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Wass Proposes Formal Cost-Saving Goal for Park District

The Oswegoland Park District board member suggested a target of 20 percent in cost reductions, but other board members disagreed, saying staff is already working to cut expenses.

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.

Paul L. May 31, 2012 at 11:49 AM
“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.” I would agree with this statement, but I would also add the board should have a specific goal in an amount or percentage and articulate this to the staff so they can work towards it. All the staff would have to do is say, see we lowered our expenses by 1% over last year and that covers it. Having a concrete number makes people more accountable than generalizations.
Tina Conley May 31, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I'm all for cutting expenses whenever possible, but if they cut more expenses to the restaurant at Fox Bend it will surely fold. $9.95 for six chicken wings is a bit ridiculous, but the service is excellent. And I agree that Board members need to do what they are supposed to do and quit trying to control everything and everybody.
Greg Nelson May 31, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Mr Wass is correct in suggestions on changing law firms and accounting auditors more often. When our Towns, Cities and Park, Fire,Library districts don't change them every few years that comfort level is there and that should not be happening! These hired groups should never feel that comfort is even an option. Remember going out for bid always gets a lower cost typically and holds a flame to the provider.
Tina Conley May 31, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Furthermore, I don't understand why anyone would run for a board position to an organization and do everything in his power to bring it down. Maybe watching the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s is too fresh in my mind, but I am sick of the fighting going on. Mr. Wass has been calling the Park District liars and thieves long before he was elected to this board. The Park District has shown they are cutting costs whenever and wherever they can, without jeopardizing services and programs to residents. If the Board disagrees with Mr. Wass's proposal to cut expenses even further, he goes all public with it like they are ripping people off. Sick of this type of this type of behavior Mr. Wass.
Greg O'Neil May 31, 2012 at 01:34 PM
I wish we had more representation like Mr. Wass. I know all to well how difficult it is to be opposite of "the majority". I am also all for cutting services as we need to cut property taxes, which is far more important than maintaining the second largest employer in Oswego, the park district. 20% seems like a modest and reasonable proposal to me, I would like to see double that amount as a target objective. Of course if you have money to burn the park district will gladly accept your contributions and increased user fees. People who are constantly using park services do not like the idea of supporting it with user fees, they want their neighbors to subsidize their entertainment. I feel zero responsibility to fund the recreation of others and would rather the park district was 100% funded by user fees and NO property tax support whatsoever. This is the direction we need to go with non-essential government services, including the library. If the people who use park and library services can not support it then they are too big in the first place. I have yet to hear a reasonable justification for having these entities appear on my property tax bill.
Robyn Vickers May 31, 2012 at 01:50 PM
If you really want your property values to plummet, decimate the park district and library. What little savings you will see on your tax bill will pale in comparison to the loss you'll see on your home value.
David Edelman May 31, 2012 at 02:05 PM
I have lived here since 1976 and proudly still do and we make our business here. I have never seen someone so disruptive and disrespectful as Mr. Wass that has served on a local board. For those who think this is about cost cutting, this is purely about Mr. Wass and his agenda to make it as uncomfortable for the other board members as possible. This is all about him and not the community and in turn he continues to give our community bad headlines and seems to still be very bitter about his personal views on the park district which is very sad. I fear that if someone like Mr. Wass were to be in charge - we would not have much of park district left which I think sadly would be OK with him and the people above. These organizations such as the park district help make up our community and the types of things people look at when they shop for a new place to live. Good Schools, Good Library and Good Park District all make up a solid community along with many other details. I respect those who serve on public boards even if I disagree with them on issues. But for someone as Mr. Wass to keep on being disruptive week after week for his own personal agenda is totally and completely unaccpetable. People make up government and it is people like him that give it a bad name. Thankfully we have good people that want to serve and make it better for everyone else under difficult times. Dont give up and keep trying, especially dont give in to Len Wass becuase thats what he really wants
Kathy May 31, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Very well said Mr. Edelman
mike ellison May 31, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I don't know how much clearer it can be when the majority of the board is not interested in cost cutting. I don't think the PD should even be in the restaurant business to begin with. And the golf course should be self-supported by its fees consdering the small percentage of the public who actually play golf. Ironically, the PD has to fill up every piece of vacant land with baseball diamonds and soccer fields. I can drive through Oswego right now and find 99% of its fields NOT being used. There are plenty of PD assets that get used far too infrequently for them to continue expanding. It's basically an allocation of time issue. I constantly see Mr. Wass getting attacked, but I believe he was proven right in the recent violation of the open meetings act. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with for cost savings.
Jane Enviere May 31, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Agreed! When you're talking numbers, it helps to actually be able to use numbers. ; ) I don't know that it should be 20%, but I'm trying to imagine how well it would be received if I told my bosses, "Well, my department heads try to come in under their monthly budgets..." when we were discussing big picture budget issues. That whole "the devil is in the details" applies. I do commend the PD for their excellent service and the fact that they seem to have their eye on coming in under budget. The PD is a big part of what makes our community great and I appreciate their work!
Katra Knoernschild May 31, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Excellent post on all accounts. Our Park District is a point of pride for this community. Come Sunday, we are going to see one more example of how they are spawning commerce and community togetherness, through the Country Market, and the various events that will begin to unfold through the summer. The Park District is one of the primary reasons Oswego made the top 100 places to live. Mr. Wass should be more aware of the economic impact the park has on keeping this community together.
David Edelman May 31, 2012 at 03:34 PM
No one is attacking Mr. Wass. The local media has called him out for saying things that are not true as well. Everyone wants to find ways to save money. There are ways of going about it and typically working together is a good start. I see kids all over the place using these fields as I did when I was a kid and my kids have used these parks. Are they there 24/7 - of course not. As far as the open meetings act thing, we all make mistakes and according to Weis, there were no major issues discussed. Mr. Wass is trying to find anything and everything to make an issue of. Its getting very old.
gater May 31, 2012 at 04:35 PM
i have lived in oswego since 1959 i have watched the park dist grow from ford lippold on up back in the 70s it was nice now they suck they ran a good restraunt out of fox bend as far as the open meetings act it seems like all the public officials dont get the open meetings act they are all so smart but none of them can get it right.
John M. May 31, 2012 at 07:19 PM
John Milburn I see Mr. Wass is at it again. On the surface, cutting 20% sounds good but they have been cutting already. I think the park district has some excellent programs. Prairiefest cost nothing to attend. Check out the cost to attend Rib Fest in Naperville. Does Mr. Wass ever do anything on a positive note? The park district is 4.25% of your tax bill. Education, Districts 308 and 516 combined, are 73% of the tax bill. And then, of course, there is the county at 7.22%. .Lets start looking at County and education. I see County Board Members still give themselves free medical for a part time job that they chose to run for. And, of course, there is one County Board member who says he deserves free medical because he works hard. HELLO!!!!!!! Do you realize how hard everyone works to pay for this County Board Member benefit? You have a choice. We don't. I am so tired of Mr. Wass acting like he is our savior. I want to see my taxes reduced, but lets start looking at areas in our tax bill where we really need to start making some cuts.. As a taxpayer Mr Wass, what part of your tax bill concerns you?
Greg O'Neil May 31, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Who said anything about decimating it, why can't those who use it, pay for it, what a novel idea. Why do you think it;s OK to confiscate money from the elderly and the unemployed to pay for your entertainment? Why do we need a behemoth park district that is the second largest employer in town aside from the school district. The problem is exactly that, and since we have by far the highest PT rate in the area, these entities are now the single biggest contributors to the decline in property vales now!!!
Greg O'Neil May 31, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Prairiefest is NOT FREE, it is another example of all homeowners chipping in so some people can have free stuff at others expense. This model of government does not work and this is why they are broke at every level. If I take my family to Prairiefest I have no problem paying admission to cover the cost. Why should an elderly person on a fixed income be forced to subsidize the recreation of others through their property taxes? This is what we are doing to people and it's forcing people out of their homes or into foreclosure. Yes the PD is not the whole problem, but we need reform at EVERY level if we ever want to live in our homes unencumbered by the big spenders in local government.
Richard Saunders May 31, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Paul, I think we're treading on dangerous ground here when I find myself nodding in total agreement with you! The board should give some guidance in the form of a range they want to see cut, then let the pros do their job and make the decisions. Tell your staff what goals you want accomplished then get the hell out of their way and let them work.
William Gutierrez June 01, 2012 at 04:22 AM
It's unfortunate that some board members are not for setting goals and objectives to help out the tax payers. There are people that struggle to pay their taxes while board members like Bob say that we will leave the cost cutting to the employees. That is a POOR organizational management decision. Get real, set some objectives, push the department heads a little, TRY to help out the tax payers. In case I don't remember correctly during business school, goals and objectives are the fundamental building blocks of proper organizational management are they not? If you can't even get past a proposal to look at setting some goals then you shouldn't be a community leader. We need board members with business sense. These other guys are pretenders, they can't even get the Open Meetings Act right. By the way, THEY BROKE THE LAW, Eric Weis even said so. For those of you griping about the "bad press", don't elect guys that break the law and you won't have that problem. I like how David justifies that BREAKING THE LAW is in some way OK because there were no major issues discussed. David, I also like how you say you've "lived here since", like what you have to say has more importance because you've lived here awhile.Vickers, I'm not even going to comment on your worthless unfounded post.
William Gutierrez June 01, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Agreed. The PD shouldn't be in the restaurant business. They made a poor decision, I would have bought the McDonalds next to Fox Bend instead! At least a 6 piece mcnugget isn't 9.95. By the way, McDonalds also has excellent service.
Robyn Vickers June 01, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Cutting all funding, as Greg suggested, does equal decimating. No community services WILL result in lower house values because the town won't be as desirable. If you don't believe me, get a copy of Sim City and play for awhile. It's eerily accurate. LOL
Robyn Vickers June 01, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Cutting all funding is decimating it. Like Katra said below, our outstanding park district is why Oswego made the top 100 cities to live in list. I don't use the park district for anything but pool passes anymore, it I don't mind paying the small amount of taxes for others' use. It's part of living in a community. If you don't like supporting things that make your town a better place to live, I suggest a move to rural Wyoming or North Dakota; you can be all alone and far away from any pesky communities.
Ralph June 01, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Actually I think the report last fall said that PF was a break even event last year.
David Edelman June 01, 2012 at 01:08 PM
William - you make it sound like they did something awful. Ever make a mistake in your life? They had a conversation for crying out loud. Yes, as you say Weis said that, but he also said "Weis noted that none of the discussion involved the spending of public funds, nor any topic that required action from the board" from the patch article on this topic. Following the law is absolutely important, but it is safe to say there was no intent to do something wrong or take advanatge of anything. I think if they took roll call out of order at a meeting Len would run to Weis.... Lets see what else comes out about this topic - always two sides to a story - right? As far as me living here since 1976 - what does it mean - absolutely nothing, doesnt make me any more or less than anyone else, of course not. That is NOT what I meant to say. Simply stated another way, I havent seen anything like Mr. Wass in Oswego on a public board since I have lived here for 1976 and YES, I am still proud to call Oswego home and make our business here. His intent is NOT for the greater good, but only to make trouble and in turn, yes, bad headlines for our commuinity which is sad.
Greg Nelson June 01, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Wow for some reason all sides are saying that a law broken is just that a law broken but okay? Many are saying watch what we spend and that can only be a good thing. I think a board should always hold staff to account for every penny spent, always! The issue is that Mr Wass is the only voice to speak out load so we can hear him. Why aren't the other members doing the same? Do they think everything is okay at 5% of a tax bill or did I miss something? The board is there to direct the staff with goals and one member is asking to save 20% why not try. Just think if a little effort was placed on the savings how bright the future would be. One other note just think if we did save that 20% others would flock to the area because why people....we would be the best at saving money and that drives home sales more then having 20 baseball diamonds in use. In these tough times people need to make cuts. If times change so can spending but all taxing bodies must cut to allow the residents time to recover ! !
William Gutierrez June 01, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Greg suggested that the park district be self supported by user fees. This isn't a new idea. There are parks and programs that are largely self-supporting. Just type in "self-supporting parks" into Google.
Momof3 June 01, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Have any of you done the research on what exactly your park district taxes are being used for? Some might be surprised to find out just how much of the PD's expenses ARE funded by user fees and grants. Just saying don't relie on the word of others. Do some fact checking for yourself.
Loreta J. June 01, 2012 at 09:29 PM
I can't tell you the number of times we have tried to register for a park district program and had to put on a waiting list because the class or sport was filled..that is great news that people are using these programs and opportunities. I believe at one time there were over 700 kids in the soccer program...700 kids who get out and practice and participate and stay active, make friends, etc...same with the swimming lessons, and other activities. They are not cheap...going up every year, but such a huge impact on the community.
William Gutierrez June 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
I wonder where the money for grants comes from? I'm going to take a wild guess and say that grants are funded by TAXES. So the money isn't free. It's great that they get grants but that money has to come from somewhere. So I would careful in thinking that grant money is somehow not connected to TAXES.

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