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Friends of History,
If you are reading this note it’s because you’ve taken an interest in the Des Plaines Historical Society, a rich and vibrant community partner that continues to entertain, teach, and enrich us. As a brief aside, I’m currently sitting in a local coffee shop sipping on a cup of joe…reminded of those days spent with my nose in the books. As an undergrad at Northwestern, I called the Des Plaines Historical Society interested in learning more about our history with a focus on transportation. I’m sure I can dig up that term paper somewhere, but I dropped into the History Center on a rainy Saturday afternoon expecting to make a few copies of primary sources…in and out. Little did I know that my interest would be peaked, and the rest of my day would be spent learning about a Des Plaines beyond the transportation centers that gave birth to one of the first in a sprawl of suburbs on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Joy Matthiessen will tell you how I took a liking to the expansive picture of The Villas neighborhood – in the heart of Des Plaines – and those post-war families that were first to inhabit them. Today, I own a home at 990 W Villa and that aerial photo of The Villas hangs prominently in my kitchen. I’m a friend of the Historical Society who has put his time where his mouth is…organizing a successful (and delicious) chocolate tasting fundraiser at the History Center that helped with that ever-important bottom line. I’m not an enemy.
As an elected official in the City of Des Plaines, I have a responsibility to many. Taxpayers don’t want to pay anymore. Employees want to keep their jobs. School Children want to continue attending Historical Society programming. You want us to continue funding the Historical Society. It’s easy to imagine how – in any final scenario – atleast one of these constituent elements will be disappointed.
Last Thursday, the City Council voted to reduce the overall staffing of the City by 10%. That’s 7 positions that became vacant since last budget (and were never filled due to the sagging economy) and 30 families who will be forced to grin and bear it. What does a 10% reduction mean? That includes the reduction of one entire ambulance from active service, the balance of Police traffic enforcement unit, a canine officer, almost the entire Health and Human Services department, half of the City’s Legal department, and many many many more. I hope this description paints a backdrop against which to consider your request of continued funding for the History Center.
Since 1994, the City has increased it’s funding of the Historical Society by 200%....presently at $166,000. We are considering a 3% tax increase in order to cover the police and fire pensions that are increasing at a rate greater than 20 & 30% respectively. For every 1% increase, the City will garner an extra $220,000. So, we have a decision to make. If we want to fund the Historical Society we have to do one of the following:
- Raise taxes ~1% (to a 4% total increase over last year’s levy amount).
- Cut two more employees from the City payroll (38 total).
- Tap into the City’s reserve fund that, at present, would not be able to withstand a 10-year flood without having to take a short-term (high interest) loan.
The Historical Society was asked to present the Council with a plan to move away from City-dependence, and a rough sketch of a plan received a mixed reception. This Thursday the Council will reach a resolution on the issue.
Where do I stand? The City should not pull the rug out from under this institution. Doing so would run counter to the Council’s goal of creating and maintaining a great place to live, work, and play. At the same time, a $166,000 subsidy is not appropriate given these economic times. The Historical Society needs to make note of the City’s sacrifices, and consider making a number of their own. I support a multi-year step down approach with the end goal being a Historical Society that is totally independent of City funding. I will not give you a flippant response, a pie-in-the-sky-number, or a promise. Instead, I’ll continue to approach this issue in a thoughtful way knowing that somewhere between one and all of you will be disappointed regardless of the final conclusion.
Thanks for your continued interest and love for our City and our Historical Society. Check www.3rdward.org for future budget updates.
3rd Ward Alderman
Des Plaines, Illinois