Fact vs. Fiction in a Newsletter
A couple of weeks ago a recorded powerpoint presentation was posted to the home page the website -- with larger font and pushed to the top of the list of important items. This was Phil's presentation to the Chamber of Commerce called the "State of the Community." It was recorded this year as the Chamber could not have their normal luncheon where this would have been presented and I'm sure that Phil thought it would be a good way to communicate to the community the highlights of his current term -- not because he's running in the first contested election in recent history here in the village, right?
As one can suspect, supporters reached out to me and asked me to fact check it --- which I had done, but never posted as the next thing that happened was the targeting and removal of our village clerk. So, believing that the targeting of an employee should take center stage, I let the State of the Community fade away.
So, imagine my shock that I got in my mailbox when I see that our village has spent our tax dollars to send this PR piece on the village to me. I live here -- I was already sold on how awesome the community is when I bought a house here and this piece has no information for me as to the services that the village provides. This is campaigning masquerading as a Village Newsletter. Historically, the newsletters share events in the village (ok, granted COVID has canceled those); but there should have been opening dates for the golf course at the very least. In the past the newsletter has spoken of hydrant clean-out days and bulk yard waste pick-ups -- nope. Maybe if it was a real newsletter, it would have mentioned the vehicle stickers that will be available 4/1, right? A calendar of important dates? This is simply a re-hash of the State of the Community presentation trying to make sure every resident in town has seen it.
Before we even get to the fact checking -- we need to have a little side bar about cost. Long time residents are reaching out to me and telling me that never in the history of the village has this kind of thing been sent out before. In fact, it appears that when Past President Paul Serwatka did a year in review, he emailed it out. So, any thoughts as to what this cost the village? I ran this through online printing companies and found the ranges to be wide -- but my back of the envelope guess of an 8 page, full-color, saddle-bound (two staples) booklet on glossy stock is around $0.50-$1.00/each plus $0.516 to mail. I'm guessing this was about $1,500 - $2,000 to send this out.
To check on this, I pulled the numbers from the previous audit and compared:
These are the UNRESTRICTED cash numbers. So, yes, the governmental funds increased by 17% or $423K --- but what's left out is that in the last days of fiscal 2020, there was a $600K sale of the land at 47 & 176. So, without that last minute sale, we would have had $180,000 LESS cash, right? Guess that sale was just in time, wasn't it? But the Business Like Activities is the interesting one. The only way you get to aa 9% increase is if you include restricted funds -- those funds are specifically a bond re-issue for $900K to rehab Well 5. But restricted funds are -- well, restricted. So, between the golf course, the utilities, and the refuse funds, our village LOST $528K. The way I read this is that we have about $100K less in useable cash that we did at the end of 2019.
CONCLUSION: Half-true and not the full story.
In the same block regarding the audit, with no heading change, you'd think that this number is about the audit -- but it's not. This is about the EAV # that we get from the county in order to figure out what the levy should be. Yes, Equalized Assessed Values of our properties has gone up. What I can't figure out is where the $5.8 million number is coming from. Here's the EAV from the past few years:
But there is also a claim that the tax rate went down 3% -- this is a game that's played with percentages. So, the math works like this -- the village requests total levy amount, based on the EAV. It doesn't ask for a % of the assessment, just that it needs X dollars for the upcoming year from taxes. So, when the village holds the levy request flat (as it did in November of 2020) AND the EAV goes up, your effective rate goes down -- but the tax total stayed the same. But what really matters is how it affects our wallets, right? Well, how does the EAV go up? Property Values go up -- when Property values go up, what do we expect to see happen to our taxes? So, since EAV and the tax rate are moving targets based on assessed value; let's look at the one number that the village can control -- the levy request. In 2019 (the first levy request as Phil is President), the levy went up 2%. The board held it flat at the 2% increased rate in 2020 with their most recent request -- because we know the one thing you don't do is raise taxes in an election year.
Oh, and while we are talking about paying our bills, remember there's no way this levy will cover the spending from this board -- since they passed a budget that has spending $305K greater than revenues -- AND they've already overspent $351K with no budget amendments in sight.
Last report is that our village is on a credit watch. We won't have the AAA bond rating reevaluated unless we seek to borrow more money, but until then our rating is "Credit Watch." My understanding is that we got the AAA bond rating due to having the reserves we used to have and the large Impact Fee Fund -- that this administration keeps spending. Also, do not forget that the AAA bond rating was inherited from the previous village manager's hard work.
Conclusion: Yes, we have a AAA bond rating, but the question is for how long. Hope we don't need to borrow any money.
This is true the village did suspend the impact fees from 5/14/2019 to November 30, 2020 and then beyond for two builders only.
"This program was met with such great interest by local builders that it was extended to November 30, 2020 and occupancy permits more than doubled year over year!" This is fuzzy -- I can't count occupancy permits, but I can look at the revenue posted to the Sewer and Water Tap Fees and divide by the price to get a rough idea of how many houses tapped into those services in those years;
It's possible we have some houses that tapped into the sewers that didn't tap into the water (this would be likely in the Gates, where some are slowing converting from septic to village sewer). So, maybe it's better to look solely at the Water Tap Fees. There were 7 homes that paid that fee in the year before the impact fee was waived. Since I can't do that math on zero fees, I can only look to see what empty lots paid building permit fees in 2019/2020 -- I count 5. So, while yes, developers may be excited that we are waiving fees -- it is unclear if those waivers are passed along to buyers and if they are increasing new house starts.
CONCLUSION: Inconclusive, lack of data
I'm struggling with this math. Per the Village Website, there were 9 lots on RedTail for sale. From the meeting minutes, 6 of those lots have accepted offers on them. Math tells me that 6/9 is 66%, not 80%. When you look at the actual statement, he doesn't qualify that the lots are for sale, because there are actually 12 lots on RedTail (not including a very large one that probably needs to be subdivided) that the village owns. Thus, 50% of the property that the Village owns on RedTail Dr is currently under contract. I'm unsure the dates for the closing; but the county has not posted any change in ownership of those lots as of this typing.
CONCLUSION: False -- 80% is not true.
Yes, it is true that the Board approved the sale of 10 acres of land at the intersection of 47 and 176. It is also true that the original offer was for 5 acres for the same money that we sold 10 -- but who am I to quibble over that discount? What is not true is that grading has begun. What has happened is that a sign was placed there.
Admittedly, I took this photo after a snow, but I drive by regularly and Phil promised grading to begin in September -- and I've yet to see any equipment out there. Also, he says the travel center will open in the fall of this year; in a board meeting he claimed it would be July. Later in this presentation, he mentions that there is an IDOT project to realign the intersection. Let's look at that project while we are talking about the travel center:
So, the yellow is the new road. That land appears to already have been acquired by IDOT for this project. The strip of green is Village land that I'm guessing based on this will also be donated to the project. But what I'm trying to figure out is will what is currently Pleasant Valley become a dead end with an entrance to the travel center? Because I'm not sure that I'd want to build a gas station where the road is basically going to move from one side of me to the other within 2 years of opening, would you?
The same developers own a property just off I-90 in Marengo that they purchased about 2 years before a road project. I drove out there to see that progress. Property purchased in 2017. Road project work began in 2019. Here's what it looks like today:
Not even a sign -- so maybe our travel center is higher on the list since we have a sign.
But the biggest question is the prediction of the $500K in sales tax revenue. The math on this is really hard to sort out. We make about 2.25% (1% in village and 20% of the state’s 6.25%) in sales tax for every $1 sold. So, simple math says that to make $500,000, the revenue would need to be $20,000,000. First, what you need to remember is that the fuel taxes go to the state and are redistributed by population in our Motor Fuel Taxes. So, for sales taxes, we are dependent on the sales in the convenience store, the Dunkin Donuts, and the Subway. A quick google search tells me:
So, at the top end, we should expect that the revenues for these two franchises are $1.3 million, right? If we double that with the convenience store, that's $2.6 million - to be as optimistic as possible. At 2.5% of the revenue, we should expect to see $65,000. And then remember that part of this deal is that the first $15,000 of the sales tax is abated for the first 10 years. So, realistically, this Oasis is going to bring the village $50,000 in sales tax.
Is $50,000 better than we are getting today? YES! But don't promise us $500,000 when we likely won't see a tenth of it.
CONCLUSION: Highly improbably to False.
Parks & Recreation
I have nothing really to fact check; but I do have some pretty simple questions.
Is it curious as to why there's no mention of the splash pad in this publication? Has that plan been abandoned? The mention of the splash pad was in the presentation and the written piece that went to the Chamber. Maybe the optics of a splash pad next to the wastewater plant are an issue; maybe it's discovering that the gallons of water needed and the drainage might not be feasible with the small area and the conservation district next door; maybe it was just left out -- who knows.
The park is right next to the wastewater treatment plant. Are there any lines that go under the park land that connect the park to the wastewater plant? I don't know, but looking at the map, it would seem that it might be the shortest distance to some of the neighborhoods to the south.
On one of my calls with Phil, he told me that the park would be "like Veterans' Acres," but this park is less than 10 acres. Veterans' Acres is 140 acres.
Yes, that is the annual vactor payment; but because our village didn't get multiple bids for the contracting work -- we paid a premium. In the research for the vactor truck over the summer, it was found that Lisle got bids and for about the same length and type of work, they paid a third of what we paid -- and the company we used quoted Lisle less for a similar project. And his quote of a seven year break even doesn't account for any of the additional costs that come with maintaining the vactor or even the additional parts that have already been purchased. So I think the break even on this is highly suspect -- likely a lot closer to the 15 to 18 years of it's 20 year life -- had we bids for contracts and factored in the operating costs of owning that vactor.
I've written so much about RedTail and the money, I don't want to rehash this, but first -- It is apparent that the author of this piece doesn't understand business. Revenue is the top line, before the expenses -- and if the financials are correct, the revenue for RedTail have been between $600K and $900K for years. I think they meant that income was over $200K -- and I wouldn't doubt it. However, it's the margin claim that I have questions about. I've been watching carefully and I believe that not all of the expenses have been booked to RedTail this year. And since the financials has issues, we can't with any confidence make any comment about the margins.
CONCLUSION: Inconclusive, lack of accurate data
If you've made it this far, thank you -- but as you can see, the first 4 pages of this are full of holes and problems. However, this 'newsletter' is missing key things that we've come to expect from news letters of the past --- like essentially anything that would matter to a resident who isn't running for office.
While the loose connection to truth and facts is bothersome, what the real problem here is that this wasn't written to serve the community -- it was written to serve someone's ego. It's 8 pages of "how great am I" and it stops slightly short of why you should vote for keeping this guy in office. And we PAID for it.
But if there was anything that you should get out of this piece is this is exactly the reason you shouldn't vote for him and his continuing to 'run' our village, you need to look no further than the back page.
While I notice that one department head is noticeably missing from this contact list, it is important to note that there is NO way that this item was designed, printed and mailed since Wednesday of last week --- which means this was designed specifically without Jan's name as our Village Clerk. His removal of Jan was planned far in advance of the drama we watched in the board meetings -- and to what end? As retaliation for her testimony? Because she was the last person who knows the records? Or because she's also our election official? Could her absence in the face of the contested election mean anything? I don't know -- but I'd start asking.