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Electricity and gas taxes rising in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

Electricity and gas taxes are going up in Oak Lawn and that left one trustee grumbling.

The Oak Lawn Board of Trustees Tuesday approved two ordinances that will raise the municipal utility tax on electricity and natural gas bills in the village—a move most trustees agreed was the best option available to generate funds needed for infrastructure improvements.

Together, the taxes are expected to generate $2.5 million per year, which Finance Director Brian Hanigan said would be put into a capital reserve account only used for streets, sidewalks, sewer pipes and other infrastructure improvements.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen told the board that the utility tax rate for electricity will be going up from .118 cents to .537 cents per kilowatt hour. The gas tax will be hiked from roughly 1.03 percent to 5 percent of the total bill, depending on the number of therms used.

 Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), the only one of the six trustees to vote against both increases, called the electricity tax hike “exorbitant.”

“This is the equivalent of a 10 percent increase in property tax, and unlike property tax, it is not tax-deductible,” said Streit.

He went on to describe the increases as “hidden taxes,” questioning why others were adamantly opposed to property tax increases but accepting of these increases.

Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) said that the increase will really only amount to an increase of about $1 to $4 on monthly bills for homeowners, depending on how much electricity they use. The increase would be less than that for residential properties when it comes to gas bills, which are typically less than electric bills. Depending on the size and type of home, residents would likely see annual combined increases of $25-$50 in their utility bills.

Stalker said the increase will have the greatest effect on large businesses, perhaps adding $1,000 per month to their bills.

“I don’t like overly taxing businesses, we need more businesses in Oak Lawn,” he added. “But large companies can afford to pay that.”

“As long as the money is going to be used for infrastructure, I can support this,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th).

Although Stalker was just elected in April, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) said that, unlike Streit, he had become familiar with the tax plans prior to the election by attending the Public Works Committee meetings where they were discussed.

Streit questioned why the minutes of the recent Public Works Committee meetings have not been made publicly available.

“Is this really open government?” he asked,   

“You were right about one thing, that we are opposed to property tax increases,” Olejniczak told Streit. “(Our goal) is to get the infrastructure done with the least amount of pain to the residents, and I think we did that. Unless you have a better solution?”

Streit maintained that more money was spent on infrastructure before Mayor Sandra Bury was elected two years ago. But Bury said money was borrowed to do that, and in recent years infrastructure funding was reduced in favor of paying more of the village’s police and fire pension obligations.

In other business, the board also approved a resolution authorizing K-Plus Engineering to do a study of the Stony Creek East Branch Drainage Basin, the first step in improving flood drainage in the village.

The cost of the study, according to the engineering firm’s proposal, is not to exceed $146,400.

“The only thing we can do (to improve drainage) is build more retention ponds and increase the flow rate of Stony Creek,” said Olejniczak, explaining that the village is working closely with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Streit said, “I support any improvements we can make to our drainage system,” but then after some discussion, cast the lone vote against going ahead with the study.

 

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: I won't give this choice the finger

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Internet?

Finger?

Finger?

Internet?

What to do?

Across the pond, in jolly ol’ England, Cable.co.uk had some time on its hands and money in its drawer, so it conducted a survey. One of the questions involved asking people if people would rather lose a finger or a broadband connection.

Well, 29 percent of the 2,500 people who responded said they would rather lose the finger and 25 percent more said they couldn’t make a choice.

For those 29 percent that would choose the finger – God bless you for your decision. I would have added another question to the survey…

How do you want the digit to be removed?

$1a)      Surgically

$1b)     Chainsaw

$1c)     Doberman

$1d)     Really big scissors

For those who would definitely rather keep their finger and ditch the cable, God bless you, too. You made a wise decision.

But for those who are waffling, I have to wonder what in the heck you are thinking of.

Unless you are like former Cubs pitcher Antonio Alfonseca and have an extra finger or two to spare, this should be a no-brainer. You shouldn’t have to think about it. It’s a tough choice, but not that tough.

In a move that may stun my family, I would choose losing the internet.

We have grown so dependent on it that losing it would jolt us back into the covered wagon, pioneer and prairie days – the early 1990s. We had to rely on telephones instead of texts. We had to do research using books. Some people actually didn’t know what happened in last night’s ballgame until they read it in the newspaper.

We watched TV shows when the networks told us to. Music was on these round things called discs and before than on bigger round things called records.

Yeah, you could watch movies on a thing called a VHS player but it took a while before newer movies were released in that format.

Teenagers actually talked to each other without looking down at their phones.

I can go on and on.

My brother and sister, albeit older than me, have lived without the internet. And they would enjoy it. My brother is huge into old cars and would love the world of information he could glom off the internet. But they don’t have it and they seem OK with it.

I love using the internet as much as anyone but to lose a finger over it?

“Which is why the question of what we’d give up to keep our broadband, provides us a somewhat crazy answer. A finger? Surely not,” Cable.co.uk editor Dan Howdle said in quotes all over the place. “What we’re doing there is substituting ‘broadband’ for ‘daily contact with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances’ – and in that context, the thought living with nine fingers is, by comparison, rather trivial to some.”

And that about those people who already lost a finger or two? They could be down to an unlucky seven or eight by the time this scenario plays out. They might not have enough to use the keyboard effectively.

Ah well, I will keep my finger and hope to heck I didn’t sell any of my Ramones CDs at a garage sale.

OL trustees clash over resident’s fence request

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Poet Robert Frost said “fences make good neighbors,” but they also make for good arguments at Oak Lawn Village Board meetings if they are not built to exact zoning specifications.

The issue came up at the May 12 meeting, when the board voted 3-2 to uphold the Zoning Board of Appeals’ denial of a front yard variation that would have allowed Mauricio Medina to finish building a 6-ft. wooden fence around a vacant lot beside his home in the 10000 block of South Moody Avenue. 

“They vet these things for us,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), explaining why he favored upholding the appeals board’s 5-1 vote, without hearing any testimony from Medina. But Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), whose district includes the property in question, was incensed.

“I’m actually shocked that a trustee would make a decision without hearing from the petitioner, to hear the facts,” said Streit.

“We’ve had two public hearings on this,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.

She and others on the board said that Medina had been given a permit to build a fence, but it became an issue when he began building it too close at the property line, next to the front sidewalk, rather than set back according to the instructions that came with the permit. Building inspector Don McKenna put a stop to the work, although it is nearly completed. According to Oak Lawn ordinance, fences should not extend toward the street any farther than the house.

When newly elected Trustee William “Bud” Stalker (5th) said he would like to defer to Streit, since it was his district, both Streit and Medina were allowed to speak to the board.

“I’m disappointed with your decision,” said Medina. He said he bought the vacant lot next to his home with the intention of enclosing it, saying he had seen coyotes in his yard and he feared for the safety of his two young children, an infant and a toddler. He also said he has also been a victim of “flydumping” on the property.

“I moved from Lincoln Park to Oak Lawn. I’m a good citizen. I’m improving the area,” he said. Claiming there was a “lack of communication,” Medina said he did not realize that he was building the fence against code, and was surprised when Building Inspector Don McKenna stopped the work.

Streit said that the board should consider the safety concerns and other extenuating circumstances, asserting that Medina’s neighbors said they had no objection to the fence, and there are other similar fences in the area so it wouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood. In addition to coyotes being seen, he said the property is also “50 yards away from the Norfolk & Western Railroad.”

 However, Vorderer, who said he had patrolled the neighborhood as an Oak Lawn police officer, said the existing fences had been there before the area became part of Oak Lawn. It was also pointed out that the property, located in a secluded corner of the village east of Ridgeland Avenue and north of Stony Creek Golf Course, is separated from the railroad tracks by two other homes and Pacific Avenue, a dead-end street.

Streit also questioned why Village Manager Larry Deetjen got involved in the issue, but Deetjen said he only spoke to Medina and his wife because his office began getting calls about the fence.

Andy Skoundrianos, a member of the appeals board, loudly objected to the contention that the volunteer board acted improperly. “The fence was built illegally. It is a safety issue. There was no quid pro quo. Just follow the rules,” he insisted.

Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) was not at the meeting, and Attorney Patrick Connelly explained that four votes would be needed to overturn the appeals board decision. So with the 3-2 vote against doing so, it failed with only Streit and Stalker voting to overturn the ruling.

“I wish (Medina) well. I hope he builds his fence (within the zoning restrictions),” said Bury. 

Deetjen said Medina can take the issue to court, and it sounded at the end of the meeting like he just might do that.

“This ruling will not stand,” said Streit.

CR takes first step in cleaning up health insurance mess

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Taking the first concrete step to put an end to a controversial insurance program for part-time elected officials, the Chicago Ridge Village Board on Tuesday approved an amendment to the municipal code that ensures lifetime benefits will not be available to anyone not already eligible.

But the board agreed that there is still a lot of work to do.

The program offering health, vision, dental and life insurance to part-time elected officials, had been in place since the 1990s, but it became a campaign issue with the April election. The crowds of people who had come to meetings in recent months to express their displeasure had thinned out somewhat on Tuesday, with the auditorium only about half-full, but the issue remains a big concern of many.

The amendment was prepared by a committee formed at the May 5 meeting, made up of Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese, and attorney Burt Odelson. Durkin, who had first proposed ending the insurance program going forward, said the group met three times to discuss the matter in the past two weeks.

At the same May 5 meeting, the board clarified its interpretation of the existing policy, making the lifetime insurance available for those who have completed two four-year terms.

Because of that, Durkin said that although the new amendment goes into effect with the 2017 election, most current board members, including herself, will not be eligible for the lifetime benefits.

This is because Durkin and Trustee Amanda Cardin, as well as Village Clerk George Schleyer, are midway through their first terms, and newly elected Trustees William McFarland and Coglianese are just starting their first. McFarland and Coglianese both said following the election that they would not be taking the insurance in any case.

 Only Trustee Bruce Quintos has been on the board for more than eight years, and Trustee Jack Lind was just elected to a second term and will be eligible if he completes it.

“Anyone elected in 2017 will be fully aware that they will not be entitled to the lifetime insurance,” said Durkin.

However, the trustee pointed out that while the lifetime insurance issue has been addressed, the full board must now take up other aspects of the insurance program in the coming weeks. This includes determining whether insurance should be offered to serving trustees either, and if the village is obligated to continue paying the insurance for ex-trustees. She has suggested the possibility of having them pay 100 percent of the premium if they want to keep it.

“A lot of people were unaware that the insurance offered included life, health, dental and vision,” said Durkin. “It is hard to get insurance (as a benefit) with any part-time job,” she said.

Mary Callan, one of the residents most vocally opposed to the insurance policy, said after the meeting that she appreciated the progress made but would still like to send letters to ex-trustees asking them  to give up the insurance voluntarily, if it cannot be withdrawn by the board.  

 “The process is going to continue. I think this is a great start. I think we’re attacking the problem head-on,” said Mayor Charles Tokar.

OL native and sound man from ‘Lebowski’ comes back home for renovation ceremony

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Page-1-with-dermot-story-crop-close

 Photo by Dermot Connolly

Brian McCarty speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony near a renovated intersection in Oak Lawn at which he suffered injuries in an accident there 48 years ago. McCarty has gone on to have a career in Hollywood as a sound engineer and music arranger for films including “The Big Lebowski."

 

 

St. Gerald alumnus Brian McCarty waited almost a half of a century to see this day.

Forty-eight years after receiving 176 stiches in his face and a broken leg when he was 13 because of a an accident at a dangerous intersection near the school at Central Avenue and Southwest Highway intersection, he came back from Australia to celebrate the completion of the renovation of that area along with current students and Oak Lawn and Cook County officials on last Wednesday outside the school.

McCarty grew up to work on movies such as the “Big Lebowski,” which has a famous line in it about a “world of pain’’ and he and others hope these renovations can prevent future pain and destruction.

Central and Southwest Highway had been both two-lane roads in each direction at the intersection, which was notoriously dangerous for years, especially for cars stopping to make turns. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, who joined local officials and Cook County Commissioner John Daley (D-11th) for the ribbon-cutting ceremony said more than 100 crashes have occurred there over the past decade.

But there were problems there for many years before.

In 1967, McCarty was a 13-year-old student at St. Gerald riding his bike through the busy intersection next to his school when he was struck by a speeding car and badly injured.

“I was on my bicycle and I was hit by some aggravated driver going 44 mph,” he said. McCarty, who lived on nearby Moody Avenue at the time.

McCarty, now 60, fully recovered and went on to a long career in Hollywood working on more than 40 movies, mainly as a sound engineer and music arranger.

He has been nominated three times for Oscars for his work on movies that included “The Big Lebowski,” “Naked Gun,” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” among others.

“(The accident) was a career-building moment,” he said wryly after the ceremony.

But he and his family, many of whom still live in Oak Lawn, never forgot about the danger of that intersection. Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), who grew up on the same block as McCarty, said he has been working on getting the intersection improved since he was first elected 10 years ago, in 2005.

Olejniczak said that after hearing about his efforts, McCarty sent him an email telling his story, which the trustee kept in his wallet to remind him of the importance of the task.

“We’re very happy that it is complete. It is not just for my district but for all of Oak Lawn and the whole area,” said Olejniczak. He credited Commissioner Daley for taking a personal interest in the project, thanking him for his “professionalism and concern, and for listening to a newly elected local trustee.”

“It shows that government can work,” said Olejniczak.

A work commitment prevented the trustee from attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but his sons Zach and John filled in, helping cut the ribbon along with Preckwinkle, Daley, Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustees Tim Desmond (1st) and Terry Vorderer (4th), and St. Gerald Principal Al Theis.

The $1.3 million renovation included widening the intersection, adding turning lanes on Central, and landscaping of the property adjacent to St. Gerald Church and School. Updated traffic lights and pedestrian countdown timers were also added to improve safety.

“We’re here in celebration of teamwork and cooperation,” Bury said of the project funded by the county.

Preckwinkle agreed, saying, “This is a great example of when units of government work together.”

She added that the county has spent $3.3 million on various Oak Lawn projects in the past five years.

“I think we were safer in these last six months [while the renovation work was underway] than at any time before,” said Theis. He thanked the county officials for working so closely with the school and parish to ensure the safety of the children and their families who use the intersection daily.

“We’re just grateful that this was done, especially that they replaced our trees,” said the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, pastor of St. Gerald, pointing out the newly planted saplings on the rebuilt parkway along Central Avenue.