Public Watchdog.org

The 100s Of Millions Of Dollars Question: Renovated Schools Or Flood Remediation?

09.14.18

Readers of this blog know that we have crossed swords with former 6th Ward alderman/former Park Board member Mary Wynn Ryan on numerous occasions. Ms. Ryan and this blog’s editor rarely see eye-to-eye on local – as well as state and national – governmental and political issues.

And that’s okay: A thriving marketplace of ideas needs competing views, not concurring ones.

So consider today one of those rare occasions when this blog acknowledges the merit of a point raised by Ms. Ryan in a couple of comments she made to a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, in which she suggests that the Park Ridge City Council and the Maine Township School District 207 Board may have reached some sort of accommodation to give the latter first crack at Park Ridge taxpayers’ wallets.

Ms. Ryan is a battle-tested class (and race, and gender, etc.) warrior skilled in the art of identity politics, which explains her analogy of Park Ridge residents to “poor folk, choosing between heat, rent, groceries and medicine” – except that we “poor folk” live in $385,000 (median value, per Zillow) residences; and our choices are between $200-350 million to address D-207’s decades of neglect of its physical infrastructure, or $106+ million to address the City’s decades of neglect of its sewer system.

Ms. Ryan’s analogy is not an apples-to-apples one, however, because the $200-350 million cost of D-207 projects will be spread over a much larger taxing district than the City’s $106+ million of flood remediation projects.

Whether that difference in taxing districts will result in Park Ridge residents paying more for the D-207 projects or more for the City’s projects is unclear to us. Park Ridge generates much higher residential RE tax revenues than does Des Plaines ($245,000 median, per Zillow), Morton Grove ($301,000 median) and Niles ($276,000 median). Nevertheless, we understand that those other communities generate significantly higher commercial RE tax revenues than does Park Ridge.

Not surprisingly, those intra-District residential value differences are not highlighted in the pro-referendum propaganda created by those public relations professionals that Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 D-207 Board Dwarfs hired back in January – at over $115,000 of taxpayer money – to run a pro-referendum political campaign masquerading as “community engagement,” which we wrote about in our 08.24.2018 and 08.31.2018 posts. Snow Job, the Dwarfs and their p.r. pros know that reminding Park Ridge homeowners about how much more they will be paying than their counterparts in neighboring D-207 communities “wouldn’t be prudent.”

But is this really about a choice between neglected schools or neglected sewers?

We think that depends, in no small part, on who the voters are.

Those of us who live in Park Ridge know that 100% of the money spent on local flood remediation would directly benefit Park Ridge residents. But because the D-207 projects will require allocating referendum funding to each of the District’s three high schools – the exact percentages of which we don’t know because Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs apparently don’t want to tell us – it’s very possible that no more than 1/3 of the new referendum taxes contributed by Park Ridge taxpayers will directly benefit Park Ridge residents.

On the other hand, those Park Ridge residents who live in areas where flooding is not a regular or substantial problem, and/or who currently have kids in D-207 schools or have kids who will be attending those schools in the future, might prefer paying extra taxes for school improvements instead of flooding.

One way to find out whether Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay enough extra taxes to remedy both neglected schools and neglected sewers – or to find out whether those taxpayers prefer one of those sets of projects over the other – would be to have both referendums on the same ballot.

But because the City dragged its feet for months on making decisions about what to do with those 8 projects identified in the December 2017 study by the City’s long-time flooding consultant, Burke Engineering – or because, as Ms. Ryan suggests, the City had some understanding with D-207 about not pursuing a flooding referendum that might compete with the schools referendum – the City had no flooding remediation referendum question ready for placement on this November’s ballot.

That deprived Park Ridge taxpayers of a direct choice, this year, between neglected schools and neglected sewers – assuming, for the sake of this argument, that they aren’t willing to pay for both sets of projects.

So the only way for Park Ridge taxpayers to regain such a choice would be if: (a) the D-207 referendum loses in November; (b) D-207 comes back to the taxpayers with the same referendum question, or its smaller Plan B referendum question, on the April 2019 ballot; and (c) the City decides to respect its taxpayers and give them a vote on the whole $106+ million Burke enchillada by putting a funding referendum question on the April 2019 ballot.

Does the City Council have any desire to do all 8 of those flood remediation projects, and to do them over the next 5-10 years? Or is it fine with doing them over 20-40 years as funding from the Storm Water Utility trickles in?

If either of those two possibilities is the case, it’s way past time the Council said so – in public and in no uncertain terms.

Because even if the D-207 referendum fails in November and Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs respond with another referendum in April 2019, if Ms. Ryan’s suspicions are correct, the Council will continue to wink-and-nod itself silly over these flood remediation projects rather than go for the gold, literally and figuratively, with its own referendum question this coming April.

But first things first.

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

So PD, let’s handicap the vote. Which one would pass as a referendum? Neither? Both?

My prediction, D207 referendum will pass, perhaps in a revised form as you have predicted but in general enough people will see the improvements as necessary. Beyond that, it is more tangible…..”we are going to build these things for these reasons and they will last this long”. Also people tend to get all warm and fuzzy about schools.

I think a flood referendum will not pass. As evidenced by Labor day:

1. These 8 projects and 100+ mil do not even scratch the surface of PR flood issues. Are all the people who flooded on Labor day but are not under one of these projects going to vote for them? Are all the people who do not flood going to vote for them?

2. Some of the work in the past that was to resolve some of the flooding seems to have failed or been overwhelmed in the recent storm.

So in a nutshell it does not cover most people and we are not even sure if it will work long term.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s nothing to “handicap” since there are no competing referendums. That’s as pointless as handicapping a match race between Man O War and Secretariat.

If the 8 Burke-identified projects at $100+ million “do not scratch the surface of PR flood issues,” then why isn’t the City looking at $200 million – or more – for flood remediation? D-207 had no problem asking for $250 million ($350 million with interest) to make up for its neglect of its buildings.

Also, what specific flood remediation projects done by the City in the past 5 years “seem to have failed or been overwhelmed in the recent storm”?

Both D-207 and the City deserve scorn for how they underestimated, deferred and ignored their obligations to maintain, repair and replace their respective infrastructures (schools and sewers) for decades until things got to this point.

Supt. Wallace in particular ignored the high schools for the past 9 years he has been superintendent so that he could build up the $45 million that he’s using as the down payment on this new spending spree.

Back in the ’90s and early 2000s the City annually budgeted for hundreds of thousands of dollars for constructing relief sewers but then spent that money on other things.

And the constants during all those years were (1) our taxes kept going up, and (2) the compensation of public employees of both D-207 and the City kept going up faster and higher than the CPI.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Scorn” is probably about right.

You also make a great point about Wallace’s stockpiling $45 million to create the slush fund that he is using to jump-start this referendum campaign – all of which could have been used over the past several years to do the kind of maintenance, repair and replacement of many of the systems and structures that he’s complaining about.

Doing the math: If all Park Ridge voters say “no” to the D207 $195 million referendum, then we stand a chance of outweighing the votes in neighboring communities. If Park Ridge votes even 50/50, the referendum may pass based on >50% “yes” votes in neighboring communities, upon which our share of the $195 million expense will be much higher. If true….neighboring communities could be forgiven for thinking, “Vote ‘yes’…Park Ridge residents will pay for most of this anyway.”

There was a project 5+ years ago that ran from Stewart by Washington School all the way up through an alley. New pipes were put in to deal with storm water.

I think it is fair to say that it appeared to work. There was certainly less standing water at Western and Belle Plaine which used to be a regular problem. I also believe fewer homes flooded although that is a difficult one to gage as there are so many factors involved in why a house does or does not flood.

It appears to me (admittedly as a laymen) this system was overwhelmed during the labor day storm. That intersection was a lake and quite a few houses flooded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An explanation of your observation re the Stewart area that we received from a civil engineer with a lot of experience in dealing with suburban flooding is that sewers comprise a system which, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. So the section of new sewer you described may not have been “overwhelmed” in its own right but, instead, because adjacent components of the system may still be unimproved and overwhelmed.

PD:

What I was trying to say in my post is baisically what our Mayor has stated. He stated the following on PR concerned homeowners.

“The projects that were presented and now appear in that packet of information will not help everyone, and frankly we could implement every single one of those projects and still face flooding if the storm that pushes through exceeds the capacity of the solutions implemented”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t disagree with the Mayor’s comment, as far as it goes.
But if the Mayor believes those 8 identified projects aren’t worth doing, or aren’t worth the $106 million price tag (and, BTW, we don’t believe that’s what he believes), or that they aren’t worth doing quicker than the 20-40 year timeline in the Burke study, he and the aldermen should say so on the record at a Council meeting rather than on some FB page.

Similarly, if the Mayor and the Council think an acceptable level or remediation will require 16 projects at $200 million, they should say that, too, and then explain how soon they want to get those done and how they intend to fund them.

I don’t know if Ms. Ryan is right or just guessing, but it should not have taken the City Council from December’s Burke report until its September 24 meeting to make a decision on whether to go forward with those projects or not. To me, that failure by the Council supports Ms. Ryan’s suspicions. That Sept. 24 Council meeting should be interesting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We haven’t kept the closest track of whatever the Council has done since the Burke report was issued last December, but whether it was Council can-kicking or the Council tolerating City staff’s can-kicking, we would love to hear an official explanation of why it has taken more than 8 months for the Council to actually ACT – one way or the other – on those projects.

PD:

I am glad you talked with an engineer and guess what?? It appears we all agree!! Maybe I was not clear (I am not a lawyer) but that was, in part, the point of my original post. One of the reasons I think many will not be completely behind a referendum is that these projects, by their nature, are not 100% certain. In other world, from a purely selfish perspective, the thought will be “none of these projects affect my neighborhood and we don’t even know if they will be a long term fix. I vote no.”

Now I am going to sit back and enjoy this amazing moment…..you, the Mayor, an engineer and I all agree on something!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t gloat too much because your position is fatally flawed by the fact that the City Council’s failure to go to referendum on the Burke 8-project plan prevents your “no” vote premise from being demonstrated. Not being able to prove with 100% certainty that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on neglected infrastructure will improve the quality of D-207 education, however, didn’t stop D-207 from going to referendum.

Maybe that’s another example of the shameless taking advantage of the spineless.

This boils down to trust, who can be trusted with hundreds of millions of our money.

I can’t trust Wallace and the D207 board because their neglect of the school buildings over at least the last nine years Wallace has been supt. is what created the problem. Giving them all that money would be like rewarding their negligence. And that neglect proves them to be horrible stewards of our money, not even telling us what each repair or addition at each school will cost, That leads me to believe there is a lot of fat in the $250 million they want us to approve with the November referendum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wallace and the Dwarfs had 9 years to make $45 million worth of maintenance, repairs and improvements using the $45 million slush fund they created while letting those schools degrade. In other words, they actually created and/or exacerbated $45 million worth of problems they had the money to address.

Only idiots would trust those people whose negligence CAUSED so many of these problems to fix those problems. But as you can read for yourself on the various local FB pages, there are plenty of folks who seem delighted to figuratively reward those drunken sailors with $350 million (counting debt service costs) of whiskey money.

I agree with Anonymous on 09.16.18 3:18 pm that trusting Wallace and this Board to be good stewards of another three hundred million dollars is nuts after they have previously mismanaged hundreds of millions of dollars and let the school buildings go to hell (if you believe Wallace, this Board, and their new propaganda video).

It’s disgusting how you ridicule people like school board members who devote their time and energy as unpaid volunteers to make our community better. The more you criticize them, the fewer will run for those positions. And then what will we do?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We can’t even conceive of how Wallace’s and this (and previous D-207) Board’s presiding over a dramatic decline in Maine South’s rankings and the almost criminal neglect of the District’s school buildings over the past 9 years “mak[ing] our community better.” And any “volunteers” responsible for that should be drummed out of office ASAP, and should be roundly criticized in the meantime.

The 207 referendum will pass in November. Nobody has the guts to oppose it and be called anti-kid becuase its “for the kids” which shuts off the brains of all the parents whose kids are getting free educations anyway so why not make the buildings nicer and have all those triangular desks that they can move around to make it look like they are actually teaching something while the quality of education plummets. Ken Wallace is a terrible supt. but he is a great b.s. artist and stupid people too dumb to choose to live in Wilmette, Glenview, Hinsdale or Northbrook don’t know the difference.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Channeling James Joyce, are we?

Trizna, you’ve been a volunteer on the Park BOard and Library Board so you should know what a sacrifice that service is. So why your slams on volunteers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anonymous, I was elected twice and served 8 years (2 terms) on the Park Board, and was appointed twice and served 6 years (2 terms) on the Library Board. And never once in those 14 years did I consider such service a “sacrifice.” It was an honor and a privilege to represent my fellow citizens, and anybody who doesn’t think so – or who feels put upon by their public service – should get the hell out pronto. And stay out.

You present this like it is a foregone conclusion that the city would put the flood remediation project up for referendum. Unlike the school and park districts with tax and bonding limits, the city is a “Home Rule” unit of government. It can simply issue bonds for any amount it wants, for any project, and pay those bonds off through increased taxes or SWU fees.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We trust that this Mayor and a majority of this City Council would seek to confirm public support for such an grand and expansive undertaking as $100-200 million in flood remediation projects – and whatever debt comes with them – rather than arrogantly use the City’s home rule power to deny taxpayers a meaningful voice on such projects.



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