Country Club Hills faces tough calls on debt
SouthtownStar editorial June 11, 2012 8:18PM
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:16AM
Country Club Hills reminds us a little of that character in the old Li’l Abner comic strip, Joe Btfsplk, a jinx who always had a dark cloud hovering over his head.
Sometimes it seems as if such a cloud permanently covers the city. However, its financial woes are not due to bad luck but are largely self-imposed from profligate spending and fiscal mismanagement over many years.
Buried deeply in debt, Country Club Hills doesn’t need another financial problem. But it has a big one — a $6.6 million bill from Cook County to repay property tax overpayment. The county goofed in the fall of 2010 by sending the city that extra amount and now wants the money back.
The problem? The city doesn’t have it. Aldermen and the city attorney say the money went for government operations (enabling it to reduce its tax levy) and for a property tax rebate for residents.
Ald. Vincent Lockett (2nd) said the city can’t pay back the county soon “unless we play the Mega Millions lottery and we win.” City officials proposed a five-year repayment plan, but the county turned that down, saying it would consider “all appropriate legal steps” if the city didn’t pay up ASAP.
If you wonder how Country Club Hills has itself nearly $10 million in the red (not including the county IOU), consider how the city suddenly found itself with an extra $6.6 million and didn’t see a red flag. No one in the administration or on the city council questioned the windfall? Or did they just hope the county wouldn’t catch on?
Aldermen are now considering cutting the 2012-13 city budget by 20 percent and laying off workers. We believe they and Mayor Dwight Welch should share the pain, especially when they’re so overpaid.
Welch’s mayoral salary is $105,000, he gets another $35,000 as liquor commissioner and a $36,000 annual expense account. The 10 aldermen (two per ward) each get $31,000 for a part-time job and a $9,000 expense account.
Mind-boggling for a middle-class city of about 16,000. But symbolic of why it’s in the mess it’s in.