Jeff Ward: Geneva's City Council Strikes a Blow Against the Municipal Mindset

It's a Christmas miracle!

If it weren’t for those pesky restraining orders, seven Geneva councilmen would soon learn exactly how it feels to be kissed squarely on the lips by an overenthusiastic opinion columnist. And 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg is the first one I’d want to catch under the mistletoe. (Don’t worry, Ron, you’re next!)

As a result of a Kilburg-incited City Council insurrection, on Monday night, our aldermen actually voted to hold the property tax line! Sure, this dip in the proposed levy adds up to only a $10 annual savings on a $300,000 home, but when it comes to striking a blow against the municipal mindset, we all know that size doesn’t matter.

That said, as those of you who’ve been following along on Channel 10 can readily attest, that dreaded municipal malady certainly threatened to dash the hopes of tax-weary Genevans everywhere.

It started during last week’s initial discussion with 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Piper comparing the move to eliminate the proposed $10 increase to “picking fly (poop) out of pepper.” The alderman always has had a way with words.

Then on Monday night, 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra, giving what I suspect was actually the mayor’s speech, said, “This is what we’re talking about here folks, $10 for the entire year … Does that $10 really lessen the economic impact to a homeowner?”

Some folks just love to spend other people's money, don’t they? I wonder if there’s a 12-step program for that?

But to answer Maladra’s rhetorical question, “Yes it does!,” because it never ends with just $10. First, it’s a $50 2010 property tax increase, then it’s a 5 percent water-rate hike with another to follow, the base water-meter charge is going up, the price of garbage stickers has gone up, Geneva’s utility taxes have gone up and so on and so on.

Before you know it, these “fly poop” city tariffs add up to a real amount that can force a family facing chronic unemployment to choose between a prescription medication and paying tribute to the city of Geneva.

What Piper, Maladra and the mayor can’t seem to comprehend is, as is often the case at this time of year, it’s the thought that counts! The fact that the City Council essentially told us, “We get it! We won’t ask you for as much because we know you’re tapped out,” made me stand up and salute cable Channel 10.

You see, sometimes a symbolic gesture, even one this small, can actually restore your faith in the political process. Being heard and acknowledged by the very folks you voted into office can be a magical thing.

Maladra and Piper also regularly referenced the plethora of “cuts” Geneva’s already had to endure. Sorry guys, but what you call “cuts” I call “reduction by attrition.” The truth is, Geneva hasn’t even begun to make cuts. Simply leaving positions vacant and comparing budget-to-budget line items instead of actual expenses doesn’t even begin to add up to the kind of cuts Geneva should be considering.

For example, would someone please explain exactly why our spiffy new half-million-dollar computer system won’t make some city jobs redundant?

But what really surprised me is, despite his bid for higher office, Mayor Burns twice cast the vote that kept the higher tax levy alive for another week.

At the Dec. 5 City Council meeting, aldermen first voted 5-4 in favor of the levy reduction, but because 5th Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino was undergoing experimental cancer treatment (Get well soon, Ralph!), the mayor was required to weigh in, twice tying the score.

On the one hand, you have to give Mayor Burns credit for having the courage to keep the levy conversation alive for another week. The expedient thing to do would’ve been to make political hay while the sun shines by voting for the lower levy number with a flourish.

"Ta daaa! I win!"

On the other hand, this action calls into question Burns’ claim of being a “fiscally conservative mayor.” When given the opportunity, fiscally conservative mayors don't vote for the larger of two tax hikes.

With Piper absent and Dantino attending by phone, only two councilmen opposed the lesser levy, 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsburg and, of course, Maladra. But once the new number passed, the final vote to accept it was unanimous.

It may not happen very often, but any time a government body manages to shake off the effects of the municipal mindset, no matter how brief it might be, it’s well worth noting.

And while this symbolic effort may be just a start, by clearly announcing “we’re not spending any more of your money,” it may well be the best Christmas present the City Council could give the citizens of Geneva.

Jeff Ward December 14, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Bob, Sam was the first to vote against it, but some things happen behind the scenes which can often work out better than wielding a sledgehammer. Jeff
Bob McQuillan December 14, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Jeff That is the problem with most of these taxing bodies, everything happens behind the curtain. Just ask Blago & Ryan (no I'm not saying anything illegal was done). Sam Hill and Chuck Brown led the fight on the levy, no ifs and or butts. Putting yourself out there and listening to the people isn't the easiest thing to do. It is very easy to be the third man in. As I said, check previous voting records on all boards to find out who the real fiscal conservatives are. As to the sledgehammer comment, the sledgehammer has accomplished what it set out to do, get the school district to listen and understand that many mistakes were made in the past. They have shown signs that they are listening but they need community help in making major decisions on how to handle this debt monster. By the way, have you sent the school board any ideas on how to pay off $325,600,000? Your wife, when she finishes her classes, might have a difficult time finding a teachers job if all districts don't develop a reasonable & FACT based 10-year plan. If anyone needs to rent a sledgehammer, give a call or send an e-mail to taxfacts@sbcglobal.net. It had been used quite a bit but still works just fine.
Bob McQuillan December 14, 2011 at 06:45 PM
James Just wondering, are you a resident of the Geneva School District? Just asking because I have heard that people that post on this blog don't pay taxes to the Geneva School District. I don't speak for Rich Hayhurst but I know him and he is a friend of mine. But you already knew that didn't you. I have nothing to hide. Anyone can send me an e-mail at taxfacts@sbcglobal.net or call at 630-205-1683. Check the history of referenda before you make comments. FACTS show that all school tax rate increase referenda, since the early '90's, failed the first time on the ballot; some never passed. Some of the construction referenda failed the first time; they were reworked and passed at a lower dollar amount. Then the bonds were issued at a premium (some at 9%). As to voter turnout, certainly a higher turnout COULD have meant a higher "landslide" victory but as shown above, history says the opposite. Why do you think school referenda are always asked the first time in the Spring election? Ask the district, they'll admit they don't want to ask in a general election. Why? Yep, low voter turnout means the school employees (including teachers) and their spouses and other school "cheerleaders" can have a major influence on the result. The district employs over 900 people, lets say that half live in Geneva and half of those have a spouse; we won't even count voter aged children. That is 675 votes just among employees. That is a pretty good number to start with.
James Parnell December 14, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Bob, For a guy who prides himself on knowing and using the FACTS, why would you use an arbitrary figure like "half of Geneva employees live in the district" to justify your argument? Do you know this for a "fact"? And if someone supports the school district with a vote in favor of a referendum they are a "cheerleader" for the district? As if the only people who ever vote in favor of a referendum are those who will directly benefit financially. Sometimes people look out for the best interests of the community Bob, not just themselves.
Bob McQuillan December 14, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Jim Please reread my comment. As usual, you didn't answer my question and then tried to put words in my mouth. That is a sure sign that you don't want to debate the issues, you want to find fault with everything I say. If "cheerleaders" and providing an estimate on how many district employees live in Geneva is the best you can find then you failed to make any point. "Lets say half" means that I don't have the FACTS but lets just estimate the number. It's done all the time, like when the school district estimated how many students would be here in 2020. And if you don't think there are school district "cheerleaders" you haven't read the Geneva Patch. Many writers on the Patch were born and raised in Geneva and bleed blue & white (or black for the football team). The motto for the Patch should be PRO-GENEVA ALL THE TIME. Jim, take your rose colored glasses off and answer the question: do you pay taxes for the Geneva School District?


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