are new to this game, we offer the following three tips for determining whether what’s happening is constructive budget reshaping or just political smoke and mirrors:

1.  If the first words out of Hock’s mouth tonight are not a clear and unequivocal declaration that he has eliminated the $227,000 deficit, followed by a precise and easily understandable explanation of how he did it, you can be pretty sure that the City Manager is wearing a jacket borrowed from Lance Burton and has a number of other budget “tricks” up his sleeves.

2.  Anybody who talks about increasing revenues (other than higher property taxes) is almost certainly making up those numbers, a la former city manager and prevaricator extraordinaire Tim Schuenke.  And if they say they got their revenue numbers from somebody like the Northwest Municipal Conference, don’t be fooled: the NWC is just a collection of municipal bureaucrats and elected officials who can’t responsibly manage their own individual communities but who have banded together seeking safety in sheer numbers – like a herd of kudu in lion country.

3.  Anybody who suggests the reduction or elimination of any of the cuts Hock proposed but who does not immediately provide chapter and verse for an equal or greater amount of reciprocal cuts in other budgeted expenses to offset or replace the restored expenses is lying through his/her teeth.

And don’t forget that 936,000 pound elephant lurking in the corner: Gov. Quinn’s proposal to cut 30% from the municipalities’ share of the state income tax.  If that happens, Park Ridge can be expected to lose around $936,000.  And State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan already told the Council two Saturday’s ago to expect exactly that, even as she did the Springfield Shuffle by lobbying, at the same time, for the restoration of over $200,000 in expenses for the community groups – without, of course, suggesting any reciprocal budget cuts!

(Does anybody else enjoy – admittedly, in a sick and twisted way – the irony of a RINO warning us about an “elephant”?)

Although Quinn’s tax revenue cut isn’t a done deal yet, any City budget that doesn’t take that possible revenue reduction into consideration – by identifying specific additional cuts that will automatically (and that can legally) be made if that proposal becomes reality – is a ticking time bomb.

Can all you taxpayers out there say “Boom!”?

Update 3/30/10: Last night’s F&B COW was pretty much the goat rodeo we predicted in yesterday’s post.  Although no “final” decisions were made, the Council took large strides toward adding back more than $1 million of expenses that had been cut in City Mgr. Jim Hock’s draft 2010-11 budget.  Among the notable occurrences:

·    the thunderous applause of the police and firefighters who packed the Council chambers when the Council unanimously promised to restore all of the police and fire personnel cuts – without hard-and-fast details as to how that will be paid for;

·    the Council’s decision to restore the $100,000+ position of Economic Development Director that had been cut in Hock’s budget, before being advised by Hock that the current director (Kim Uhlig) had resigned earlier that day (but maybe not);

·    the Council’s decision to cut the $100,000+ Deputy City Mgr. position from Hock’s budget, currently occupied by Juliana Maller;

·    the elimination of raises this year, which should save approx. $270,000, thereby wiping out the $227,000 deficit that was in Hock’s original proposal;

·    Ald. Robert Ryan (5th) railing at Hock for cutting tax dollars to private community groups, with Ald. Don Bach (3rd) suggesting a $10 increase in vehicle stickers to help finance those groups;  

·    Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) suggesting the deferral of sewer work; and

·    A library rep effectively arguing for a $96,000 tree replacement.

None of this is official, however; and there’s another budget workshop tomorrow night (7:00 p.m., City Hall) where more of this will get discussed.  Hang onto your hats, folks!

Another Saturday For Having Your Say On City Budget


Tomorrow is the last of the scheduled week-end budget “workshops” being held by the Park Ridge City Council (8:30 a.m., 505 Butler Place).  The main topic will be the Public Works Dept., which is the City department in charge of maintaining our streets, alleys, sidewalks, and our sewer and water systems.  That department is also scheduled for more cuts.

These workshops haven’t been fun, and they haven’t been entertaining – unless you have a sick and twisted taste in entertainment.  But budgeting, and operating within the limits of that budget, is where the rubber of government meets the road.  And the inability of our federal, state and local governments to do that for decades is what has put us in the middle of a perfect economic storm that threatens to capsize local government as we have come to know it.

But maybe that’s a good thing.

Because for the first time since the Great Depression the public is starting to look seriously at the size, the cost, the bloat and the waste of government at all levels.  Such scrutiny is especially good at the local level, where our elected representatives are far more accessible than those at the higher end of the governmental food chain.  And the public is becoming increasingly skeptical of government programs – and government subsidization of private programs – that promise far more than they actually deliver, or deliver amenities instead of necessities when the taxpayers are struggling to pay for their own necessities.

City Mgr. Jim Hock was given a thankless task, but one that was part of his job description when he took over the position from his bumbling but tricky predecessor, Tim Schuenke, two years ago.  Hock delivered the most ambitious budget in recent memory, filled with cuts and a property tax increase that still came up $227,000 out of balance. 

Just last Saturday, however, state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan warned the Council that Park Ridge is likely to lose $900,000+ of income tax revenues from the State of Illinois, even as she was lobbying for the City Council to throw more cash at private community groups that have come to rely on an easy annual hand-out from the City.  That’s the way they do it down in Springfield, which is one of the reasons our state’s finances are in shambles.

So, at least for the time being, consider the proposed budget as having a deficit of $1.1 million.  And change.

Back in his day, Schuenke used to fill those deficits simply by making up higher revenue numbers – which clueless and compliant mayor(s) and aldermen were happy to accept so that they wouldn’t have to make the tough decisions of cutting personnel or services, or raising taxes beyond what they felt the public would accept without too much grumbling.  Which pretty much explains almost an entire decade of annual deficits, along with an Uptown TIF that has failed to live up to its lofty promises.

You can spend an hour or two this weekend sitting around with friends and praising or bemoaning Obama-care, or gay marriage, or the undeclared war on terror, or all those other things that occur on the federal level over which you have not one speck of control.  Or, you can stop over at City Hall tomorrow morning and participate in some real boots-on-the-ground government that you actually have a chance of influencing.

Otherwise, you will deserve what you get.

Balanced Budget A Zero-Sum Game (Updated 3/26/10)


As we approach decision day on the 2010-11 Park Ridge City budget, it’s looking more and more like the chances of getting that budget balanced are less and less. 

Both our City officials and various special interests have talked about restoring cuts that City Mgr. Jim Hock made in his proposed budget, but none of them have suggested corresponding increases in revenues or alternative cuts to counterbalance the funds being restored.

Big problem. 

Take firefighters union head, Matt Jarka, for example.  According to a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“PUBLIC SAFETY: Police, firefighters bring campaign against staff cuts to your doorstep,” March 23), his union members were out leafleting the City to warn about the dangers of “cut[ting] corners in public safety.” 

Jarka claims that losing three firefighters/paramedics will prevent the Fire Dept. from staffing its 95-foot ladder truck, resulting in the sale of that vehicle (that was purchased in 2001) and increased reliance on other departments to provide the equipment we need to fight fires in buildings 24 feet or taller.  Jarka states that these cuts “don’t make sense…from a financial standpoint or a safety standpoint.”

What doesn’t make sense to us, however, is selling off a piece of needed equipment just because the Dept. is losing 3 people.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to hang onto that 95-foot ladder truck so that it can be used by the remaining firefighters/paramedics if/when needed?  Or is the City counting on the proceeds of that used truck sale to bolster its revenues?

But if Mr. Jarka really thinks those cuts don’t make sense financially, can he please tell City Mgr. Jim Hock where to find the additional revenue, or the alternative cuts, needed to keep those three people in the department?  And can Police Chief Frank Kaminski, who said the proposed cuts to four police officers will eliminate the department’s Traffic Unit and reduce the “quality and quantity of traffic safety programs,” do the same?

Meanwhile, back around The Horseshoe, Mayor Dave Schmidt and City Mgr. Hock need to re-think their statements that the proposed City budget should not allow for the $936,000 loss of state funding Gov. Quinn has proposed in order to keep the State afloat – especially now that State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan has warned that such a loss is likely…and that fiscal year 2012 “will be just as bad as fiscal year 2011.”

In view of the fact that the State of Illinois is already more than four months and $900,000 behind in this year’s income tax payments to Park Ridge, we suggest that Schmidt and Hock listen to Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward), whom we have criticized in the past on financial matters but who correctly has asked that the questionable $936,000 of state funds be removed from the projected revenues of the proposed budget.

Hock, however, says he’s got some ideas about what the City can do if it doesn’t get all its income tax revenues from the State next year. 

Hey, Jim, does one of those ideas begin with the instruction: “Bend over…”?

Update 3/26/10: Although we accurately reported an earlier statement by Mayor Schmidt that he thought Gov. Quinn’s threatened cut of income tax funds to municipalities was a “political ploy,” we failed to point out that more recently the mayor has taken this threat seriously and has raised the alarm about its effects on City finances, especially the proposed 2010-11 budget.

Hopefully, the members of the City Council will do likewise.

Spendthrift Springfield Comes To Park Ridge


Saturday was Park Ridge City Council budget workshop No. 3, and it provided a peek into why Illinois is currently vying with California as the state with the most screwed-up finances – and how Park Ridge may be headed down that same path, albeit on a smaller scale.

Unless you’ve been in a merciful coma the past couple of years, you are painfully aware of what yesterday’s Chicago Tribune editorial (“Last Chance,” 3/21/10) described as this state’s “free-fall into insolvency” that “was designed intentionally and executed methodically” over many years by incompetent or corrupt state legislators who created “spending obligations that the people of Illinois cannot pay as costs come due.”

If so, you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that on Saturday both of our state legislators, Democrat Sen. Dan Kotowski and Republican Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, encouraged the City to take a page from the Springfield playbook and commit to more spending – even though the City’s proposed 2010-11 budget is already $227,000 in deficit despite the highest City property tax increase (5%) in several years, substantial water and sewer rate increases, a 1 cent/gallon gasoline tax increase, and personnel cuts that would eliminate 3 firefighters, 4 police officers, and 2 community service officers. 

In other words, just because we can’t pay our current bills doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend more.  Brilliant!

Mulligan showed up in person and sounded like she was asking for the City Council to provide the full $200,000+ sought by various privately-run social service and cultural organizations that have been receiving handouts of tax dollars for years.  In almost the very next breath, however, Rosie warned the Council that it should expect the 30% cut in State funding of municipalities that Gov. Quinn has proposed, which will strip $900,000+ from the City’s revenue column and add it to the projected deficit.

Does that sound as crazy to you as it does to us? 

Not to be outdone by Mulligan the Republican, Kotowski the Democrat submitted a written statement that was read into the record by the president of the Cultural Arts Council, encouraging funding of that organization so that it, in turn, can fund artsy shmartzy kinds of things…like, for example, St. Andrew’s students’ painting of murals on rain barrels.

That’s it, that’s all.  No mention by either Rosie or Danny of where extra revenues might be found to pay for these new expenses.  No mention by either of them of what additional cuts to other spending might be made to off-set these new expenditures.  Just more mindless requests to spend more money we don’t have.

That’s the kind of bi-partisan buffoonery that has given rise to the term “The Combine” being used to describe its practitioners in Springpatch, and thats the kind of fiscal irresponsibility that has Illinois on the ropes and sliding toward the canvass.  Apparently Rosie and Danny want to import it to Park Ridge…even though our City government has been doing some version of it for most of the past decade.

Predictably, Alds. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Don Bach (3rd Ward) jumped at the opportunity and called on City Mgr. Jim Hock to provide 100% funding to all those private groups, while also warning him to make sure he comes back with a balanced budget.  And Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) chimed in that cutting all funding to the community organizations is unacceptable to him.  That means Hock will need to figure out how to pull $1.3 million of additional cuts and/or revenues out of his…hat…between now and this coming Saturday.

How’s that new “jacket” feeling, Mr. Hock?  Nice and warm?  Is a return to Michigan looking more attractive by the day?

We here at PublicWatchdog recognize there is some value to the social and cultural services those private community groups provide, even though most of them also serve residents outside of Park Ridge; and even though we are skeptical of the grandiose claims that those services are “essential” to the quality of life in our community or generate sizable revenue for our local merchants.  But we oppose what amounts to donations of tax dollars to private organizations, especially when those “donations” are in amounts that bear no understandable relationship to the specific services or specific benefits received by Park Ridge residents.

Bach, Ryan, and their fellow alder-spenders don’t seem to like hearing about how they have to make hard choices on what to spend our money.  The $200,000+ they want for the community groups could cover the cost of two of the cops or firemen (at $94,758.66/year and $94,258.63/year, respectively) that have been cut from the proposed budget.  And those cops and firemen would be providing services to Park Ridge, not the surrounding areas.

Irrespective of whether or not one supports these kinds of expenditures, the sad fact is that the money’s just not there – even with tax increases and the major service cuts already proposed – because of years of financial mismanagement unrelated to the current world economic problems.  So tough choices must be made, with true “needs” taking precedence over mere wants.

But the spendthrift politicians on the Council don’t have the nerve to say that, especially to a room full of voters with their hands out.  That makes them no different from their fellow spendthrift politicians down in Springfield.

Does It Take A “Village” To Get Good Government In Park Ridge?


Every so often one of our public officials or a resident comes up with a really ridiculous proposal for one or another of our local governmental bodies.  Which is why today’s post is about the letter to the editor [pdf] in this week’s Park Ridge Journal from Park Ridge resident Ken Balaskovits (“Time To Adopt Village Form Of Government,” March 17) in opposition to a possible citizens’ referendum to restore the Park Ridge City Council to 14 members. 

Balaskovits not only opposes going back to 14 alderman from the 7 the City Council was reduced to in 2006, but he advocates changing Park Ridge from a city into a village, “with six to nine trustees, elected at large.” 

That may be the most cockamamie idea about City government we’ve ever heard – even worse than former mayor Howard Frimark’s successful plan to cut the City Council in half, which we recall Balaskovits supporting.  Nevertheless, Balaskovits is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own set of “facts.”  And, frankly, his whole letter appears to be based on nothing but fiction.

Let’s start with his reference to the “study” he describes as having been done by “[t]wo aldermen” that he claims found only one other suburb (Elmhurst) with two aldermen per ward.  Try as we might, we could not find any mention of such a “study” anywhere.  We did, however, find a “study” by one former alderman – Jeannie Markech (2nd Ward) – in the 11/2/06 edition of something called the “Markech S’up Date,” which we understand she occasionally sent out during her brief term (2005-07) in office. 

The relevant “S’Up Date” pages [pdf] tell quite a different story from Balaskovits’ tale, as Markech identifies 11 suburbs that elect two aldermen per ward. 

Whether you choose to believe Balaskovits or Markech on this point is up to you, although we note that Markech’s “S’up Date” provides chapter and verse while Balaskovits’ letter is basically generalities and bare conclusions.  But even if we judge Balaskovits’ arguments for turning Park Ridge from a city into a village just on their own merits, those arguments appear to be based on more false information and just flat-out wrong.

For example, he contends that an “at-large” election of City officials would be better than the current ward-by-ward elections because “[w]e just do not have a sufficient number of candidates who are able and willing to serve as aldermen” in each of the 7 wards.  Once again, Balaskovits provides no data to support that contention, perhaps because the available data actually disproves that contention.

According to the Cook County Clerk’s election website, for election years 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, a total of 45 candidates ran for 25 City vacancies, with 39 of those candidates running for 21 aldermanic seats.  Contrast that with the “at large” elections held for the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board and the District 64 School Board, where during that same period the Park District produced just 13 candidates for 11 vacancies while the School Board produced a mere 17 candidates for 15 vacancies.

That causes us to wonder whether Mr. Balaskovits is merely an incompetent researcher or someone who will outright lie to make his point?

As for his claim that “[t]he issues in Park Ridge are not all that different from ward to ward,” we suggest he try telling that to the flood-prone folks in those six designated areas of Park Ridge that the City’s flood consultant has deemed most in need of flood relief.  Or to the people beefing about the airplane noise under the approach to new runway 9L27R.  Or to the folks in the 1st and 2nd wards whose airplane noise has lessened since the new runway was opened.  Or to the anti-billboard group in the Second Ward near the Tri-State.

Balaskovits fares no better when he delves into “policy” with his argument that “[t]he purpose of an election is to provide the citizen with choice so that we have a representative government.”  No, Mr. B, the purpose of an election is to give the voters a means for conferring their governing authority on their chosen representative, thereby binding the social contract which John Locke described as “government with the consent of the governed” that the Founding Fathers adopted in our Constitution.

While contested elections give the voters the benefit of choice, an official elected in a contested race has no greater legal authority than one elected in an uncontested one.  After all, it’s not the candidate’s fault if nobody else cares enough to run against him, is it?

We think Balaskovits also is all wet when he writes that turning Park Ridge into a village “would place us more in conformance with surrounding communities” – without identifying so much as one other community that he contends is better managed, or better governed, than Park Ridge.  So why should we mindlessly mimic those communities, especially given the uniqueness of Park Ridge and the many differences between it and its neighboring communities? 

But our personal favorite bit of Balaskovits silliness is his closing pitch for making Park Ridge a village: “It is a time for change but not for change that takes us backward but rather for one that deals with the realities of today and moves Park Ridge forward.” 

Apparently Mr. Balaskovits doesn’t know that Park Ridge once was a village…prior to 1910.

Or maybe he’s just one of those “one step forward, 100 years back” kind of guys.

Horsebleep Citizenship Causes Horsebleep Government


Last May 13th, we asked in a post: Are you “mad as hell” yet?

That was right after our City Council passed a $2 million deficit budget that purported to be “balanced” only because it ate into reserves – i.e., the City’s savings account – to make up for the excess expenses. 

Since then, City government has spent itself into an even deeper hole, with an anticipated shortfall of revenues over expenses of over $3.35 million [pdf]Meanwhile, too many of us seem to still be asleep at the wheel, irresponsibly unaware or unconcerned about the precarious nature of our City’s finances and the danger it presents to our community and our way of life.

Which is a big reason why we’re in this mess.

For years we elected mayors and aldermen whom we counted on to watch out for our interests but who, frankly, did a horsebleep job of it – and then simply refused to accept any accountability (a/k/a “blame”) for that horsebleep job.  The result: $10.9 million of operating fund deficits from 2001/02 through 2008/09 [pdf], punctuated by one year (2006/07) where the City posted an operating fund surplus of $247,305 that ballooned to $6.376 million when the proceeds from the one-time-only sell-off of City property to the Uptown redevelopers that year is counted in.

And that $10.9 million in deficits doesn’t even include the $3.35 deficit expected by year-end 2009/10. 

Have these staggering numbers set off any alarm bells in your sleepy heads, yet?

That kind of mismanagement would get you fired from most well-run enterprises, and it should be a source of regret and embarrassment for its perpetrators.

But can you name even one current or former mayor or alderman during that nine year stretch who has accepted any responsibility whatsoever for the current mess we’re in, or for any of the annual mini-messes leading up to it – except for Mayor Dave Schmidt, who in his “State of the City” address pointedly admitted the error of his ways?

“I personally voted for two unbalanced budgets [as 1st Ward alderman],” Schmidt acknowledged, before promising that “I will not make the same mistake again” and vowing to veto any unbalanced budget passed by the Council.

You sure didn’t hear anything like that from 2nd Ward Ald. (since 1995) Rich DiPietro when he read the Council’s rebuttal to Schmidt’s address.  That’s because the current crop of aldermen – with the exception of Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward), who is facing his first budget vote – have shown themselves to be as shameless about their failures as they are spineless when it comes to making those tough decisions necessary to the community’s best interests.

If you doubt that, you haven’t been attending the recent budget workshops, or watching them on the Melidosian Motionbox.  But you are likely to see further evidence of it this Saturday, when a number of private community groups are expected to come before the Council to whine about the elimination from this year’s draft budget of their customary handouts of taxpayer cash, which totaled $271,000 last year.

It looks like they think they’re entitled to be on the public dole even though the proposed budget, which includes a 5% tax increase, is still $227,000 in the red – and could go $1.1 million into the red if the State of Illinois cuts funding to municipalities by the 30% proposed by Gov. Quinn.

But no matter how horsebleep a job our elected representatives have done in office, they are where they are because we have done a horsebleep job of being responsible, conscientious citizens.  We voted into office too many people who may be likeable when we should have been electing people who were competent and diligent – and then we failed to demand accountability from them.  And in so doing, we have put our entire community at risk.

Forget about being “mad as hell.”  Are we even awake yet?


Latest Budget Workshop More Process, Little Progress


In our February 22, 2010, post (“Scapegoat City Mgr. Being Fitted For ‘The Jacket’”) we suggested that City Mgr. Jim Hock was being set up to take the fall for what was shaping up as the third straight deficit budget since former mayor Howard Frimark bamboozled 7,688 voters into cutting in half the decades-old 14-member City Council.

But if what went on at this past Saturday’s budget workshop is any indication, Hock’s “jacket” is undergoing its final tailoring even as the City’s 2010-11 budget appears to be nowhere near the “balanced” stage that Mayor Dave Schmidt has demanded while threatening to veto anything less.

As you may recall, Hock proposed a budget that showed a $227,000 deficit, with the distinct possibility that the deficit could increase by another $900,000+ if those folks running Illinois state government decide to adopt Gov. Quinn’s recommendation that the portion of the state income tax going to municipalities be cut from 10% to 7%.  And the resulting $1.1 million deficit will be a worst-case scenario only if: (a) the Council approves all of Hock’s proposed cuts, which is unlikely; and (b) all of his revenue projections are realistic, which may also be unlikely.

The Council has now conducted three budget workshops since Hock released his proposed budget, and we are wondering just what has been accomplished in getting the City to a balanced budget – other than Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) and Don Bach (3rd Ward) stating that they don’t support any of the proposed cuts to the fire and police departments (projected net savings: $700,000), and Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) saying he wants the private community group handouts put back in the budget (projected additional expense: $200,000+). 

So if those three get their way, the proposed budget deficit would increase by yet another $900,000+, up to either $1.2 million or $2.1 million, depending on what Springfield does.  Which makes Ald. Frank Wsol’s (7th Ward) Saturday morning scolding of Hock for not yet having proposed a “balanced budget” seem even more ridiculous: What more can Hock do when the Council hasn’t told him what cuts they will accept, what ones they won’t, and in what amounts? 

One significant development from Saturday’s workshop, however, was Bach’s distribution of his proposed revision [pdf] of the City’s current organizational structure [pdf].  Bach claims his revision will put $1 million back into the budget. 

Whether that’s legit or just empty bluster is hard to say, since Bach’s chart doesn’t identify any specific dollar amounts or savings, even as it appears to cut one Full Time Equivalent employee (“FTE”) from the police department and one employee from the fire department.  But if this is a sincere and legitimate effort to come up with a more efficient and cost-effective structure for City government rather than just some “Look over there!” diversion from the budget problems at hand, why did Bach wait until six weeks before the budget adoption deadline to propose it?  

If these aldermen were truly serious about balancing this budget, they already would have told Hock what other cuts he should make in expenses, or what other revenues he should add, to balance that $227,000 deficit and begin addressing the expected $900,000 shortfall in state funding.

Instead, they just keep kicking the City Mgr. around.

When Will Budget “Workshops” Bring Budget Progress?


As the State of Illinois slides further down the financial rat-hole after decades of irresponsible spending by (take your pick) stupid/greedy/crooked politicians pandering to (take your pick) stupid/greedy/crooked constituents, tomorrow morning our own Park Ridge City Council will hold yet another of its workshops to discuss the 2010-11 budget (9:00 a.m. at City Hall).

Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen of this process so far, the prospects for balancing this year’s budget – after 3 straight years of the City spending millions more than it took in and depleting its reserves – are not looking particularly good.

In the first place, we still don’t have even one alderman who has committed, as a matter of public record, to passing a legitimately balanced budget.  Judging by what they are saying (and not saying), we see little evidence that they will make all of the cuts City Mgr. Jim Hock’s proposed 2010-11 budget calls for, even though that budget projects a $227,000 deficit based on revenues which seem more than a little overly “optimistic.”

And that $227,000 deficit is with a 5% increase in the City’s portion of our property tax bill.  We don’t know why Hock stopped there, but we also don’t know why the aldermen aren’t more aggressively tackling the problem of filling that hole.

Worse yet, if you were paying attention on Wednesday, you know that Gov. Pat Quinn is asking that Illinois municipalities (like Park Ridge) “share the pain” of state government’s fiscal buffoonery by giving up 30% of the revenue they normally get from the state.  For Park Ridge, that means reducing Park Ridge’s expected $3,122,100 of state funding [pdf] by a whopping $936,630, turning the proposed budget’s projected $227,000 deficit into a $1,163,630 one.

What have the aldermen been saying and doing about this so far?  Nothing of substance.

Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) and Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) started this process by saying that they won’t vote for any cuts to police and fire, even though the City reports [pdf] that one “average” police officer costs $94,758.66/year, and one “average” fireman costs $94,258.63/year.  Bach also objects to the rest of the personnel cuts in the proposed budget but, not surprisingly, he hasn’t come up with any alternatives.

Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) has made it known he wants to add back the customary $200,000+ in handouts to private community groups that were left out of the proposed budget.

Alds. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Tom Carey (6th Ward) and Frank Wsol (7th Ward) have been keeping their cards close to their vests.  Whether that’s because they have no great ideas on this subject (likely) or because they are once again playing politics with the budget (more likely), the effect is the same: no meaningful progress on balancing the budget that must be approved in seven weeks.

Meanwhile, City finances continue to death spiral downward.

Teachers Union Betting District 207 Blinks First


Today we are taking a break from the financial travails of one public body (the City of Park Ridge) and looking at those of another: High School District 207.

As reported in yesterday’s on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 207: Teachers union rejects job-saving concessions,” March 9), the teachers union voted “no” on a School Board request that they re-open their contract in order to save some or all of the 75 teachers being laid off to help fill a $17 million budget hole.

Why doesn’t that surprise us? 

This vote confirms that simply foregoing raises – rather than actually taking wage cuts, as is happening for so many who toil in places other than the fantasyland of unionized government employment – is unthinkable to those union teachers who feel entitled to their roughly 8-month work year, their virtually guaranteed employment, and benefits that private sector workers don’t even dare dream about anymore. 

But while the hopelessly naïve among us might think the union “no” vote makes the 75 lay-offs a done deal, we’ve been around these kinds of goings-on too long to jump to that conclusion.

The first clue that it ain’t over ’til it’s over was Supt. Ken Wallace’s comments (as reported in another H-A story from March 2: “District 207: Looking for a few good financial experts”) that the District provided the union with “probably 10 different scenarios” for saving those jobs, and then iced the union’s cake even more by publicly admitting that: “We’re in no position to turn almost anything down.  If they come with some sort of offer, it’s something we’d have to consider.”

We’re sure glad he’s not part of the U.S. team negotiating nuclear non-proliferation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And even after the teacher’s union voted to figuratively kick District 207 in the you-know-what, Wallace’s response was more spineless than solid – starting with his blubbering about this being “a very difficult process for our teachers and teacher assistants” and his gratitude “that [the union] thoughtfully considered our request in the context of these difficult economic times.” 

All that was missing was “Thank you, sir; may I have another?”

One of the reasons District 207 is in its current fix is that for years its Board and Administration gave the teachers union pretty much everything it wanted.  That’s a mindset – on both sides – that won’t change very quickly, as evidenced by how the union members brazenly called the District’s bluff by appearing to throw their own under the bus.

That’s because they are confident that “the bus” will slam on its brakes just before impact.

And after years of watching wimpy school board members go belly-up for the teachers unions, that’s what we’re betting on, too.