Public Watchdog.org

Park District Once Again Gives Taxpayers A Break – And “Freeloaders” A Fit (Updated)

12.04.18

Back when this blog’s editor began his eight years (1997-2005) as a member of the Park Ridge Park District board, the District ran every program, activity and facility like a 6 year-old ran a sidewalk lemonade stand

So he attempted to do something considered “revolutionary” at that time: Despite having four sons in all sorts of Park District activities and programs, he lobbied for a fee structure that would actually cover their costs instead of having the taxpayers subsidize him, his family members, and other users of the programs, activities and facilities. And by 2005 the District’s staff had learned the meaning of the term “fully-loaded costs” and actually had started to consider them in its pricing structure.

Since then, subsequent boards and administrations have continued the trend of pricing user fees to more closely reflect the actual costs of the District’s amenities. The result: According to a recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Park Ridge Park District budget proposes fee increases…”, November 5), user fees now account for around 50% of the District’s $20 million annual budget, with property taxes contributing only 42.5%.

We think that’s great!

That growth in user fees appears to have enabled a majority of the current Park Board – Commissioners Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Mel Thillens – to reject the administration’s proposed 2.1% increase in the property tax levy while accepting a variety of user fee increases the administration also proposed for the 2019 budget year.

What could be wrong with that?

Plenty, if you’re Kathy (Panattoni) Meade, the poster child for Park Ridge’s freeloader community.

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SIDEBAR: We adopted the term “freeloader” 3 years ago – in our 10.21.2015 post – as convenient shorthand for what otherwise would take us 31 words to describe: “Those residents who are always looking to leverage maximum benefits for themselves, their families and their friends by shifting the costs of those benefits onto the backs of their fellow taxpayers.” Ironically, that post highlighted the freeloader mentality of the aforementioned Ms. Meade, who back then was complaining about that year’s increase in Park District user fees. Go figure!

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Based on Ms. Meade’s many public comments (made primarily on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page where she is one of the admins), she and her family are heavy users of Park District programs and activities. That’s likely why she ripped into the Park Board around this time last year for…wait for it…proposing user fee increases, introducing her beef by asking: “ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME!?!?!” That prompted us to publish two posts on the topic, on 11.07.2017 and 0n 11.14.2017.

Not surprisingly, therefore, her post in response to the H-A article and critical of the Park District for raising user fees instead of “raising taxes by $11 per household” – an increase she claims she would “gladly pay” to keep her out-of-pocket user fees from going up – is like deja vu all over again. For people whose goal is to suck more out of government (and fellow taxpayers) than they pay into it, paying an extra $11 of RE taxes to save $20.00 (or $200.00) in user fees is a no-brainer, Freeloading 101.

But replacing user fees with property tax increases appears to work even better for Meade than her comments let on.

That extra $11 of taxes is what the Park District claims the owner of a $458,000 home would pay. But according to Zillow, the median Park Ridge home value is $390,000. And because Zillow values Meade’s house at $339,000 while RE/MAX pegs it at $322,000 – that $11/year of extra taxes would end up being only $8 for her.

Frankly, we don’t begrudge even freeloaders trying to get a bargain so long as they don’t do it on the backs of their fellow taxpayers. But what really torques us is when they try to do so while wrapping themselves in the mantle of faux-altruism – as in “I’d gladly pay $11” more in property taxes – while concealing their unenlightened self-interest in saving 10 or 20 times that amount.

We’ve never been fans of automatic annual tax increases like the ones Illinois Democrats have been running up during the 30-plus years that Speaker Madigan and his stooges have run Illinois into the ground, so we appreciate the Park Board majority’s desire not to raise taxes – so long as they are being responsible stewards of the District’s assets and not compromising the timely maintenance, repair and replacement (“MRR”) of the District’s buildings and grounds merely to pander to certain taxpayers.

That’s why we confess to being a tad uncomfortable with the H-A article’s report of  Commissioner Jim O’Brien concern “based on current projections of excess revenue – that [the District is] not going to have enough money to maintain the stuff we have.” O’Brien didn’t provide the kind of back-up information that might objectively justify such a concern, as you can see from the November 1, 2018 Board meeting video, starting at the 1:51:00 mark. It should also be noted that O’Brien’s concern was immediately challenged by Commissioner Rob Leach at the 1:52:20 of the video.

And we became a tad more uncomfortable upon hearing Commissioner Jim O’Donnell complain (starting at the 1:59:08 mark of the video) that the District was borrowing money “to do the maintenance-type stuff that we have to do” – even though he, too, failed to provide data that would support his argument.

Being penny wise with the levy can be pound foolish if it results in MRR being neglected – as we recently learned from Supt. Ken Wallace’s and his rubber-stamp school boards’ 9 years of irresponsible (and intentional?) neglect of MRR for all 3 Maine Township High School District 207’s school buildings, which will now end up costing taxpayers $345 million, $100 million of which will be wasteful, non-deductible interest payments.

We surely don’t need that kind of irresponsibility and mismanagement at the Park District.

But assuming the Park Board majority is doing its job, we applaud increases in user fees that allocate the fully-loaded operating costs of activities, programs and facility usage to the people whose use causes those operating costs. And if those programs, activities and facilities provide sufficient value (and the market permits it), we wouldn’t mind seeing user fees set at levels where they might even generate a PROFIT to the District that could be used to cover unrelated costs.

If that gets rid of the freeloaders who view Park District programs, activities and facilities as a kind of discount all-you-can-eat buffet, so much the better.

UPDATE 12.06.2018. We are saddened to hear of the sudden death of Park District Commissioner Jim Janak on Tuesday, December 4. Jim was a fine man who was just embarking on his public life and service to our community, having been elected to the Park Ridge Park District Board of Commissioners in April 2017 and having recently joined the  committee of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund.

During his 1-1/2 years on the Park Board he was a dependable voice and vote for honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability. Although we disagree with Mr. Joel that “only the good die young,” we mourn the loss to our community of not only the person Jim was at the time of his death but, also, the person he undoubtedly would have become had he been given more than 38 years.

Our condolences go out to his wife, Stacie, and his children Finnegan and Addison. A fundraiser has been established for the Janak Family, with online contributions being accepted at: https://www.facebook.com/donate/1873636402735337/

Hail and farewell, Jim.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

Why is it that some people believe they are entitled to things, especially things provided for by their fellow taxpayers via “the government”? And why do they keep trying to justify it by saying “I pay taxes.”

We all pay taxes, but we all don’t use things that cost our fellow taxpayers extra money, or that require them to subsidize our uses.

People like Meade are the problem. And people like the Park Board majority look like the solution.

I haven’t used a park district park or facility in years. I have my own park that’s my backyard. My kids are grown so they’re not in sports programs or other activities. I work out at FFC, which is much better than the Centennial Fitness Center. But I don’t mind paying my taxes for the park district that makes this stuff available for the community.

But I don’t want my taxes to subsidize users who don’t want to pay for these amenities, not necessities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That distinction between “amenities” and “necessities” is important because NOTHING the Park District offers is essential.

Back when this editor was on the Park Board he proposed – in response to a couple of Board members complaining about user fees – a referendum where the taxpayers could vote on whether every Park District amenity (i.e., parks, fitness center, ice rink, programs, etc.) would be “free” because the taxpayers would cover all costs. Those two Board members immediately backed off because they knew the taxpayers would not support that version of freeloading.

I would have liked O’Donnell to explain how the PRPD was borrowing money to do maintenance, because I find that hard to believe. If true, that would be something that the Board majority and Director Mountcastle should be called on the carpet for because that’s exactly what D-207 officials did to get themselves in their mess.

Mr. O’Donnell, I hope you read this and I hope you either put up or retract your statement.

“Why is it that some people believe they are entitled to things, especially things provided for by their fellow taxpayers via “the government”?

“We all pay taxes, but we all don’t use things that cost our fellow taxpayers extra money, or that require them to subsidize our uses”.

But I don’t want my taxes to subsidize users who don’t want to pay for these amenities, not necessities.

You guys are right! Metra’s fees should be raised to a level where user fees cover all expenses.

It is amazing to me how you all can get so huffy about some things and ignore so many others. “Provided via the government”….good lord the new streetscape work on NW HWY was paid for in part by state grants which represent other peoples taxes!

By the way I have no problem at all with PD fees. I have happily paid for programs, camps and the pool every summer. I think the summer pool fees are the best deal in town.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since you appear to be addressing parts of the comments of Bnonymous on 12.04.18 @ 8:08 PM and Anonymous on 12.04.18 @ 11:04 PM, they can respond for themselves.

But speaking as the editor of this blog, as a daily METRA rider for the past 30 years I have always believed that the fees should be raised at least to the point where they cover the operating/user-related costs. But the stupid and/or corrupt politicians who get elected and re-elected by pandering to the special-interest users rather than to the majority of taxpayers who don’t use METRA won’t demand that of the METRA Board; i.e., more politicians or lackeys for politicians.

“[T]he new streetscape work on NW HWY was paid for in part by state grants” because the Madigan-controlled General Assembly has become masterful at buying votes with money taken from the state’s taxpayers and then redistributed for maximum political value. But unless you can show that Park Ridge is getting more money – whether in grants or otherwise – from the state than Park Ridge taxpayers are paying in, you cannot credibly argue that the streetscape was subsidized by “other peoples taxes.”

By the way, you bring up board member O’Donnell. He was instrumental in getting the city to spend taxpayer dollars on new bike parking areas at the train station.

Now if I take your position I should be outraged, right? I mean I will NEVER use these “amenities”. My bike will never be parked there. Maybe I should stand by the bike racks in the morning any yell freeloaders as people park their bikes.

Instead I understand that while I might not use it, this is a good thing for the community. I also understand that there are things my family uses that others might not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why, if you “take [our] position,” should you “be outraged” just because you “will NEVER use” the bike parking at the METRA station?

That’s infrastructure, and we’ve rarely (if ever) objected to small infrastructure projects like this one that (a) don’t involve significant amounts of long-term bonded debt and/or (b) don’t significantly change the use or character of the area in which they are constructed. So your point – other than demonstrating your ignorance or attempted misrepresentation of our positions – is what exactly?

The Park District didn’t anticipate the loss of members to the exercise facility that the competition down the street has brought in. If you go to exercise at the community center the volumes have declined greatly. The user fees increase will not be enough to cover the ever increasing costs of maintaining that building.

Either taxes increase along with user fee increases or the offerings at the rec center have to be decreased. Can’t have it both ways.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the District didn’t anticipate the loss of members because of FFC, it was myopic and/or stupid.

The community/fitness center was a disaster-in-waiting from the start, a half-baked facility promoted by an incompetent director and a reckless and/or stupid park board that, back in 1990-92, were afraid to ask the taxpayers (via referendum) for the $15 million of bonding authority needed to build a first-class, right-sized facility. So, instead, they maxed out the District’s non-referendum borrowing power (around $8 million) and built a facility that was poorly-designed, undersized, and inadequate in more ways than not.

Maybe the District will need to decide whether it needs to re-invent the facility as something different than it currently is, or else come up with a renovation/expansion plan and ask the taxpayers via referendum to authorize the bonding for it. But pouring bundles of tax dollars into the current facility seems like money down a rathole. Of course, the users who prefer cheap to good (unless their fellow taxpayers are subsidizing them) won’t/don’t think so.

I belonged to the Community Center for four years before moving to FFC. I agree with your note that the Park District will need to do something different with the Community Center, because it isn’t cutting it as a fitness and workout facility.

Sorry to hear about Mr. Janak. Tragic to die that young, that suddenly, and with a wife and two young kids.

Does this mean that there will be a two year seat up for election in April to fill out the rest of his term, like with Tiu at D64?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We think the seat must be filled for the balance of its term through election, like with Tiu’s.

Speaking of the Community Center how come the YMCA which was on that spot originally closed down?

That was there for more than 30 years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Metropolitan YMCA Board closed the Park Ridge Y as part of a strategy to close or cut programs at five underperforming Ys that had other nearby Ys to pick up the slack (in Park Ridge’s case, Lattof and Leaning Tower) due to declining membership and rising costs.



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