Increasing Park District Fees: Are You F-Ing Kidding Us!?!?! – Part 2


Today we discuss the economics of Kathy (Panattoni) Meade’s “Are you F-ing Kidding Me” demands for low-cost – if not “free” – amenities (not “necessities”) from the Park Ridge Park District, such as  organized recreational and sports activities, assorted types of entertainment, and a variety of “classes,” “camps” and activities that effectively serve as low-cost babysitting for many parents.

But, first, we need to make sure everybody understands the basic premise underlying these Park District amenities: The Park District (like all other units of local government) has no money of its own.

There’s no “Lost Dutchman” gold mine under the Centennial Park sled hill, nor any vast Vatican-like real estate holdings in Downtown Chicago and Manhattan. The Park District gets its money from the taxpayers, either through RE taxes or user fees. And because the District’s share of our total annual RE tax bills is roughly 6%, if your total RE tax bill is $10,000 per year you’re paying a modest $600 to the District whether you use the facilities and programs or not.

We also need to make sure everybody understands the genesis of the Park District’s money problems, which occurred around 1992 when it dug itself a large financial hole by borrowing approximately $8 million – more than the District’s annual budget at the time – to build the Community Center (now the “Centennial Recreation Center”) without a referendum that would have permitted the District to specially tax the residents to cover the capital cost of that facility.

Why did those 1990-92 park board members – Garry Abezetian, Joyce Clark, Bob Hamilton, Dave Hilquist, Mike Rozovics, Roy Sues and Mary Hester Tone – authorize such a facility without a referendum?

For the same reason that the City Council in the early 2000s didn’t go to referendum for its borrowing of tens of millions of dollars to subsidize the Uptown Redevelopment project. And for the same reason the Park Board didn’t go to referendum in 2012 for its borrowing of over $7 million for the new Centennial water park:

They were afraid they would lose a referendum vote! And then they would have had to assume the political consequences if they chose to disregard that vote and do the project anyway.

So in 1992 the Park Board basically maxed out the District’s non-referendum bonding power to build whatever it could get for $8 million. And all it could get was a haphazardly designed and hastily built facility with (a) an indoor pool too short and too narrow for sanctioned swim meets, (b) two basketball courts instead of the needed four, (c) an equivalently-undersized running track, (d) an exercise room that the exercise classes outgrew within the first year, (e) a lobby providing no way to control or manage access and traffic, and (f) so many other flaws and deficiencies that in 2004 the regional manager of a national fitness chain – after thoroughly inspecting the facility – pronounced it unworthy of purchase by, or even a management contract for, that chain.

Worse yet, the Community Center debt service severely handicapped the District’s ability to maintain, repair and renovate its parks and other facilities, especially after Cook County voters (in 1995) approved RE tax caps that limited annual tax increases by the Park District to the lower of 5% or the increase in the CPI.

The District’s finances were so shaky that it began issuing short-term, non-referendum bonds to pay the Community Center’s long-term debt service. Think of it as using your VISA card to pay your mortgage – only without getting any miles or points.

Consequently, Hinkley Pool was allowed to fall into such disrepair that it was pronounced “unsafe” and closed for an entire summer until it could be rebuilt. Oakton and Centennial pools suffered similar neglect from a lack of funding.

At least 4 times between from 1995 and 2006 – in November 1995, in April 2005, in March 2006 and in November 2006 – the voters rejected referendums for new outdoor pools. That’s why the 2012 Park Board decided to build the new Centennial water park by doing exactly what the 1992 park board did with the Community Center: Max out the District’s non-referendum borrowing power without giving the taxpayers a vote.

In order to cope with the Community Center debt fiasco and the tax caps, however, the District was effectively forced to institute and/or increase user fees so that the facilities, classes, sports and recreational programs that could generate revenue would begin covering some of their own costs.

And, ‘lo and behold, it actually worked!

As we understand it, the Park District now generates almost 51% of its $20 million annual revenue through user fees. And a good chunk of the credit goes to Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle (whom we have excoriated at times for sins of both commission and omission) and those Park Board members who have supported and encouraged that user-fee strategy, including the current Board majority.

What’s wrong with paying for the amenities you use?

Plenty, if you’re a big-time user of the District’s pay-to-play facilities, classes and programs. Paying for what you and your family use is a stake through the heart of our local “freeloaders” who are constantly “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.”

In the freeloader universe, the Park District is like a Club Med-style, all-inclusive resort where your property taxes entitle you to anything you want at no extra charge, or at a nominal upcharge. And if that means your usage is subsidized by your fellow taxpayers, so much the better! Hence the beefing about fee increases by uber-users like Kathy Meade, who believe they shouldn’t have to go to Niles, Des Plaines, Chicago, or other communities to get “affordable” facilities, classes and programs.

Why not?

We’ve always advocated for “value” in local governmental services, meaning that the quality and/or quantity of the facilities, services, programs or activities should meet or exceed their costs to the taxpayers and consumers. That being said, consumers should be able to get their value wherever they can find it.

So if Niles, Des Plaines, Chicago or other nearby communities can offer better facilities, classes and programs – or comparable ones at cheaper prices – than our Park District can, why not take advantage of those? If our residents think they can get a better deal on their amenities from other communities, they are actually doing our non-freeloading taxpayers a favor by consuming those other communities’ resources rather than our own.

Better yet, they can start patronizing PRIVATE facilities like FFC Park Ridge that actually pay RE taxes rather than consume them.

In an optimal situation the taxpayers could cover the cost of the District’s capital expenditures for the parks, playing fields and facilities, as well as routine maintenance and repairs. To the extent the costs of operating those parks, fields and facilities – e.g., the costs of combatting the wear and tear from organized and programmed usage – can be allocated to those organized and programmed users, they should be. And the entire, fully-loaded cost of programs, classes and activities should be charged to the users.

That way, Ms. Meade and her ilk can choose to send their kids to Taft High School’s “week long soccer camp for $60 for 5 days and 3-1/2 hours a day AND offer lunch and a t-shirt” (which might help explain why the Chicago Public Schools are bankrupt) while still paying her taxes to our Park District.

We call that a win-win for the taxpayers. And we encourage Ms. Mountcastle and the current Board majority to keep up the good work in that regard.

But, just for a reality check, maybe the Park Board could put a referendum question on the ballot that lets the taxpayers vote on whether they want to pay higher RE taxes so that the District’s facilities, classes, programs and activities can be all-inclusive without any user fees whatsoever.

Then those Park Board members could sit back and wait for a different kind of “Are you F-ing kidding us!?!?!” complaint – followed by the inevitable landslide of “No!” votes.

And another predictable whine from Ms. Meade.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Veterans Day 2017


Five years ago we printed a letter-to-the-editor penned by Park Ridge resident Joseph “Jay” Hirst back in 2007.  Mr. Hirst has updated it slightly and we thought it worthy of a revival this Veterans Day, especially because the events Mr. Hirst describes began 50 years ago today.


As Veterans Day approaches each year, it typically causes me to pause and consider my service in the Army, particularly my time in Vietnam. However, unlike previous Veterans Days, the approach of this date has caused me to spend significantly more time in contemplation than I normally have done in the past.

Moreover, I know why. For me, this Veterans Day represents a significant anniversary.

On November 11, 1967, elements of my unit (including me), Company N (November) of the 75th Rangers, was sent into the highlands to be attached to and to support the 173rd Airborne Brigade in securing a hill not quite 3,000 feet high (875 meters). What is so hard for me to believe sometimes is that what was three years out of high school back then for me is now 50 years ago.

For those next 12 days in 1967, Hill 875 became a battleground unlike any other in Vietnam as the 66th Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army – with its Chinese advisors – stood their ground and fought a battle of trenches and fortified bunkers more like World War I or II than Vietnam. The network of tunnels used by the NVA throughout the area made any semblance of a “front” frustratingly fluid.

With the 2/503d Battalion of the 173rd leading the way, we initiated the final push for the top of the hill on November 19th. Over the next 5 days the 173rd lost 279 of America’s finest souls killed in action while suffering over 900 wounded and a reported 33 MIA’s.

On the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1967, “The Hill” was finally taken in a cold steady monsoonal downpour made worse by the devastated terrain, the despair over the losses experienced, and just plain pure exhaustion. Thanksgiving dinner that last day was one of the most miserable meals I ever ate. And every Thanksgiving since – I remember that day with a chilling reminder I may not have had that meal or any since.

I was alive, in large part because of the heroism of Carlos Lozada. Carlos, despite being out-manned and out-flanked, was able to maintain a rate of machine gun fire that disrupted an attack of superior forces set to overrun our sector, enabling the rest of us to withdraw with five of our severely wounded. The attack had broken off when “Moose” and I went back up the slope the last time, where Carlos was found mortally wounded.

Despite the Medic’s best efforts, Carlos died before he could be medi-vac’ed. PFC Carlos Lozada was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day, a richly deserved honor. I wish I could say that I knew Carlos well and for a longer period, but in truth I knew him barely more than a week. He came across as an ordinary Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx who ultimately made an extraordinary and selfless sacrifice. And because of the extraordinary acts of this ordinary man, today – 50 years later – I still am able to say how proud I am to have even briefly served with him.

50 years is a long time and the Vietnam of then is now a long way away; yet – there are times, when I close my eyes in reflection, those events play out in my mind like they happened but a moment ago.

I think I am like most other veterans, with their own tales to tell and their own memories to share or keep to themselves as they choose. Like most other veterans, I must admit that some of those memories are painful, some droll, some happy and others melancholy. That is why I personally think the Canadian’s calling their 11th of November “A Day of Remembrance” is so appropriate.

On the 11th of this month, Veterans Day, if you are related to a veteran, know a veteran, or even see a veteran, please take a moment from your busy life and thank them for their service to our country.

Some of these veterans are still kids, freshly home from the Afghanistan, while others of us served a long time ago. And a quickly diminishing few brave souls from WWII and Korea; even longer ago. They all richly deserve credit for what they did, are doing, and will continue to do so Americans like you and I – our children and grandchildren – can have the opportunity to do what we do and be what we are.

However, if you do not happen to know or see a “Vet”, I offer an alternative – pause for a moment to reflect on PFC Carlos Lozada’s ultimate sacrifice for his unit and the “troopers” of a very proud Brigade.

To all my fellow “Vets” – Thank you for your service and your personal investment in what makes this country so unique in this world.

Jay Hirst

Increasing Park District Fees: Are You F-Ing Kidding Us!?!?! – Part 1


A recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Park District budget calls for increases in cost for pool passes and camps – but no tax hike,” Oct. 25) seemed innocuous enough, reporting on recently-announced budget proposals for consideration by Park Ridge Park District Board members Cindy Grau, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach, Jim O’Brien, Jim O’Donnell and Mel Thillens.

But that article and the proposed user-fee increases caused such a firestorm of discussion on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page that the page’s resident dominatrix, Kathy Meade (f/k/a “Kathy Panattoni Meade”), shut down all comments on the entire site “until further notice” because of a “spiral of cruelty.”

Ironically (or maybe not), Meade’s command decision appears to have been made less than 36 hours after she herself kicked off that “spiral of cruelty” with a class warfare mini-rant about the fee increases proposed or endorsed by those “many…park board members” who live in “million dollar home[s]” – which she began with the staid and demure:


For those of you who, like this editor and several others, have been blocked by Meade from reading her posts and her comments because of offenses real and imagined, you can read that entire string by clicking HERE, thanks to one of our unblocked Watchdog “stringers.”

If you do, you can read on the very first page her beefs about visiting the District’s outdoor pools at “$40 for a family of 5…[to] sit in direct sun on the hot concrete”; and about “$80+ for a basketball skills class” with “15 kids…[o]ne instructor…[n]o materials.”

She pines for when “Day Camp used to be $300” (Page 32) and snarls about “the $200 basketball class and $300 drum lessons” (Page 26), and lifeguards “watching hundreds of kids for $8.25 an hour” (Page 8) – whom she wants to be paid $15 an hour (Page 28) without any clue of how to cover that 45% cost increase, other than to stick the taxpayers with it because the pools are too expensive for her already.

She did a lot of the same stuff a couple of years ago when the H-A ran an article about the Park District raising its user fees. We wrote about her entitlement mentality and her opposition to increased Park District fees in our October 21, 2015 post – which we encourage you to read so that we don’t have to repeat all those same arguments here, including our 31-word description of the kind of person for whom we use the shorthand term: “Freeloader.”

After Meade shut down comments on her post because of what she claimed was “bullying” (i.e., the assertion of points of view contrary to hers that she can’t refute other than by accusations of sexism, ageism, elitism, avariciousness, shaming, bullying, etc.) the discussion shifted to the Park Ridge Illinois Citizens Online FB page, where it raged on – apparently without Meade’s participation – until the whole string mysteriously vanished without a trace.

That’s Facebook for you. As cutting as a ginsu but as lasting as the blink of an eye.

We’re not sure who pulled the plug on that particular string of Citizens Online history but, fortunately, another one of our Watchdog “stringers” downloaded it before it was deleted; and you can read it by clicking HERE.

George Orwell warned about this kind of thing in “1984”:

“As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs-to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date….All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.”

Not “fake news” but “fake history.” Even worse.

If not for the foresight and effort of our “stringer,” those 20-pages of Citizens Online post and comments about Meade’s “time-out” style of censorship would be lost to the ages and, for all intents and purposes, would never have existed at all.

For the record, NO PublicWatchdog post ever has been deleted. And the only comments that were not published (about a dozen over the past 10 years of this blog’s regular publication) were: (a) anonymous ones, (b) containing “personal” attacks about individuals, (c) that could not be verified as true, (d) were borderline (or more) libelous, and (e) were unrelated to the “public” lives and/or activities of their subjects.

But while this Facebook folly runs the gamut from troubling to entertaining to just plain silly, it’s merely the back story for the real issue: “How much of the cost for using Park District amenities should be borne by the users instead of the taxpayers?”

We’ll discuss who is “F-ING KIDDING”  whom on that issue in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.