Public Watchdog.org

Why Have City’s Flood Remediation Plans Stagnated?

09.10.18

Does the City of Park Ridge really care about dealing meaningfully with its flooding problems?

We’re beginning to have our doubts.

Last October we published a post about what was then the “new” Christopher B. Burke Engineering comprehensive flood remediation plan. It was designed to provide protection against those 100-year floods that we seem to get at least once or twice a year.

Burke published a more comprehensive version of that plan in December 2017. The price tag was $106 million for eight (8) “prioritized” areas, not counting the $10 Million or so of debt service expense if 20-year bonds were issued to finance the project. Part of that plan included a Storm Water Utility (“SWU”) fee – to be calculated by each property’s size and amount of rain-impervious surface area (e.g., the house’s footprint, concrete patios and concrete driveways) – that Burke suggested be set at $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”).

In that October post we encouraged the City Council to determine taxpayer support for the Burke plan by putting a $100 Million-plus bond issue to referendum on either the March 2018 or November 2018 ballot. And we voiced our concern that the Council – or at least those aldermen whose terms will be expiring next May – might choose to play “Springfield-style politics” and delay such a referendum (and any controversy that it might cause) until AFTER the April 2019 election.

Since then, what has the Council done to advance those prioritized projects or to give the taxpayers a referendum vote on a bond issue and/or the SRU?

As best as we can tell, nothing. Nada. Niente. Τίποτα. Nichts. Ничего. Zip.

Even though the Burke study provided a map that showed how approximately one-half of Park Ridge was “at risk” of sewer back-up from storms as small as a “1-year event (1.2” rain in 1 hour duration)” if residents don’t install their own on-site devices (like check valves and/or overhead sewers), it appears that the Council has been fiddling for the past year while Park Ridge has continued to flood from both sewer back-up and overland water.

Why the delay?

We don’t know. But we have to wonder if former 6th Ward ald. Mary Wynn Ryan might be onto something with her suggestion, in a couple of comments on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, that there’s a “gentleman’s agreement with the school district [207] not to put a competing ‘ask’ on the ballot in Nov. or April.” She goes on to “suspect a sewer referendum will not be offered while the [D-207] school referendum is in play,” analogizing Park Ridge voters being given a choice between school renovations and flood remediation to “poor folk, choosing between [sic] heat, rent, groceries and medicine.”

Ryan is an unabashed fan of big government and unrestrained tax/borrow/spending who views referendums the way most people view root canal surgery: To be avoided at all costs unless absolutely necessary. While on the Park Ridge Park District Board in December 2012 she helped engineer the District’s $7 million non-referendum bond issue for the second-rate Centennial water park so that there would be no water park referendum competing for the taxpayers’ votes with the District’s $13 million bond issue referendum for the Prospect Park project on the April 2013 ballot.

So if there’s some kind of “deal” by the City  and D-207 to let the latter get first crack at the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, she might be someone likely to know about it.

Although we can find no evidence of any overt “deal,” that doesn’t preclude an informal wink-and-nod understanding between various aldermen and their corresponding D-207 Board members. And that kind of understanding could explain why the Council has done nothing during the past year to put the Burke priority projects to a referendum vote, or to adopt the proposed $11 per ERU or some other rate.

Even all that Labor Day weekend flooding – along with articles in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Talks planned on stormwater utility fee, future capital projects following Labor Day flooding in Park Ridge,” Sept. 5) and Park Ridge Journal (“Park Ridge Hit Hard By Storms,” Sept. 5), and a rash of social media postings about the City’s inaction on flood control – appears to have done nothing more than motivate Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) to schedule a discussion of funding projects solely with SWU fees at the Council’s September 24 meeting.

Why is all of this disingenuous and/or just plain screwed up?

How about because Burke’s proposed $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”) is projected to yield a mere $2.4 million of revenue annually. That’s not nearly enough to get those 8 identified projects done on anything more than a snail’s pace timetable.

Are all you folks whose basements flooded on Labor Day, or will flood during the next big rain or the next one after that, willing to wait until 2058 for just those 8 priority flood control projects to be completed through funding with SWU fees?

With the November 2018 ballot referendum deadline already blown because the Council members sat with their thumbs up their kazoos for the past year, the next opportunity the City will have to get objectively-measurable taxpayer support for a $100 million-plus bond issue via referendum will be April 2019, when Alds. Moran (1st), Wilkening (3rd), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) presumably will be running to retain their seats around The Horseshoe.

And if we’re right about D-207’s master plan of using the November 2018 referendum as a type of stalking horse for a smaller, gentler Plan B referendum question on the lower-turnout, easier-to-win April 2019 ballot, the Council might very well let D-207 have another unchallenged shot at the taxpayers if its November boondoggle fails.

Will the Council respect the taxpayers enough to put a $100 million-plus anti-flooding funding referendum on the April 2019 ballot so those 8 projects might get done within the next decade instead of the next four decades? That would appear to be a no-lose proposition given that, even if that referendum were to fail, the Council could go forward with its current 40-year SWU-funded plan.

Or will the Council continue to kick the flooding can farther down the road, either to give D-207’s bigger bonding referendum questions first dibs on the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, or because it just doesn’t care that much about flooding…but isn’t willing to say so?

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

After cursing the rain, the City, the rain again, and then the City again on Labor Day, you’re post is everything I wondered about and more.

I had forgotten about the latest Burke study (have we paid them a million dollars yet on all the flood studies we have done over the past 8 years?) or the 8 projects at $100 million, or how Burke set a 40 year timetable for them if they would be paid for only out of the SWU.

Time for the aldermen to get their heads out of their butts and actually DO SOMETHING about this recurring problem. Enough!

Thank you, PW. At least somebody knows the whole story and is willing to tell it.

It sure sounds and smells like some kind of “deal” between at least some of the aldermen and D-207. Aren’t 207’s Austriaco, Bessler, Coyle, Owen and Collins fellow Democrats with Mrs. Ryan? If so, that could add extra credibility to her suspicions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Austriaco ran for state representative as a Democrat in 2008, losing to Rosemary Mulligan 55%-45%. Since then she has contributed to the Maine Twp. Regular Dem. Org., Dem. Laura Murphy’s IL senate campaign, and ActBlue Illinois – so that’s a pretty good sign she’s still a Dem. And while we understand that the other four also are Dems., we don’t have any similar ability to corroborate that understanding with State Board of Elections contribution information other than that Owen contributed almost $2,000 to Dem. state sen. Dan Kotowski’s campaign fund between 2005 and 2011.

Anonymous on 09.10.18 10:21 am: I have the same question about how much money the City’s politicians have spent on Burke studies without making any commitment to implement the projects that Burke has recommended. WTF? Just more politics that the taxpayers have to pay for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the City doesn’t want to do all 8 projects in the next decade, then it’s not serious about this stuff.

But hey, that’s okay – JUST SAY SO instead of continually blowing smoke up the taxpayers’ kilts while blowing more and more of the taxpayers’ money on studies the Council has no intention of ever implementing.

I have no sympathy for anybody who has not bit the bullet and installed a check valve or overhead sewers on their property. But those don’t stop overland flooding. That’s what the City is supposed to be dealing with through all these studies and projects that are not getting done.

It has been two years since the Storm Water Utility was approved by the Council but not funded. How stupid was that? The City could have collected almost $5 million of utility fees by now but chose not to do so. That would have covered the Mayfield and Marvin Parkway projects.

Idiots!

You endorsed Maloney, Moran, Milissis, Shubert, Melidosian and Mazzuca, so how about bearing some of the responsibility for their failure to get these projects funded and done. Now suddenly flooding is back on your radar. What happened, did you get flooded out over Labor Day?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t operate like Chicago, Crook County or Springfield: Just because we endorse candidates doesn’t mean we get to tell them what to do, or that they listen when we try. Frankly, we wouldn’t respect any public official who would blindly do whatever we (or anybody else) told them to do.

As for this editor’s own flooding problem, it would take an eastbound tsunami from the Des Plaines river, or an even bigger westbound one from Lake Michigan, to cause him any flooding problems. So this post isn’t the product of any kind of self-interest.

Sometimes it appears to me this whole thing is a game to you. I wonder do you really care about flooding in PR or is this just a tool to be used against the 207 referendum?? The irony is that you rent so the 207 referendum could pass AND the city could go ahead with all 8 projects and it would not cost you one thin dime.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The real “game” is what’s being played by Supt. Wallace and the D-207 Board (and some members of the City Council?), using over $100K of taxpayer money on hired-gun consultants to conduct a political campaign barely within the letter, but not the spirit, of the law in order to con the taxpayers into rewarding Wallace’s and the Board’s past negligence/mismanagement, and enabling future negligence/mismanagement.

As to your second point, let us clue you in on the economics of rental real estate – both residential and commercial. Owners/landlords have to pay RE tax on their rental properties, and those RE taxes customarily are passed through to the tenants by being incorporated in the rent paid by the tenants. So whether those RE taxes increase one thin dime, one thick dime, or some other amount, your safe bet would be that the increase is being passed on from the owner/landlord to the tenant.

You’re welcome.

This is addressed to the point made by Anonymous on 09.11.18 at 1:23 am regarding how the City already could have had the money to do the Mayfield Estates and Marvin Parkway projects if it started charging the SWU fee when it adopted the SWU two years ago. In the interest of H.I.T.A., the mayor and aldermen should explain to us residents why they wasted that opportunity.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agreed. And if they don’t intend to do all those 8 projects identified in Burke’s most recent plan within the next 10 years, they also should explain to us residents why not.

If they institute the SWU home owners will see exactly what it costs them. PD, how much will your rent go up if they institute the SWU??

EDITOR’S NOTE: No idea.

But whatever it is I’ll pay it, just like I’ve been paying RE taxes to D-64 and D-207 schools directly or via rent since 1988 despite my 4 sons having gone to parochial schools for 41 out of their combined 52 years of elementary and high school educations.

Speaking of this being a game, you have argued forcefully against Mayfield Estates in past posts. You called them a special interest and hammered about how they bought their houses at discounted rates etc. Now you want it?? Same ole’ PD game…..stir it up!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yep, and we’ve argued that Mayfield Estates’ flood remediation should be a Special Service Area with a separate tax rate tied to the cost of that remediation.

But we’ve also consistently argued for putting all these funding questions to referendum (see, e.g., our 06.16.2014 and 06.24.2016 posts) and our willingness to accept the voters’ decision.

Not one dollar of SWU fee/tax should be collected for flood control until the building codes are rewritten to eliminate to the extent possible all flooding caused by new construction. There are dozens upon dozens of examples around town of houses with deep basements massive footprints built lot line to lot line that cause flooding for their neighbors where there was no flooding before. 322 Vine. 525 Vine. Add your example here. Reckless and irresponsible to do otherwise.

As for Mayfield Estates any cost for overland flooding remedies greater than the cost of sewer maintenance should be paid for by the homeowners in that neighborhood who will benefit from the work.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is nothing “[r]eckless and irresponsible” about collecting SWU fees on existing properties to fund the multi-millions of dollars of flood remediation projects already identified as integral to a comprehensive, city-wide flood remediation plan.

We’re big fans of improving our building and zoning codes, as we demonstrated in posts like those from 10.02.2014, 11.15.2014, 12.22.2015, 02.28.2017 and 07.11.2018. But refraining from collecting those SWU fees until our building and zoning codes get rewritten makes about as much sense as denying a terminal liver cancer patient a transplant until he loses 30 pounds. In other words: It’s a brain-dead idea.

Finally, while we agree with you re special charges for Mayfield Estates residents, if a majority of taxpaying voters are willing to fund the Mayfield Estates remediation along with the other 7 projects in a referendum, we can live with that.

I can’t believe the City Council has not yet committed to doing these 8 projects and doing them in 10-15 years or less instead of 20-40. If this is how the Council operates they are either inept or playing politics with flooding. Unacceptable whichever one it is.

I agree with Anonymous 2018/09/11 at 10:46 pm: This has gone on for long enough. The City either needs to commit to solving however much of the flooding is reasonable or say it won’t do so and won’t waste any more money on consultants’ studies and reports that the Council has no intention of acting on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s basically the way we look at it. The Council owes us taxpayers an explanation of: (a) whether it’s going to do the 8 Burke projects or not; (b) if so, how quickly; (c) if so, using what funding; and (d) if so, why it shouldn’t go to referendum for the funding necessary to complete those projects within the next 10 years.

This incremental nibbling that is projected to take 20-40 years via the SWU is nonsense.

No fixing these long term problems now. There’s a pesky School Referendum in the way. Can’t sock the public twice for tax increases in one year. As far as local politicians in D207’s sphere of influence, it’s D207’s turn at the trough. For the rest of us, it’s suck pond water time!



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