Latest “Mayor No” Vetoes Save Taxpayers Another $120,000


If you’re some entitlement-addicted special interest or a mindless disciple of tax-borrow-and-spend economists like Paul Krugman, Park Ridge City Hall was not the place to be last night.

That’s because the Park Ridge City Council saved the taxpayers another $120,620 by sustaining 3 of 4 line-item budget vetoes issued by Mayor Dave Schmidt, whom we dubbed “Mayor No” in our 06.08.11 post for his wielding of the previously-moribund mayoral veto to lead a sometimes fractious and unfocused Council further down the road to fiscal sanity and stability.  

The only one of Schmidt’s vetoes not sustained was the biggest one: $361,500 budgeted for “Phase I” of what has been labeled the “police facility project” – a project seemingly designed, in significant part, to remedy years (if not a decade or more) of what appears to be gross neglect in basic cleaning, maintenance and repair of the police station.  That veto was over-ridden by 5 votes (Alds. Rich DiPietro, Jim Smith, Sal Raspanti, Marty Maloney and Joe Sweeney) to 1 (Ald. Dan Knight), with 1 vote MIA as 6th Ward Ald. Tom Bernick’s previously-reported resignation became official moments before the meeting was convened.

Notwithstanding the inability of any of that project’s supporters to refute Schmidt’s assertion that the City has plenty of available storage and other types of usable space at the old Public Works complex at Elm and Greenwood, the aldermanic majority couldn’t seem to resist Police Chief Task Force member Paul Sheehan’s apples-and-oranges comparison of the project’s $1.2 million cost to the tens of millions spent by Skokie, Glenview and other suburbs on brand new cop shops; or Task Force member Ralph Cincinelli’s fear of losing a $40,000 state grant as justification for spending $1.2 million on the project.

If neither one of those arguments sounds all that convincing, join the club.  We’re chalking it up as further proof that, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

From that point on, however, the rest of Schmidt’s vetoes were sustained, starting with the $69,375 line item for across-the-board raises for non-union employee payable out of the General Fund (with Knight, Maloney and Smith voting to sustain v. Sweeney, DiPietro and Raspanti voting to over-ride) and continuing with the $1,745 line item for across-the-board raises for non-union employees payable out of the Water Fund (with only Raspanti voting to over-ride).

The Council’s rejection of these raises is significant on two levels.  First, as noted by Ald. Knight, they are the product of “lazy” management because they are virtually indiscriminate and fail to reward performance or productivity.  Second, they effectively serve as a gold-plated invitation to demands by unionized employees for similar, non-merit based raises – while at the same time undercutting the City’s ability to credibly argue that it can’t afford such raises for union employees.

The third and final veto-sustaining vote was for the $49,500 line-item donation to private corporation Center of Concern (with Knight, Maloney, Raspanti and Smith voting to sustain v. DiPietro and Sweeney voting to over-ride).

As has become S.O.P whenever Center of Concern makes a trip to the public trough, it was well-represented at last night’s meeting.  Both its current and former directors, John McNabola and Mary Schurder, spoke in favor of continuing the annual handout CofC has enjoyed for as long as anyone can remember, even though it never has provided any meaningful accounting of exactly how many of those tax dollars go for what particular services to which particular Park Ridge residents.   

Additional turns at the podium were taken by CofC Board members Rudy Smolka and former ald. Sue Beaumont, while former alds. John Kerin (also a CofC Board member) and Dawn Disher (CofC Finance & Development Dir.) lent moral support from their seats until getting up and leaving in barely-concealed disgust after the Council majority rejected their requests and sustained Schmidt’s veto.

Even former Park Ridge mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark added his faux-eminence to the CofC cause, although his remarks were limited to some stage-whispered aspersions cast on Schmidt’s character as he departed the Council chambers with the rest of the CofC migration – once again displaying the classless-act he’s always been.

But the most notable element of the CofC funding debate was provided by Ald. Maloney, whose succinct and pointed analysis of the policy and procedural shortcomings in the way the current and previous Councils have been funding CofC and other private community groups over the years was nothing less than a tour de force, deserving of a viewing whenever the meeting video is posted on the City’s website. 

Maloney’s comments seemed to confirm that Schmidt’s veto of the CofC funding would be sustained, which moved CofC’s premier apologist and cheerleader on the Council, DiPietro, to suddenly claim that CofC was willing to sign a contract with the City for the provision of its services – something we’ve been advocating for some time and which Maloney cited in his comments.  DiPietro’s credibility on this point, however, was compromised by the fact that none of the pro-CofC speakers, including its current and former directors, said one word about any such “contract” when they had addressed the Council earlier.

So that portion of the meeting ended with the total savings to the taxpayers, compliments of the Council-sustained Schmidt vetoes, being a tidy $120,620.  Not bad for government work.

Frankly, we would much prefer if basic fiscal responsibility didn’t have to be imposed by mayoral veto.  Unfortunately, a lack of fiscal discipline and foresight by past Councils, combined with some unsound and costly decisions like the Uptown TIF, has left the City behind the financial 8-ball despite all the recent expense-cutting and improved management efficiencies.  And this current Council, although decidedly better than its predecessors, still can’t be counted on for a consistent approach to the City’s continuing and prospective financial challenges – as evidenced by its original budget votes that necessitated Schmidt’s vetoes, and by its over-ride of the cop shop project veto.

Whether the City will be able to turn the corner on those challenges just by cutting expenses further, without significant tax increases, appears unlikely due to that Uptown TIF albatross, whose debt service requirements are scheduled to hang even heavier around the City’s neck for the next several years.

But by aggressively reducing existing non-essential services and foregoing the implementation of new ones, this City administration is building a bond of credibility and trust with taxpayers whose goodwill and pocketbooks have been taken for granted far too long.

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