Candidates differ on whether MWRD land should be leased out or sold
A Green Party candidate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago said the agency's land ownership and leasing practices are not providing full value to taxpayers, while the board president believes the land's value is in flood control.
George Milkowski of Chicago said MWRD receives small amounts for the leased properties compared to their current values. One example is a lease expiring next year that began in 1918 for which MWRD has received $3,800 when that property now is valued at about $3.8 million.
"I have been attending most of the district's meetings for the past four years and time after time the MWRD opts to lease its land, usually for 39 years," said Milkowski. "When there is a proposal to lease land, there is invariably a line from the legal department that maintains that the land is 'not needed for the corporate purposes.' This type of action ignores the law. Think about it. If you have something in your home that you don't expect to use for at least 39 years, would you keep it?" he said.
Last year, MWRD made about $20 million from leases of MWRD-owned land scattered throughout Cook County. The MWRD board's primary responsibilities are overseeing the treatment of about 1 billion gallons of water daily and flood mitigation programs in Cook County, including the Northwest suburbs.
The MWRD property that Milkowski mentions is adjoining waterways that MWRD must maintain access to, said board President Mariyana Spyropoulos of Chicago, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 8.
"With the increase in green infrastructure and local municipal stormwater projects with which MWRD assists, access to land, and the ownership of that land, is necessary," said Spyropoulos.
The number of projects has increased over the last few years and, as a result, incidents of flooding have decreased, she said.
"We are committed to continue to work closely with municipalities in Cook County on projects that assist with stormwater management," Spyropoulos said.
Milkowski joins other Green Party candidates Karen Roothaan and Michael Smith as well as Democrats Spyropoulos, Barbara McGowan and Josina Morita, all seeking three seats with six-year terms on Nov. 8. Democrat Martin J. Durkan and Green Party candidates Christopher Anthony and Herb Shumann also are competing for one seat with a two-year term.
Daily Herald Business Writer
Some candidates for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago believe the part-time positions on the board should not get full-time pay.
However, incumbents seeking re-election said the positions warrant full-time work, despite the part-time status. So they believe the $70,000 salary is adequate.
"The position is what you make of it," said Mariyana Spyropoulos, an attorney and current MWRD board president. She is a Democratic incumbent seeking re-election on Nov. 8. "I approach the position as a full-time job. I believe that the commissioners earn their salaries. However, since we are a creature of statute, if it determined to reduce the salary for budgetary reasons, I would support that change."
MWRD has come under fire in recent weeks for its salaries averaging $100,000 per year throughout the organization. It is higher than other city and county workers, according to a report last week by the Better Government Association.
Mariyana Spyropoulos is joined by Democrats Barbara McGowan and Josina Morita and Green Party candidates George Milkowski, Karen Roothaan and Michael Smith who are seeking three seats with six-year terms on Nov. 8. Democrat Martin J. Durkan and Green Party candidates Christopher Anthony and Herb Shumann are seeking one seat with a two-year term.
Roothaan, a teacher, believes the position should be full-time.
"If the commissioners took their jobs more seriously, they could work at it full time, as I will do if elected," Roothaan said.
Morita, a nonprofit consultant who wants to increase suburban representation on the MWRD board, said the salaries are appropriate.
"While MWRD commissioners are technically part-time position, I will take on the responsibility as a full-time position as many other commissioners do. For that reason, I believe the salary is appropriate," said Morita.
McGowan, vice president of the MWRD board, also feels the salary is a right fit because the hours extend beyond part-time work.
"I have served the public as a commissioner on the MWRD board of commissioners for three six-year terms, and I am proud of the fact that I have spent days, nights and weekends working on behalf of the citizens of Cook County," McGowan said.
Challenger Milkowski, disagrees, saying part-time work should get part-time pay.
"If a commissioner receives the equivalent of a full-time salary, then the commissioner should resign or take a leave of absence from all other sources of employment," said Milkowski.
Other candidates could not be reached for comment.