Park Ridge Mayor: Good News, Bad News
Mayor Dave Schmidt tells the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce things may be starting to turn around, but the city still faces challenges. He wants to move forward on economic development.
Mayor Dave Schmidt started his talk at the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce luncheon by joking that his speeches usually comprise warnings of doom and gloom.
This time, though, the speech, which touched on topics from trees to budgets to airplane noise to economic development, admitted just a sliver of sunshine.
Maintaining that the city's budget is at the base of everything, Schmidt said some budget numbers recently came in and put the city's general fund at a $1.4 million surplus.
"A lot of factors went into it--me saying no a few times, a confident finance director, a city council that has started to see the light, just in recognizing and dealing with the problems we have," the mayor commented.
Sales tax revenues up
One other bit of good news is that sales tax revenues are up--15 percent ($5.2 million) two years ago and 17 percent ($5.7 million) this year, the mayor told Chamber members.
"The more sales tax revenues we generate, the less we need to generate from property tax revenues,and people are already very hard pressed," he said. "I'm committed and the aldermen should be committed to keeping your tax bill as low as possible. The city's portion of the property tax bill is only 10 percent, but we're going to do our part to make it as low as possible."
Uptown TIF still a drain on budget
The city's financial picture still has a cloudy spot because of the Uptown TIF, however, the mayor said, adding the general fund has loaned it $5 million and will have to loan it another $5 million.
Park Ridge is hiring a consultant to examine the terms of the Uptown TIF to see if it's possible to lower the annual payment to improve cash flow, but Schmidt said he didn't want to stretch out payments so far that residents' children and grandchildren are paying for them.
On other topics, Schmidt noted that the city has not had as many problems with flooding this year, and the predictions of traffic and crime problems from the Des Plaines casino never materialized.
No immediate relief from plane noise
On the issue of airport and airplane noise, which plagues parts of Park Ridge, Schmidt said the city recently sent a letter to the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, joining with Norridge, Niles and Des Plaines.
However, he speculated that the best hope for reducing airplane noise is the fact that airlines are replacing their fleets with jets with quieter engines. They won't deliver real relief for two to four years, though.
Becoming business friendly
On economic development, Schmidt said one of the things he's most upbeat about is the addition of Shawn Hamilton as city manager and Jim Testin as community preservation and development manager, saying they're the go-to people for businesses that want to come into Park Ridge. For a long time, there really was no one in City Hall whose job made that duty a priority, he said.
Because the audience was one of businesspeople, Schmidt addressed the city's sign ordinance, saying it was archaic and that a sign task force was taking on the issue.
"You have to remember Park Ridge has always been a conservative community and does not want to look like Arlington Heights or Des Plaines or Park Ridge," he said.
He also credited Sheila Duda and Mary Wynn, two business people, for trying to foster economic development in Park Ridge.
Businesses coming and yet to come
Another piece of good news is that Whole Foods is coming to town.
"It's a sign to the rest of the metropolitan area that Park Ridge is a viable place to do business," Schmidt said enthusiastically.
He indicated he'd like to see the Higgins corridor, at the southern tip of town, renewed, but acknowledged it partly depended on whether banks would be willing to back investors so they can develop the area. He specifically said the area needed a great steak restaurant and a great seafood restaurant there.
Many trees at risk of dying
In the question and answer period, the mayor was asked about trees, and said that 25 to 40 percent of the city's parkway trees are ash and elm, threatened by the emerald ash borer and Dutch elm disease.
"The ash trees are goners. There's some hope for the elms if they're treated," he said, adding the city is looking at a cost-sharing program with homeowners who want to save their elms.
The business of business
In response to another question about auto dealerships and whether Lincoln-Mercury was planning to leave, Schmidt acknowledged he had heard rumors about that too, but that the city has a good relationship with Bredemann Toyota.
The mayor also praised the Chamber, and its executive director Gail Haller, for vitalizing business in Park Ridge.
"The only reason our sales taxes (revenues) have gone up has to be because residents are shopping here," he said.