Local Matters: Some Villages Have All the Cash

Countryside is awash in cash, particularly when compared with their perennially penniless neighbor, Indian Head Park. But do they have to waste it on expensive masonry and steel decorations?

I sometimes find myself marveling over the masonry and metal structures that Countryside has erected along LaGrange Road (see photo).  What is the purpose of these structures?  What did they cost?  And how could Countryside afford to construct all these doodads?

To investigate the last question I thought we could compare Countryside with its next door neighbor, the perennially penniless Indian Head Park.   

  Indian Head Park    
  Median Household Income
  Budget (without TIF)
  Budget per capita (w/o TIF)   

Countryside is about half-again as large as Indian Head Park while IHP shows a slight 10% advantage over Countryside in median household income. 

But I want to focus on the last two lines of the table.  Note that the Countryside budget is over four times the size of IHP’s.  Even on a per capita basis, Countryside’s budget is still almost three times IHP’s.

Of course, Countryside’s budget is much larger because the town is blessed with a huge number of retail establishments, particularly car dealerships and food franchises.  This enables the municipal government to rake in all sorts of sales and other taxes. 

To continue our comparison:  

    Countryside     Indian Head Park   $ % $ % 
  Budget (without TIF)   
  Property Taxes
  State Sales Tax
  State Income Tax

Countryside’s property taxes are about half-again-as-much as IHP’s, about in line with their half-again-as-much population.  But note the huge State Sales Tax that Countryside brings in – it’s larger than the entire IHP budget!  I guess the three secrets to village finances are “location, location, location”.

There’s really not much Indian Head Park can do about this disparity.  IHP can continue to attempt to build out the Triangle (the area south of Joliet Road and west of Wolf Road).  But that land has been vacant for a while and, with our anemic economic recovery, no one is rushing to buy in.

So, yes, Countryside is awash in cash, so awash in cash that they can easily afford to build civic decorations such as those mini-towers.   There are 10 of these strung along LaGrange Road:

  • Four at the corner of 57th and LaGrange Road (at the Arby’s/McDonald’s
  • Four where 58th dead-ends onto LaGrange Road (near Church’s Fried
  • Two at the drainage channel across from Countryside plaza (see second photo).

What are these things?  They don’t offer shelter from the storm and they aren’t designed to give foot-weary folks a place to sit.  They don’t provide light or give directions or information.  They hardly add to the ambiance of LaGrange Road.

Best as I can determine, they are an exercise in pushing the Countryside brand.  The mini-towers are evocative of the clock-tower at 55th and Plainfield, and their top white panel displays the new Countryside logo, which itself contains a drawing of the clock-tower.

But are they worth hundreds of thousands of dollars?  Surely, the money could have been better spent on, say, residential sidewalks.  Or, as I write this there are half-a-million people without power on the East Coast – perhaps Countryside should spend the money on burying their overhead electrical cables.  This would not only protect the cables from ice and wind storms, but would be something of a beautification campaign.  Or perhaps they could build bus stop shelters.  Or lower tax rates.  Or maybe give some cash to Indian Head Park.  ; )

Of course, Countryside is not the only village around here that’s splurging on civic doodads.  A few years ago Western Springs spent hundreds of thousands of dollars dismantling what seemed to me to be a perfectly functional train station.  Now that old station was certainly not as cute or picturesque as today’s station but did Western Springs need to spend all that money on “quaint”?  And what’s with the non-functioning tower there (see 3rd photo) – who thought that was a good idea?

I used to think that local village governments were more responsible and had less pork in their budgets than the state or federal pork-fests we’re treated to.  Now, I’m not so sure.

                                       - - - - - -

Craig's note: the budget numbers above come from the 2011-2012 budgets on respective Countryside and Indian Head Park websites.  I apologize for any inadvertent miscategorization.



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Vicki Aleck Gumbiner February 15, 2013 at 08:13 PM
I contacting a Countryside alderman and it should be noted that 'No local tax money was spent on the structures. The funds came from a state grant that included the new street lights on LaGrange Road.'
Darren McRoy February 15, 2013 at 08:32 PM
People think bus shelters are ugly, and I can sympathize somewhat. But in the pouring rain or pounding blizzard, they suddenly become a lot more beautiful.
madman2001 February 15, 2013 at 09:09 PM
"No local tax money?" This means that every Illinoisian reading this helped pay for those decorations. Jeez, Vicki, what's even worse than wasting your own tax revenue is wasting someone else's. No wonder that Illinois has the second worst credit rating among the states (Illinois A+, California A- ; 31 states have AAA ratings).
Vicki Aleck Gumbiner February 15, 2013 at 10:17 PM
I see your point, but I would add that they are better versed on what is available to communities. The question I would ask is what are IHP or any other communities local government doing to acquire funds to improve their communities. People will often disagree on how funds are used, but do your officials even know they exist and how to apply for them?
madman2001 February 15, 2013 at 10:50 PM
>>do your officials even know they exist and how to apply for them?<< I wondered that as I was doing the research. Countryside's latest budget document says this: "A total of six grants have been budgeted as revenue totaling $657,231." These grants alone total about 1/6th of the entire IHP budget. IHP's grants line item is about $100K, so Countryside is kicking IHP's rear end in grabbing that grant money.


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