Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek has led his village into more $320 million in debt. | State of Illinois
Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek wasn’t always so profligate.
Landek was 22 and just starting his career as a village bureaucrat when he was handed his first high-profile assignment: construction of a double tennis court in Commissioner’s Park, Bridgeview’s largest.
Its total cost: $20,000, or $84,536 in today’s dollars.
The village paid in cash.
Four decades later, Landek has Bridgeview living on the municipal government version of credit cards.
Over his 20 year tenure as mayor, Landek, who also serves as the area's state senator, has leveraged Bridgeview homeowners to the hilt, taking the art of municipal borrowing to previously unseen levels.
Village debt as of Dec. 31, 2018 had risen to $321 million, according to its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report filed July 5. That’s up from $245 million in 2014.
Both numbers, for a town of just 16,335, are unprecedented.
Some perspective: neighboring Palos Hills (pop. 17,410) has $19.2 million in debt, according to its latest state financial filing. The Will County suburb of Mokena (pop. 20,305) is 25 percent larger and has borrowed just $5.3 million.
Some more perspective: Landek’s borrowing equates to $75,000 in government debt per Bridgeview homeowner. And that’s from the village alone.
Add to it Bridgeview homeowners’ share of debt issued by other local taxing districts-- including Bridgeview’s park and library districts ($6.9 million), Cook County ($64.9 million), the Metropolitan Water and Reclamation District ($14.3 million), Moraine Valley Community College ($6.3 millon), the nine school districts that include parts of Bridgeview ($22.3 million) and their shares of the Teachers’ Retirement System’s massive debt ($110.7 million).
In total, a South Cook News analysis has found that local governments have borrowed $547 million against Bridgeview’s 4,289 homes, or a grand total of $127,289 per. And counting.
The median home price in Bridgeview was $180,000 in 2018, according to Blockshopper.com.
The village’s median household income is $54,198.
“It’s going to change our lives”
The idea of building a destination sports facility in Bridgeview was originally the vision of longtime Mayor John A. Oremus, a Republican and self-made concrete and banking magnate who ran the suburb from its infancy in 1955 until 1999.
Oremus wanted to build a $30 million, 7,000-seat sports arena on the north side of town. Opposition was considerable, including from then-village trustee Landek, a Democrat and career municipal employee with political ambitions of his own.
Landek echoed concerns from Oremus’ fiscally-conservative fellow Republicans: that level of public debt could be crippling to a landlocked, blue collar town with limited growth potential. He told the Daily Southtown that he didn’t think a stadium was “highest priority facing this village.”
That was in 1998.
Two decades later, with Landek at the helm, Bridgeview’s priorities are crystal clear.
It spent more on interest payments to Bridgeview bondholders ($13.7 million) in 2018 than it did on its police department, fire department and all village street maintenance combined ($12.7 million).
Landek’s turn from stadium skeptic to cheerleader happened quickly. Shortly after succeeding the retiring Oremus in 1999, and despite his lack of private sector experience, he would confidently triple down on his predecessor’s stadium dreams.
A Landek-blessed, bigger, 20,000-seat, $155 million government-funded soccer stadium, complete with heated field turf and luxury suites received village approval in 2005 and opened in 2006.
"This is a great economic anchor for us," Landek told the Chicago Tribune then. "And it's going to change our lives."
Property taxes up 58 percent, home values down 37 percent
The stadium debt was part of a Landek-led municipal borrowing and spending spree he promised would grow the village’s tax base, turning it into the next Rosemont.
Instead, it has floundered, growing Bridgeview homeowners’ property tax bills instead.
Once among Cook County’s lowest, the median Bridgeview bill has risen 58 percent over the past 12 years, from $3,133 in 2007 to $4,941 in 2018, according to Blockshopper.com.
Home prices have fallen 37 percent over the same period, from $284,050 in 2007 to $180,000 last year, adjusted for inflation.
A 1,142 square-foot red brick three bedroom, two bath at 7312 S. Thomas in Bridgeview sold for $150,000 on June 30.
According to the Cook County Treasurer, its property tax bill rose from $1,420 in 2008 to $6,826 last year, an increase of 380 percent. The home’s effective property tax rate is 4.5 percent.
Bridgeview collected $2.1 million more in property tax revenue from its residents in 2018 than in 2017, or about $490 per homeowner.
The increase is required to pay larger and larger interest payments on Bridgeview’s borrowing. According to the village’s annual financial report, only 15 cents of every dollar collected in property taxes from Bridgeview residents in 2018 was spent on actual government services-- $2.4 million of the $17.1 million total.
In March 2017, Bridgeview’s credit rating was downgraded to junk level by Standard & Poor’s, which cited “acute business, financial, and economic uncertainties related to its debt burden, particularly the debt issued for its Toyota Park stadium.”
Toyota Park, now called Seatgeek Stadium, lost its marquee tenant, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, earlier this month.
No way out
With $196 million in assets and $326 million in liabilities, according to its Dec. 31, 2018 financial statement, Bridgeview is technically insolvent.
That it has not filed for bankruptcy, and instead is able to continue borrowing and borrowing to make ends meet is a function of Illinois’ political predicament.
Municipalities are prohibited from filing for bankruptcy without permission from the Illinois legislature. And this one, controlled by Chicago Democrats who would rather see property taxes rise and home values fall than be required to restrain government spending, isn’t granting it.
The option of running out of money, versus continuing to borrow more to fund structural deficits or underperforming ventures like Landek’s Bridgeview stadium, is one House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago) knows would weaken the negotiating positions of his party allies, namely public employee unions.
“(Bridgeview) is straddled with an impossible debt burden,” wrote Mark Glennon of the local government finance news and analysis website, Wirepoints, adding that it would have filed already “in a sane state.”
Central Falls, Rhode Island, population 19,000, filed for bankruptcy in Aug. 2011 with approximately $100 million in liabilities, 80 percent of which was pension debt.
Bridgeview’s pension liabilities amount to about $63 million, or 20 percent of its debt total.
|More taxes, more spending, more debt|
|Bridgeview taxpayers are paying 30 percent more in property taxes than they did five years ago. But the village's expenses-- and debt-- continues to grow.|
|Taxes Collected||Service Fees|
|Sources: Bridgeview Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports|
|Bridgeview Taxpayers' Debt|
|Bridgeview property owners owe nearly $550 million in debt borrowed by their local governments.|
|Village of Bridgeview||$320,830,790|
|Bridgeview Park District||$6,910,000|
|Bridgeview Library District||$29,303|
|Cook County (a)||$64,859,457|
|Moraine Valley CC (b)||$6,272,078|
|School Districts (c)||$22,255,207|
|Teachers' Retirement System (d)||$110,694,233|
|Sources: Village of Bridgeview, State of Illinois Comptroller, Blockshopper.com|
|(a) Tracks share of $20.5 billion Cook County and $4.56 billion MWRD debt by EAV; (b) Tracks share of $144.9 million Moraine Valley CC Debt by EAV (c) Includes Bridgeview share of nine school districts, including Indian Springs 109 (44%), Argo 217 (28%), Summit 104 (9%), North Palos 117 (7.8%), Ridgeland 122 (7.6%), Oak Lawn 229 (3.8%), Consolidated 230 (1.2%), Burbank 111 (0.3%), and Reavis 220 (0.29%). (d) Includes Bridgeview share of the aforementioned school districts' share ($1.3 billion) of the state Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) debt, now $75.3 billion.|
|Bridgeview home values down, property taxes up|
|Since Bridgeview's soccer stadium was built in 2006, home values have fallen while property tax bills have soared.|
|Year||Median Sale||Median Tax|
|Sources: Blockshopper.com, Cook County Assessor, Cook County Treasurer, Cook County Recorder; All sale prices adjusted for inflation.|