WPB SSA 2016 amended budget approved: Hopkins pushes for private security patrols for 2017

Date: 
07/14/2016
MtgBH

Alderman Brian Hopkins (sec. from right) presents his views at Wednesday meeting

While the Wicker Park and Bucktown Special Service Area (SSA) #33's amended 2016 budget was approved at a Commissioners' Special Budget Meeting Wednesday morning, commissioners chose to table a vote on their 2017 budget to allow time to consider 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins' suggestion to fund private security patrols in the district.  

The meeting
The meeting's third agenda item was a motion "to approve the SSA #33 2016 amended budget and work plan as presented." 

Hopkins opened the discussion by suggesting that the budget be further amended to reflect a different set of priorities. He then pointed out that they should condense their function into three categories of operations:

  • Aesthetics and cleanliness
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Public safety and security

He expressed his opinion that the SSA does not have three priorities but rather two and they "do not reflect public safety as a priority and in today's environment, I don't think that is acceptable." 

"Are you suggesting," asked Brent Norsman, Chair of the Commission, "that the 2016 plan and budget, which has already been approved and allocated, be amended to include a security program we know nothing about?" 

"This is the first I have heard from any alderman about this. We are open and receptive to safety and security in our neighborhood. We operate all of our funding based on an award winning master plan and we invite everyone to be part of our processes." 

JHall

Joe Hall speaks, with Andrew Balderson in the background

Commissioner Joe Hall, the longest serving commissioner, pointed out that budget categories do not reflect monies spent on security and safety issues such as bike safety, total safety, street safety and positive loitering.  

He also pointed out that there was no list of instructions for what categories to create or how to function as an SSA in 2005 when they were established. The original commissioners spent uncounted hours determining their structure, procedures and processes and continue to modify them as deemed appropriate. 

With more than 13 miles of streets in the SSA district, David Ginople, former SSA Chair and current Secretary, said, "There is no way we can prevent violence whether the guards are unarmed or armed. The problem is gangs, guns and alcohol. When you put those three things together nothing we expend could address that and prevent violence." 

StfCommrs

David Ginople, Marcy Huttas, Brent Norsman, Beth Sholtis and Jessica Wobbekind

Ginople went on to say that he was concerned about the precedence Hopkins' office has set. "You basically have threatened that you will not sign our budget for 2016 if we do not approve your request  for more than $100,000 toward security.

"I don't believe the state statute or the city's implementation of SSAs allows an alderman to hold the funding of an SSA hostage." 

"Statutes give me oversight authority," responded Hopkins. "Aldermen do have authority for a reason. We are supposed to use our judgment to determine what we think is the best course of action, what reflects the priorities of the community and course of action for the community. I'm here doing my job. I'm doing my job that I was asked to do by the neighborhood." 

Norsman stated interest by the Commission to work with the alderman and pointed out, "We have a process and procedures that we have to spend our stakeholders money. We are entrusted as volunteer commissioners for the city to spend this money in a reasonable and thoughtful way. We sign a code of ethics as to how we spend the money. 

Agreeing with Ginople, Norsman expressed concern over precedence. "What is going to happen next year? Are we going to be asked to spend 20% of our budget to be directed toward another project of interest without discussion, without outreach to us? There has been no outreach, no plan." 

"The first I heard about it was yesterday," said Commissioner Marcy Huttas, a resident in a 124-unit building in the district. She posed several questions:

  • What are the needs?
  • What should we be doing in relation to safety?
  • How do we implement a safety program that has accountability?
  • If we have security guards out there what do we want them doing?

"We would want to make sure it makes sense for the area and that we are working very closely with the police district, asking what we can do to supplement what they are doing." 

In the end, the 2016 amended budget was approved as presented and Hopkins agreed to support it. 

On behalf of 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, Chief of Staff Raymond Valadez said that Moreno supported the amended 2016 budget.

"The Alderman is also supportive of looking at SSA funds to enhance security. It should definitely be looked at for the 2017 budget."

The third alderman who has constituents in the district is 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. Unable to attend the meeting, he communicated with the SSA staff that he supported both the 2016 and 2017 budgets. 

1st2ndWard

Raymond Valadez, 1st Ward Chief of Staff; Jose Rivera, 2nd Ward Chief of Staff; Alderman Hopkins, with Beth Tomlins in bkgrnd

How did this quest for garnering the SSA's carryover begin?
Each year the SSA has a "carryover." The amount varies drastically from year to year.

This is in part due to the fact that actual collected taxes vary from year to year, which is not known until close to the end of the year; committees and commissioners attempt to keep a cushion for unexpected needs; approved projects have not been completed; and incumbered funds for ongoing contracts.

As responsible commissioners, they are conservative on expenditures, to stay within their income.

Knowing approximately what the carryover will be, they allocate those funds, as they have done with this year's expected $190,000. Hence that money is not sitting in a fund without a vetted proposed use.

In an attempt to have a quick solution to the outcries of constituents, Hopkins saw the carryover as a way to substantially fund at least part of those costs.

Hopkins and his staff spoke publicly, such as at the Wicker Park Committee's July meeting, and privately to SSA staff. The Commissioners learned from staff of the attempt to direct money to an unknown security plan but were not engaged in any discussion from the Alderman's office or given any written plan. They were told that if the money was not allocated the 2016 budget would not be signed off on by the Hopkins.

Reactions to meeting and moving forward
As a resident and parent in the area where a women was raped in one alley near her home and another was mugged, Beth Tomlins said, "There is a definite feel of a rise in crime in the neighborhood. But, I also know that success of the neighborhoods is not just about the cops, it's about a lot of the stuff that the SSA does. It is about the artwork, creative programs, picking up trash and landscaping. I don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul.

"I do want to see safety improved in the neighborhood and I think this has opened discussion on how best to make it happen. I am open to any creative solutions and would be supportive of them." 

"It was a very productive meeting and we had great communications, working through the tough issues of getting the 2016 amended budget passed and approved by all three aldermen," said Norsman. 

"Now we have a strong commitment from the Alderman [Hopkins] to work together with the SSA on the 2017 budget to explore the Alderman's ideas that may enhance security. As the watch guard of our stakeholders assets, we want to make sure it is a program that is effective and worth the potentially large sum that the Alderman is suggesting."   

Alderman Hopkins said, "We have a good discussion started. I understand that some of the commissioners are a little skeptical with this idea but I'm confident that as they take a closer look at how it's working in other neighborhoods, they will see the benefits and advantages. And when other taxpayers on the street see what they can get from this, those who are not active in attending these meetings will be calling and saying, 'I like this idea.' I think there will be more support out there for it."

Today, Thursday, Jessica Wobbekind, the SSA Program Manager, heard from the City, "The City agreed to extent our budget deadline to July 26."

Wobbekind explained that the next steps will be:

  • exploring all our options about security patrols
  • identifying best ideas for patrols
  • finding other security options
  • meeting with aldermen
  • determining best solutions
  • then working through budgeting
Also present at the Wednesday meeting were:
Kimberly Bares, Interim Director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce (WPBCC). WPBCC is the service provider for SSA #33.
David Stearns, WPBCC Vice President
Andrew Balderson, WPBCC Treasurer
Rebecca Dohe, SSA #33 Commissioner
Beth Sholtis, WPB staff
Jose Rivera Jr., Chief of Staff 2nd Ward
John Geahan, 2nd Ward Staff
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