District 79 mulls new property tax increase referendum

Options range from renovations to a $28 million new building

Norridge School District 79 is considering putting yet another property tax increase referendum on the ballot.

If approved by the District 79 board, it would be the fourth referendum attempt since 2014, the previous three having been defeated, including a $25 million bond sale in 2018.

The D-79 referendum discussion comes as local property owners reel from higher property taxes resulting from higher tax levies, including a District 207 high school bond referendum passed in 2018.

The first of these D-207 bond sale payments are being seen in this year’s second property tax bill, due in August.

The increases are compounded by property value re-assessments conducted in 2019, with many homeowners reporting property tax bills rising by 20% or more.

District 79 consists solely of Pennoyer school, and its boundaries include parts of Norridge, Harwood Heights, and unincorporated Norwood Park Township.

Most Pennoyer homes flow into D-207 for high school, with a small number going to District 234 Ridgewood.

Pennoyer hires consultants

As a side effect of the COVID-19 lockdowns, public bodies have been required to publish recordings of meetings held remotely.

District 79 has posted recordings of these virtual meetings on its YouTube channel, including Facilities Committee meetings on June 2 and July 1, where the referendum was discussed at length.

At the June 2 meeting, District 79 board president Michael Malusa and board member Phil LaPalermo appeared to be pushing for a $28 million new school building.

Malusa and LaPalermo advocated a similar expensive strategy in 2018 that failed to show results.

D-207’s 2018 referendum, while successful overall, did not pass in the areas served by D-79.

Pennoyer taxpayers are paying consultants, including EO Sullivan, who was paid $7,500 to conduct robocall phone surveys of 252 residents the week of June 15th 2020.

Those polled by the consultant reported the strongest support for a new school over the other options, but heavy opposition to the $28 million cost.

However, the data shows an over-sampling of left-wing respondents, as well as under-sampling for people over 65.

Seniors are a key active voting demographic in the areas where the referendum will take place.

$10 million now…  $28 million later?

The Facilities Committee discussed various options

  • $7 million dollar renovation
  • $10 million renovation and small addition
  • $18 million renovation and large addition
  • $28 million new school

The committee made a recommendation July 1 for the $10 million renovation and expansion of the existing school building.

LaPalermo indicated Pennoyer would still be looking to spend tens of millions more on a new school further down the road.

“A low end [referendum] would be worthwhile”, LaPalermo said.

“If we can get a yes, get a referendum approved, I think it greatly enhances our chances of getting another one approved 1, 2, 3 years down the road”.

LaPalermo admitted doing a renovation now and a new building later would be wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

“Even though it’s wasteful, because if we do a new building ultimately, that … money is wasted, but you know what, we can’t control that”.

But LaPalermo didn’t want the public to know of more planned tax increase referendum(s), saying it was “too much information”.

“Sometimes too much information to the community is too much, you know”, LaPalermo said.

Higher enrollment

One of the justifications for the referendum was higher enrollment at District 79. Pennoyer says it needs to add multiple new classrooms as a result.

Overcapacity at District 80, and school district consolidation to reduce expenses, were only discussed in passing.

Consolidation of Districts 79 and 80 would make it possible for overflow students to attend Leigh or Giles.

D-79’s school board could take up the committee’s referendum recommendation as soon as the next board meeting, scheduled for July 15 2020.

If the ballot question were to be put on the November 2020 Presidential Election, it must do so by mid-August.

Norridge budget up over $1.8 million despite economic slowdown

$25.3 million budget cuts police nearly $600,000 and streets by $140,000

If Norridge’s budget was at the doctor’s office for its yearly check up, this year’s visit would leave it with a warning: you’re morbidly obese.

The Village of Norridge Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget of $25,361,741 is a $1,840,685 year-over-year increase from the $23.5 million 2019-2020 budget.

The $1.8 million increase comes in spite of the economic hardship currently gripping Illinois as a result of IL Governor JB Pritzker’s “lockdown” executive orders.

The COVID-19 lockdown has hurt government tax revenues

Pritzker’s rule-by-decree lockdown closed many businesses for months, in many cases completely, while service businesses such as restaurants were only able to get by on carry out orders until recently.

Some businesses didn’t survive. Many continue to struggle. This suppression of economic activity has devastated government tax coffers statewide.

Yet that didn’t stop the Village of Norridge, under current appointee-mayor Daniel Tannhauser, from swelling Norridge’s municipal budget further.

More revenue in a down economy?

The Village’s “expected revenues” show a substantial anticipated increase – from $23.7 million in 2019-20, to a whopping $26.5 million in 2020-21.

The claimed expected revenues flies in the face of statewide sales tax revenues being down significantly. Norridge gets $4+ million in state sales tax sharing alone.

Income tax losses could be in the billions. Some of that money makes it to the municipalities via income tax sharing, or indirectly through grants and other funds.

A nearly $3 million increase in tax revenue under these conditions? Unlikely.

Included in Norridge’s “expected revenues” is a $683,000+ increase in gasoline tax income.

No doubt Tannhauser included estimated revenues of the 12-pump gas station being built on Irving Park Road across from the Sieb center.

Is that money likely to materialize this year? With Pritzker’s lockdowns the cause for nearly 1.5 million unemployed in Illinois, and many employees (who are still employed) working from home, the demand for fuel has plummeted

The expected revenues from Tannahuser’s budget, therefore, seems more likely to be, as former Norridge mayor James Chmura would say, “a load of BS”.

Police and streets cut

Even with the $1.8 million budget expansion, the Norridge Police department has been cut by nearly $600,000.

The auxiliary police force was pared back by over $100,000 alone, from $255K in 2019-20, down to $150K in 2020-21. We have received reports many auxiliary officers have already been dismissed.

Is Tannhauser trying to jump on the radical left’s “Defund The Police” train, even as Norridge has been targeted by the mob?

Street maintenance was also cut by $140,000, from $1,845,123 in 2019-20, to $1,702.655 in 2020-21.

Despite the cuts, the Village allocated another $550,000 for the corporate welfare agreements they signed with the owner of the Harlem Irving Plaza.

Funding for attorneys also soared well past the quarter of a million dollar mark, increasing from $240,000 last fiscal year to $300,000 this year.

(The Village’s primary law firm, Johnson & Colmar, is a campaign contributor to Tannhauser’s Norridge Improvement Party.)

Tannhauser’s first… or last budget?

Daniel Tannhauser was appointed to succeed Chmura in 2019, shortly after Chmura’s 2019-2020 budget was rubber stamped by the Village board. The 2020-21 budget is Tannhauser’s first.

He’s gone full throttle on spending, throwing caution to the wind, counting on money that may not be there.

The Village will have to pay the shortfall out of it’s reserves… or, as is more likely, balance the bloated budget on the backs of Norridge’s property owners.

The previous two years saw double digit increases in the Village property tax levy. This year’s levy is up again, to $2.2 million.

Tannhauser’s 2020-21 budget prioritizes corporate welfare and patronage payroll, over police and streets.

One would have thought with an election 9 months away and a deep-pocketed challenger on the horizon already taking shots at him, Tannhauser would a bit more… conservative in an uncertain economy.

If Tannhauser’s imaginary revenue streams don’t become a reality… then his first budget, may very well be his last.

And it’s high time we put Norridge’s budget on a strict diet: better priorities, and fiscal discipline.

Benigno launches 2021 run for Norridge mayor

Illinois Deputy Secretary of State Tom Benigno launches his candidacy for Norridge Village President

Benigno cited a need for new ideas and leadership, in a statement released by the Benigno campaign.

Tom Benigno is running in 2021 for Village President

“We see that many of our community’s strengths have been diminished and that our greatest asset – our people – the very families who pay the taxes and support our schools and village services are not being heard.” said Benigno in the statement.

“Between COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions and unrest across our region, the very fiber of our community is being challenged,” Benigno said.

“It’s time for change, it’s time for a change in leadership. And it’s a time for new ideas. That’s why I’m announcing today that I am running for Norridge Village President.”

“Working together we can be the Norridge we are meant to be – safe streets, attracting new businesses and strong supporting our public schools – all with an eye on holding the line on taxes,” Benigno said. “It’s not just doing more, it’s doing more smartly.”

This will be the third campaign for Benigno, having sought Norridge’s highest elected office in 2013, and in 2017.

In 2013 Benigno ran as an independent against then-financial director James Chmura of the Norridge Improvement Party (NIP).

In 2017 Benigno sought a rematch against Chmura, running with a full slate of candidates under the Norridge First Party ticket, challenging Chmura’s NIP.

Benigno is once again running as an independent, in the local elections scheduled to be held in April 2021.

Daniel Tannhauser of the NIP is currently serving as acting Village President.

Then-trustee Tannhauser was appointed Village President in July 2019, following the abrupt resignation of James Chmura the previous month.

Tannhauser has since stated his intention to seek an elected term for Village President.

Benigno’s campaign website is FriendsofTomBenigno.com, and lists a phone number of (312) 907-5683. His campaign Facebook page is at facebook.com/friendsoftombenigno.


Norridge volunteer makes masks for local police

Susan Tague produced dozens of masks for the Norridge PD

Susan Tague and her mother made dozens of masks for the PD

In response to COVID-19, Norridge resident Susan Tague was making masks for family and friends, as well as offering them to health care workers.

However, she felt a calling to go beyond that, and wanted to produce masks for first responders.

She checked in with the Norwood Park fire department, who thanked her for the offer, but stated the department was mandated to wear the masks they were issued.

Then, she asked the Norridge police department if they could use masks, and they responded positively.

“They were ecstatic that somebody was offering to donate masks to them”, Tague said.

She wanted to make dozens of masks for the PD, but Tague had been laid off from her oncology and hematology job prior to the COVID-19 epidemic.

As a result, Tague, her husband, and their two children were living off only her husband’s income. Finances were tight, limiting the number of masks she could produce.

That’s when she decided to post a request for donations on a local Facebook group, where she received contributions of funds, and 19 home-made masks made by others.

Tague used the money donated to buy more thread, fabric, elastic and copper wire.

She had to be creative to obtain the materials needed to produce the masks, as the raw materials were in high demand.

Norridge Police Chief David Disselhorst wears one of the masks produced by Tague

For the copper wiring, she bought lamp cord from Norridge Ace Hardware, removing the plastic covering, and utilizing the individual copper strands in the masks.

Tague and her mother produced 45 masks in patriotic stars and colors. In total, nearly 70 were delivered to the Norridge PD this week.

The Norridge police department posted photos of the masks on their Facebook page, posing with Tague’s son.

Asked why she went out of her way to ensure Norridge’s first responders had masks, Tague said she had a “Rosie the Riveter” vibe.

“I have a drive to want to help in a situation or a crisis”, Tague says.

It goes back to her grandmother during World War II producing war materials to aid the war effort.

“I felt that ‘Rosie the Riveter’ feeling, where I wanted to pitch in to do something that could be useful.”, she said.

“Or maybe ‘Suzie the Seamstress'”, she added with a chuckle.

Norridge gov must restructure in wake of tax revenue plunge

Village sales tax revenue is crashing due to the virus, here is how we can get costs under control

On March 25, acting Village President Daniel Tannhauser declared a local state of emergency over the COVID-19 “coronavirus”.

The “open” meeting appeared to have been made behind closed doors, in violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Putting aside the questionable legality of this meeting for the time being… this disaster proclamation didn’t in any way take steps to get ahead of what will soon become a financial crisis in Village government.

Village of Norridge restructuring

Of the public bodies serving Norridge, the Norridge municipal government is the most reliant on local sales tax revenue, which is in dramatic free-fall, as a result of the Illinois state government’s economically crippling response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Whether these state actions are justified or not, is a topic for a different discussion.

Regardless, under no circumstances should the Village government assault us with yet another tax increase. It should take the following actions.

Number one – I am calling on all Village of Norridge elected officials, all Village Trustees, Village President, and Village Clerk, to forgo their taxpayer funded salaries for the remainder of the year, and return what they have already received, retroactive to January 1st.

Each trustee earns $16,000 a year, the clerk $12,000, and the Village President $50,000.

The money should be diverted to a fund used to acquire sufficient inventory of protective gear including N95 masks for the Norridge Police Department’s first responders, and anyone else at the PD who interacts with others.

The Norridge PD should not be put in the position of being exposed without the proper protection.

This was proposed in Chicago, and while I don’t often look to the City of Chicago for positive political inspiration, it was a good suggestion, and I will give credit where it’s due.

Number two – I am calling for the immediate cessation of all payments to the Harlem Irving Plaza, including the millions in corporate welfare being paid out for the mall’s expansion, and the $4.2 million being paid out for the Norridge Marketplace.

No further “agreements” should be signed with the mall’s wealthy owner, any of his proxies, or any other corporate entity. The Village could not afford this before, it absolutely cannot afford it now.

Number three – I am calling for a restructuring of the Village of Norridge government for the coming 2020-2021 fiscal year that starts May 1st.

The Village is going to have to make some hard choices given the revenue they are expecting. This virus issue may go on for awhile, and perhaps even become a yearly event during the cold months.

The federal government passed a $2+ trillion dollar “stimulus” bill, which may help the Village with COVID-19 related issues, but it won’t make up for lost tax revenue.

On top of that, Illinois governor JB Pritzker has threatened to cut off or delay monies to local governments if his “progressive” income tax referendum does not pass – which, if you like small businesses, you should oppose.

The Norridge government’s restructuring must include appropriate levels of staffing based on actual needs.

Employees hired because they are friends or relatives of politically connected people, is not a need. Privatize where it makes sense, but the patronage gravy train must end.

The restructuring should includes cuts sufficient to roll back the 35% and 32% property tax levy increases in 2018 and 2019.

Whatever form this restructuring of the municipal government takes, it should not impact the operational effectiveness of the Norridge PD.

Nor should the the current Village rulers use police officers as a tax-increase bargaining chip.

Some restructuring of the PD’s top leadership, however, should not be out of the question.

Right now people are losing their jobs left and right. It may be temporary, but it also may take a long time to recover. Some businesses may not survive.

What happens when people lose their jobs? They stop paying their bills.

Unemployment may be available, but it only provides a portion of the lost income.

Property taxes are one of the biggest bills homeowners receive every year… and a bill you keep getting even if you have no income.

It is a burden for the many who are not politically connected.

Other public bodies must cut costs

In addition, the other public bodies who are taxing Norridge residents should take steps to trim expenses.

I call for Norwood Park Township to cancel its property tax levy entirely for the current fiscal year.

It takes in far more than it needs to perform its few legitimate duties. The township can cut expenses dramatically while having little to no impact on residents.

Township politicians should give up their salaries as well – elected positions pay between $12,000 and $31,000, costing taxpayers over $130,000 total every year.

I am calling on Districts 80 and 234 to continue moving forward with school district consolidation.

I ask District 79 to drop it’s unjustified “no-way-in hell” opposition, and join the effort.

Residents in Harwood Heights may want to prod District 86 to change its passive opposition and actively support it, as well.

We also have two additional and expensive nonessential public bodies taxing us – the Eisenhower library, and the Norridge park district.

Both of these public bodies provide taxpayer-funded services that are utilized by only a subset of our residents.

I am calling on the park district and library to slash their budgets by a minimum of 10%.

In 2014, I attended a library board meeting where I asked the board to charge nonresidents for library services.

I again call on them to implement fees for non-resident library services (like Park Ridge does), and to use those fees in order to reduce its $4.4 million property tax levy by 25%.

I was outraged to discover that, last year, the library board asked for $4.7 million dollars from property owners, nearly 8% more than it levied in 2018.

An 8% increase makes even less sense when the library’s $115,000 director Stacy Wittmann stated the library was “at or under budget“.

In the age of the internet, I can’t see any justification for a $4.7 million library, especially when nearly half of those receiving services do not pay for them.

The park district, to their credit, charges all users for services, with nonresidents paying more. The library should follow their example, and at least try to make a case for their $4+ million existence.

Plan to vote for fiscal conservatives

I urge all registered voters to plan to vote for fiscal conservatives who publicly and unambiguously commit to lowering the tax burden.

The next opportunities to vote for our local representatives to state and federal offices is at the November 2020 general election, and for local government, in April 2021.

I can understand if you don’t agree with some of these candidates’ positions on social issues – I, too, am not a fan of legislating social policies, whether those polices come from the right or the left.

Except, their social policies doesn’t matter because they aren’t going to become law in Illinois. And right now, the fiscal issues are the big existential threat to Illinois and its local governments.

If you’re concerned with getting too close to people at the voting places, request a mail-in ballot for you and all registered voters at your address.

You and your family can vote in the comfort of home, and without the harassment by the “poll watchers” you have to deal with when voting in person.

Do we need so many local governments?

Most of the public bodies throughout the state have been entirely shut down, or continue to function minimally.

Many government employees are being paid sitting at home and not able to do any work, while many millions of Americans are being laid off.

This must lead us to ask the question: if we didn’t need this much government before the virus… if we don’t need them when they are shut down because of the virus… then do we need this much government at all?

From my observations, the people of Norridge are, by and large, pretty independent.

They don’t miss the services the local governments aren’t providing, because they never needed it in the first place. And local volunteer groups have sprung up to offer alternatives, in any case.

What the people of Norridge miss are the local businesses, local restaurants… all private businesses partially or fully shut down by big government (again, justified or not).

If we wanted more big government, we’d move to Chicago. Some have been trying to bring even bigger Chicago-style government to Norridge.

If we don’t take swift and decision action now, then our already-expensive local governments – that we may or not really need – are about to get a whole lot more expensive. at a time our people can least afford it.

Adam Chudzik, Norridge