Should the Oswegoland Park District set a formal goal for spending cuts, and stick to it?
That’s the question raised by Board Member Len Wass last week, during the park district board’s regular meeting. And though other board members did not take to the idea, saying the district is already holding the line on costs where it can, Wass still believes it’s a good one.
Even though the district kept the tax levy the same in 2012 as it was in 2011, Wass said, the district’s portion of his tax bill went up. That, he said, is due to a declining tax base, and the only way to combat that is to trim spending.
So Wass proposed passing a board resolution to set a goal of reducing district expenses by 20 percent. It is the second time he has proposed a formal cost reduction goal – the first time, during a board finance committee meeting, he suggested a 10 percent goal.
Board members Roy White and Danielle Ebersole responded with examples of ways the district is already lowering costs. White mentioned recent cuts at Fox Bend Golf Course that could save $300,000, and Ebersole noted that the district has seen long-standing employees retire, with no replacements planned.
“We really are working on lowering our costs,” Ebersole said. “We continue to strive to do that.”
But Wass, citing his experience as a management consultant and CEO, compared the district’s current efforts to “finding a couple of elephants,” when he said the real cost reductions would come from “a whole pile of rabbits” – smaller expenses that add up.
Acting Executive Director Rich Zielke said at the meeting that when staff receives the budget, they don’t consider it as an open checkbook – they work to come in under the approved amounts. Ebersole said the district’s work to reduce expenses is nothing new, and staff does not need board micromanagement.
“You don’t have to come across like you’re the savior, here to save everyone,” she said. “This has been going on for three to four years. Let the department heads figure out how to lower costs.”
None of this persuaded Wass, who said, “It seems to me that this board is happy with the expenses and the tax consequences.”
That comment incensed White, who retorted, “Don’t say that. Where are you? What have you come up with? What ideas?” Earlier in the meeting, he accused Wass of not having suggested anything concrete.
Wass later argued that he had made suggestions, and in fact had made one earlier in the same meeting – he motioned to request proposals from other law firms, rather than re-upping with the district’s current attorneys at Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Roleck.
That motion died without a second, and the board voted 4-1 to approve another contract with the district’s current attorneys. The board first voted to retain Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Roleck in October 2005, and has remained with them ever since.
Board President Bob Mattingly said he does not feel comfortable putting a target number to the cost-saving efforts, but he believes the district staff is working hard to keep expenses in line.
“We’ve given that direction to staff, and they hear it loud and clear,” he said.