Public Watchdog.org

Is “Reform” Finally Coming To Maine Township Government?

01.24.18

Illinois has almost 7,000 units of government – a whopping 2,000+ more than first runner-up Pennsylvania. In contrast, Florida deserves the taxpayers’ Miss Congeniality award for serving 6 million more residents than Illinois with only 1,650 units of government.

Critics of our banana republic (formerly known as the “Land of Lincoln”) correctly attribute its nearly bankrupt condition to our surfeit of taxing/borrowing/spending entities. And one of the bigger contributors to our fiscal buffoonery is township government.

Illinois has 1,432 individual units of township government, even though 17 of Illinois’ 102 counties have none at all. That leaves 85 counties with an average of 16.85 townships apiece. And because all townships sit within county borders, there are two higher layers of government – state and county – already in place to address the needs of township residents.

But all townships also contain municipalities (Park Ridge is home to portions of Maine, Norwood and Leyden townships) that provide yet another layer of government services to township residents within those municipalities’ borders, to say nothing of the park districts, school districts, library districts and even mosquito abatement districts that do the same.

Against the backdrop of such perversely-comical redundancy we offer today’s post, our first ever that focuses exclusively on Maine Township government and on how three newly-elected (in April, 2017) trustees – Dave Carrabotta (R), Claire McKenzie (D) and Susan Sweeney (R) – have forged a bi-partisan majority to challenge the Township’s sclerotic business-as-usual operations and shake it loose from its historical Illinois Combine-style politics.

We’ll refer to them collectively as “The Reformers.”

To illustrate what they are up against, we direct your attention to a January 2, 2018 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “Maine Township trustees set property tax levies amid pushback” – which captures some of the half-truths, “what ifs” and wrong-thinking that have made Maine Twp. government a sluggish political backwater for decades.

Back in November The Reformers voted 3-2 (Supervisor Laura Morask and Trustee Kim Jones voting no) to lower the Township’s general town fund and general assistance levies by 5 percent, arguing that the Township was sitting on substantial reserves and did not need the higher levy Morask was seeking.

Imagine that: A majority of Maine Twp. elected officials actually voting to reduce a tax levy. They must be taking lessons from the Park Ridge City Council, which last month reduced its levy for the second consecutive year – this time by 8.99% – as Mayor Marty Maloney credited the late mayor Dave Schmidt and the late alderman Dan Knight for starting the do-more-with-less effort that City staff and the current Council have built upon.

Although The Reformers won that November vote, at the Township Board’s December 19 meeting Morask argued vigorously against the reduction while her long-time ally, Township Highway Commissioner Walter Kazmierczak, insisted on a 2 percent increase in his road and bridge levy that would push his department’s annual revenue to over $2 million.

That brought a rebuke from Sweeney, who pointed out that Kazmierczak’s department had spent approximately $1.8 million the previous year, and well below $2 million in previous years.

But Morask and Kazmierczak weren’t giving up.

They threw every single uncertainty, contingency and catastrophe they could imagine against the Town Hall wall: Uncertain health care costs, successful property tax appeals, increased user fees, the potential for a cold and snowy winter, increased overtime costs, possible increases in commodity costs, an increase in the CPI – even the possibility of the General Assembly approving a property-tax freeze.

When that didn’t appear to be swaying The Reformers, however, Morask and Kazmierczak insisted that the Board was legally required to approve Kazmierczak’s road and bridge levy request – with Morask telling them: “You guys really don’t have a choice.”

Fortunately, The Reformers are learning that Morask is often wrong, even if never in doubt.

McKenzie, an attorney, pointed out the absurdity of the Board’s having to vote on a levy without being able to vote “no” – especially given Kazmierczak’s admission that his department “had plenty of money left over” from last year due to a mild 2016-2017 winter. Maybe he’s looking to create a slush fund (pun intended).

That left it to Morask to provide the night’s biggest whopper in trying to impose her will on The Reformers:

“Right now, we have the perception of being good government.”

We can only wonder where Morask acquired the delusion that “good government” consists of spending almost $700,000 a year to give out less than $200,000 of general assistance benefits.

That’s right, folks: According to the the Township’s own report, the Morask Administration – which more accurately should be called the “Morass Administration” – it appears that last year the Township paid $697,804 out of its “General Assistance Fund” (presumably in staff salaries and related expenditures) in order to distribute $183,833 of benefits to the needy residents of the Township. By our calculation that’s an efficiency rating of 21%.

If Maine Township were a private charitable organization it would be flagged as one to avoid because of its excessive overhead expenditures!

Hopefully that kind of inefficiency factored into The Reformers once again approving a 5% reduction in the general town fund and general assistance levies, and a flat road and bridge levy, by a 3-2 (Morask and Jones again voting “no”) majority.

We realize Maine Township, with an annual budget of around $7 million, absorbs less than 2% of our RE tax bills – even as the City of Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Library combined take about 13%, and the schools grab the lion’s share of approximately 69% (with a majority of that going to Park Ridge-Niles School District 64). At the December 19 meeting, Sweeney noted the Township’s relatively small RE tax bite while correctly observing: “[T]hat doesn’t mean we should go without scrutiny or [not] look at saving whatever tax dollars [we can].”

We quoted scripture in our 03.17.2011 post about how D-64’s bumbling of its lunchtime supervision program did not bode well for its bigger decisions: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10 (King James Version). That same passage could apply to Maine Township if not for The Reformers.

Here’s hoping Carrabotta, McKenzie and Sweeney stick together and remain faithful to both the Township’s taxpayers and its neediest residents by even more aggressively calling out the business-as-usual incompetence (if not outright waste) that has been SOP for Township government for too long.

To read or post comments, click on title.

10 comments so far

Great job by the Reformers, who I hear are also responsible for the new videotaping of Township Board meetings. Bravo!

And great job by the City in reducing its levy two years in a row. I also respect how Mayor Maloney acknowledged the roles of Mayor Dave and Ald. Dan in repairing City finances after the three previous mayors wrecked them.

This being Illinois and Crook County, I won’t get my hopes up too high yet. But maybe, just maybe, this kind of governing might start to catch on IF the “mainstream” media actually reported it fairly and accurately.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You heard right re videotaping. Ms. Sweeney was an early supporter of Mayor Dave Schmidt and jumped on his H.I.T.A. bandwagon years ago. And as best as we can tell, Ms. McKenzie and Mr. Carrabotta have signed on.

Kudos for shedding light on the absolutely out of control administrative costs of our Township government and the “Bi-partisan Reformers” who are fighting the battle to bring things under control.

Go Reformers!

I wonder how many twp. employees are somebody’s son, daughter, nephew, cousin, etc.? $700K to give out $180K of benefits is obscene. How long has that been going on?

I don’t have great faith in other governmental bodies (that would take on the functions currently performed by townships if they were eliminated) – but it seems these townships exist largely to provide jobs and positions for politicians to fill. Your comparison of cost and benefits distributed is unfortunately not surprising. We need reform!!!

Small peanuts. Start getting ready for the $8-9 figure gut rehab of all three 207 schools, initial plans supposed to be released late February.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s less than D-64 is spending on the buildings it neglected for over a decade while it kept giving above-CPI raises to teachers and administrators – while the School Board kept telling the gullible taxpayers “we’re delaying another referendum because of our great management.”

Small potatoes, but a start. Now what about the schools?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lower performance, higher expense. Brilliant!

The word “referendum” was used by Borrelli at the board meeting Monday night, so it’s coming. Question is when? And of course there’s the revisit of PREA salaries provided in the contract, never mind that the teachers already get a yearly automatic increase (Steps) just for being there, thus their salaries increase more than the CPI. So I guess anything we can save elsewhere, no matter how small helps. I would love to see the township go away. Let Taxwinkle take it over, PW, you are correct, spending $700,000 for $183,000 in benefits just doesn’t make sense! Morass is an idiot, and an evil one at that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every time Borrelli has used the word “referendum” in the past has been when he’s patting himself and prior boards on the back for avoiding referendums – even as the District borrows more and more money without the attention a referendum would get.

The Township will not be going away anytime soon, so we need to be grateful to the Reformers for serving as a check and balance on Morask and Crew’s mismanagement. But don’t mistake her for “an idiot”: She knows exactly what she is doing, and she’s got a go-along-to-get-along Township attorney she pays for with taxpayer money to help her get her way.

Damn you, PW. Your Maine Twp. post now has me going to its website, reading board packets and watching videos.

The board packet and the mtg video had from this past Tuesday night had Assessor Susan Moylan Krey (any relation to Marty Moylan?) propose a “pilot program” to give low-income seniors money to pay their property taxes. Sounds to me like a blatant political giveaway to a dependable voting bloc, and a way to make sure no Maine Twp. employee loses their job.

Bnonymous@11:10 a.m.
Low income seniors who earn under $65,000/yr are eligible for the senior freeze exemption on their property taxes. I’ve not read the packet or watched the video, but if Moylan Krey is proposing more giveaways on property taxes than that that are we to start paying their gas and electric and cable bills as well? Where does it end?

$700,000 a year to provide $200,000 of aid is ridiculous. where’s the shame from the perpetrators? If that’s their management capability, there’s got to be more waste elsewhere in the township budget.



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