Friday, June 17, 2011

City finds $1.73 million but still hasn't reimbursed residents $237,046

The Highland Park Patch reported “good news” this week. Seems Highland Park has found some real money. At the last City Council meeting, it was disclosed that the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report – Highland Park’s audited financial statement for 2010- revealed that HP had a larger fund balance than projected. Instead of the $11,423,899 projected (or was it reported), the final audited amount was $13,153,861 according to Finance Director Elizabeth Holleb. So, what does this mean?

That’s a “finding” of $1,729,962 that HP unintentionally didn’t spend last year. According to the report, the unreserved, undesignated fund balance in the general fund at December 31, 2010, “represents 45.6% of the 2011 general fund operating expenditures, exceeding the City’s policy guidelines set by the Council for budgetary and planning purposes.”

Yes, in general, it is mighty good to find an additional $1.73 million in your purse. Pretty soon, you’re talking real money… Yet, this also begs additional questions and raises a fine opportunity for the City of Highland Park to correct a terrible inequity it foisted on certain residents.

Let us not forget that 47 HIGHLAND PARK RESIDENTS PAID $237,046 TO THE CITY OF HP UNDER COERCION for unnecessary "repairs" to lateral sanitary sewer lines performed on their private property to address City infrastructure problems. Let us also not forget that these residents allowed this work to be done only because of coercion and threat by the City, and that the Master Neighborhood Sewer Program still exists and could be assessed against other residents at any time. The residents who paid need to be reimbursed (unless you talk to Councilman Steven Mandel who is clearly on record as being unwilling to do so) and the good news is that the City of Highland Park just found the money pay them back and still retain $1.5 million in its coffers from the new found money!

During the recent mayoral elections and 2011 budget discussions, former Councilman Terri Olian raised the possibility of repayment to these residents but questioned how and when the payments could be made without adversely affecting the budget. Candidate Nancy Rotering, now Mayor Rotering, when asked about reimbursing these residents, told the group at the Ravinia Train Station that while she was supportive of reimbursing these residents, as mayor she would only be just one voice among all the councilmen, that she could not promise reimbursement if she were elected.

Well, Mayor Rotering, you’re elected, and in large part due to the support of the Ravinia Neighborhood Association, primarily because of your criticism and willingness to stand up during the fiasco in 2008 and 2009 with regard to the Master Sanitary Sewer Program. Now it's time for you to show real leadership and address this program head on. City Council needs to immediately reimburse these 47 HP residents who have suffered significant financial damage at the hands of City Council, led by City Manager, David Limardi, who ignored everyone’s complaints about the program and pleas throughout.

The good news is that City Council now has “found money” to reimburse these residents and to put this shameful period in this fine city behind us. The City has the funds to cut a check today. Do it!

And, to Mayor Nancy, you were elected to right these wrongs, so we’d like to hold you accountable for getting this done. You need to talk with the councilmen and secure their agreement, at least by a majority, to do this -- that's what leadership is all about. You're not just another councilman now, you're the Mayor!

And, we’ll leave for another day the questions about what budgeted expenses, approved by the City Council, weren't fulfilled to result in a “surprise” net $1.73 million; whether there were any accounting irregularities that caused this budget surprise; how the City’s auditors are selected (as in, do we bid this work out and do we want any City service vendors to have less than 15% women partners?), and other fine questions that arise whenever we’re treated to budget surprises, favorable or unfavorable. Of course, we like the good news surprises better.

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