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Oak Lawn mayor views rising revenue as hope for future

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

While admitting that pension payments still has to be reckoned with, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said she is confident in the village’s future and points to increasing revenue sources as a reason for optimism.

Bury mentioned during her “State of the Village” address Tuesday afternoon at the Hilton Oak Lawn that the sale tax had increased in the village.

“Oak Lawn is 19 out of 1,299 Illinois municipalities in Illinois in revenue,” Bury told a crowd of about a 100 who attended the luncheon. “That is something to celebrate.”

The sales tax is up 7.8 percent in Oak Lawn this year and has increased by 12 percent since 2011, said Bury. Business licenses are at record high in the village and the mayor believes that trend will continue.

She mentioned many new businesses that have opened up in the last year, including Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Massage Envy, Meatheads, Mooyah Burgers and Oak Lawn Bank and Trust, to name a few.

She joked that Cooper’s Hawk, which along with Mariano’s serve as anchors for the Stony Creek Promenade at 111th and Cicero Avenue, “did not cut any ribbons for the opening but uncorked a few wine bottles instead.”

But the Oak Lawn mayor said that the pension crisis that affects all municipalities in the state, and is not being dealt with during the current budget impasse in Springfield, has to be addressed.

“We have lowered our pension debt the past couple of years,” said Bury. “But in 2019, we have to double the amount of the funding. It’s very challenging. The way that you do that is to lower the village debt. We have to come up with ways to meet our pension obligations.”

An encouraging sign is that the municipal tax levy has decreased by 5.6 percent. Bury added that the village has lowered property taxes for the third year in a row.

“Lower taxes drive businesses to a community,” said Bury. “High taxes drive businesses away from a community.”

Bury said that all the taxing bodies that serve Oak Lawn should try to keep taxes low. The Oak Lawn mayor added that 72 percent of every dollar from the village is spent on employees. Providing employment is a top priority, the mayor said.

“We don’t want to diminish our services,” said Bury. “We want to enhance services.”

On the issue of crime, Bury stated what Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray had told her. The figures fluctuate over the years. The mayor said crime statistics did spike over the past year but overall have been decreasing since 2011. She pointed to 84 violent crimes reported in 2011 and 82 in 2012. But compare that to 2015, in which 70 cases of violent crime was reported, Bury said.

Bury said that Oak Lawn has more police officers and less firefighters today on the basis of statistics. The 911 dispatch service company Norcomm handled 191,967 calls in 2015, according to Bury.

Bury had high marks for the village’s Public Works Department, which for the 19th straight year has received the “Tree City Designation” for planting and caring for trees. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has made available rain barrels for residents. Bury said that 4,190 residents have received the rain barrels.

Work continues on the Harker Water Plant, which will bring water to 325,000 homes. The project is scheduled to be completed this December. The Reich Plant is 20 percent completed and is scheduled to done in July 2017, said Bury.

The mayor said that the number of part-time employees, which is at 81, is the same amount as it was in 2010. The mayor admitted that full-time jobs have decreased due to budget constraints. But Bury mentioned that Steve Radice, who heads Oak Lawn’s Economic Development department, said that the Stony Creek Promenade TIF District had resulted in 870 new jobs in 2015.

Bury applauded the efforts of Radice, who she said has worked hard to secure jobs for the majority of Oak Lawn residents. Bury also said that the old Pappa Joe’s restaurant location will become a Culver’s this fall.

The Oak Lawn mayor reminds seniors that the village is still looking for new site for the center. Bury did applaud the efforts of Genesis, which provides services and conducts programs for seniors. She said talks continue with the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post about moving senior services there. The mayor also said that Trustee William “Bud “Stalker (5th) is also looking into ideas for a new senior facility.

Bury also hailed the efforts of the Oak Lawn Library, Oak Lawn Park District and Oak Lawn Children’s Museum. The new tower at Advocate Medical Center and the efforts of Advocate’s Children’s Hospital drew raves from the mayor. Bury said the children’s hospital is in the top five percent in cardiovascular surgeries for youths in the U.S and Canada.

“Oak Lawn is doing awesome,” said Bury. “We have a lot of things to be proud of.”

Chicago Ridge mayor said congestion at 95th Street interchange needs relief

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said he has seen enough of traffic jams that extend on and off the ramps at the 95th Street tollway interchange that borders Hickory Hills on the west and Oak Lawn on the east.

“It’s a mess,” said Tokar during a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on Jan. 27 at the Chicago Ridge Village Hall. “It’s a complete disaster that needs plenty of work.”

Tokar is a member of the Central Tri-State Planning Council, which filed its final report on Jan. 21. Thirty officials are on the Corridor Planning Council, including Tokar and several other mayors. The recommendations included in the report for the Central Tri-State Master Plan. The Master Plan will examine various reconstruction alternatives that incorporate the council’s input.

The suggestions by the council will also be considered, such as the conditions of existing corridor assets and on-going corridor maintenance needs. The Corridor Planning Council Report and the Master Plan results will be shared with the Tollway Board of Directors as they make decisions for future phases of the project.

Tokar and Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz have attended the meeting the past seven months. Tokar said a lot of discussion has taken place and although the project will take some time to be built, he sees progress in the future.

“The number one and two problems are congestion and access to the tollway,” said Tokar, referring specifically to the 95th Street interchange. “They (Tollway Board) need to address this. There are some other problems. There is just not enough signage. We should have signs indicating that Christ Hospital can be found depending on if you are traveling north or south. We should also have a sign for Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. I suppose there should be a sign for the Chicago Ridge Mall. I’m not trying to be self-serving but there should be signs, especially for hospitals.”

The Chicago Ridge mayor is concerned about the congestion. He points to the fact that drivers who try to enter 294 going north to Wisconsin are in a line that often stretches nearly three blocks. Not only does it back up traffic, it could be hazardous when traffic along Harlem Avenue begins to enter 95th Street going north, Tokar said.

In 2011, the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors approved a 15-year, $12 billion capital program, “Move Illinois: Tollway Driving the Future.” As part of the capital program, $1.6 billion was set aside to reconstruct 294 beginning at 95th Street. According to the Tollway Board, the corridor carries the heaviest amount of passenger and commercial traffic on the tollway system, with commercial freight accounting for much as 20 percent of traffic in some sections.

Tokar said a variety of options have been discussed to relieve congestion. Ramps have been discussed at 103rd and Southwest Highway and even the old Yellow Freight property in Chicago Ridge. The mayor said they are just in the discussion phase, but something has to be done about the congestion. He again referred to vehicles that are lined up to get on 294 north.

“It’s like being in the Brookfield Zoo parking lot,” said Tokar, “So, there definitely is a problem there. Nothing moves. You don’t want to go there at rush hour.”

Other local mayors also opinions on what should be built at the 95th Street interchange

“We would like to see a transportation center built at the intersection,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is also the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “From an economic standpoint, I think that would be good.

Tokar said that the IDOT engineers will go over the report and will make plans that may take a couple of years to be approved. Originally constructed in 1958, the Tri-State contained two lanes from 95th Street to the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), and three lanes from I-55 to Balmoral Avenue.

After the master planning process is completed in 2017, preliminary construction of the roadway is programmed to begin in 2020, according to the Tollway Board.

“It may sound like a lot of money, but it is important for access to Christ Hospital and Palos Community Hospital,” added Tokar.

Reduce rate for Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course

  • Written by By Michael Gilbert

A new, reduced green rate has been established for the Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course in 2016 in the hopes of doubling attendance from the previous year, the chairman of Golf Course Committee said last week.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) told the council and a handful of residents in attendance at the meeting Feb. 4 that the new fee for golf at the nine-hole course is a flat rate of $10. Last year the fee to play the course was $17 for adults, $13 for seniors age 60 and older and $10 for players under 18.  

“The golf course is there 7/24 no matter how many people are there,” said Moore, who serves as chairman of the City Council’s Golf Course Committee. “Let’s see how this new rate works out. Golfing (attendance) as a whole has kind of been in the dumps everywhere. We are obviously hoping to increase attendance by a lot.”

Moore said the goal for 2016 was to double attendance from last year. Figures for 2015 were not available at last week’s meeting.

With the new rate comes the elimination of all promotions and discounts including the “Siesta Special,” which allowed for the purchase of two rounds of golf for the price of one from noon to 3p.m. Moore said a 10 percent discount will still be offered for all members of the military playing the course.

“We feel that if we have the best, cheapest golf in the southwest suburbs that we will have higher activity at the course,” Moore said. “Our motto has always been to provide the best golf for the best price in the southwest suburbs and we believe we are doing that.”

The golf course, 7301 W. 105th St., is just one year removed from a major $200,000 clubhouse renovation.

“We are always trying to improve the course,” Moore said. “We just put a couple hundred thousand dollars into the clubhouse last year and we are always looking to update and maintain.”

The course boasts a pair of Par 5 holes, three Par 3s and four Par 4s. The championship tees offer golfers more than 2,800 yards of course.

“It’s a challenging course,” Moore said. “A lot of the people I talk to say ‘it’s not Pebble Beach, but it’s a challenging course.’

“You are going to improve your game if you play here.”  

Moore said fellow Golf Committee members and aldermen A.J. Pasek (3rd Ward) and Joan Knox (1st Ward) were also in favor of reducing the rate.

“Our goal is to appeal to the masses,” Moore said. “I don’t know where they are going to get nine holes any cheaper than $10. That is the message we want to get out.

“Is it a little bit risky that we’re doing this? It is, but hopefully it will work out.”

The cost of cart rentals has not changed from last year, Moore said.

In other news, Mayor Gerald Bennett told the council he intends to present them with a recommendation for the city’s new building commissioner by Feb. 15, and is hopeful a hire can be made at the meeting three days later.

The city is looking for a permanent replacement for Gene Nelson, Palos Hills’ longtime building commissioner who died on Oct. 29 at age 79. Gene Newman, a plan commission member and architect, was named as Nelson’s replacement last November.

The city has since decided to make the building commissioner a full-time position and Newman recently indicated he would not be interested in taking on the position on a full-time basis, Bennett said following the meeting last week.

“There’s just too much work for (the building commissioner) to be a full-time position,” Bennett said. “Technically Gene Nelson was working 20 hours a week but he was putting in many more than that.”

Bennett said the city received around seven applicants for the building commissioner, which has a salary of around $75,000.

Gridiron greatness: Area players pick their colleges

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

PAGE 1 BR 8Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller will continue his career at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.

 

One area football player will be coached by Tom Sawyer.

One will be heading to Princeton.

A handful will be heading to downtown Chicago to play for Robert Morris University. A few will be staying even closer to home at St. Xavier University.

And this is only the beginning.

The Feb. 3 national signing day passed with several area players making their football decision official. While there was plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding that date, there are still a load of players who will be making their decisions in the coming weeks and months.

Here is a look at the signees so far:

Marist

The RedHawks finished second in the state in Class 8A and offensive lineman Brent Holder is heading to Princeton and running back Darshon McCullough is going to Eastern Illinois University.

 “I am so proud of these guys,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “They have worked hard in the classroom and on the field, and it’s exciting to see them take it to the next level. I know they will both do well. They are great representatives of Marist football.”

One player who still has to make his decision is Reporter/Regional Player of the year Brendan Saklitzky, a quarterback who threw for 3,705 yards and ran for 1,088 more and accumulated 47 touchdowns. There are several opportunities for him to play quarterback at a smaller school but the door is open for him to join a bigger school as a preferred walk on and change positions.

Brother Rice

Quarterback Cam Miller and offensive lineman Jelani Edmond will continue to be teammates. The pair   will head to Saginaw Valley State in Michigan.

St. Laurence

Quarterback Alex Martinez is heading to St. Xavier University while receiver Willie Walton will continue his career at Division II Wayne State.

Offensive lineman Alex Negoski is heading to the University of Wisconsin Stout.

Sandburg

Linebacker Ian Chladek is heading to Robert Morris University.

Wide receiver Avery Verble committed to Winona State University, which is coached by a man named Tom Sawyer who said the converted quarterback “will fit in with some of the great receivers of the past.’’

Richards

Linebacker Tim Houlihan committed to Robert Morris University and defensive back Joe Doyle selected St. Xavier University.

Shepard

The Astros will send receivers EJ Rueck and Alec Hufstedler to Robert Morris University.

Stagg

Tight end Josh Sterling signed up with Robert Morris University.

Oak Lawn, Chicago Christian and Evergreen Park did not have any signees last week but could have some commit in the coming weeks.

At St. Xavier, 13 players committed to the NAIA power.

Aside from Martinez and Doyle, defensive back Tim Walsh, a transfer from Loras College and a graduate of Evergreen Park High School, will join the Cougars next season.

Other signees are offensive lineman Reid Adams (from Michigan), defensive back Trevon Anderson (Bolingbrook), wide receiver Harold Davis (Joliet Catholic Academy), linebacker Felix Imbanga (Urbana), linebacker Demetrius (DJ) Mack (Rockford Guilford), wide receiver Mike Markasovic (Providence Catholic), defensive lineman Dimitrije Milutinovic (Glenbrook North), offensive lineman Mike Ribando (South Elgin),  linebacker Danny Saracco (Plainfield South) and wide receiver Chris Simmons (Nazareth Academy).

“We’re not quite done yet, but I’m ecstatic with our class so far,” said SXU football coach Mike Feminis.  “This group is loaded with speed and athleticism on both sides of the ball.  It’s not a secret where our bread is buttered (Chicago area), because it’s been our philosophy for 18 years.  Even getting a kid from Michigan (Adams) only happened, because of his coach’s Chicago-area connection to our staff.”

He boasted about his new players.

“Markasovic, Davis and Simmons are the next wave of big-time playmakers for us and Alex Martinez is a tough, gritty, dual-threat QB, who really fits our system.  He’s a local kid and a winner,” said Feminis.  “Saracco was one of the top linebackers in the Joliet area for the last three years and Imbanga is similar to Omar Salazar (current SXU linebacker), not very big, but makes up for it with quickness and toughness.  Both of these guys also have a great nose for the ball and are physical tacklers.  Mack is an intriguing talent, who we think can play outside linebacker or rush end.

“Anderson is a shutdown corner we targeted early in the process and we’re expecting him to help us immediately,” Feminis added.  “Doyle is a solid addition too in the secondary and Walsh came home after playing a year at Loras College, so we're anxious to see what he can do.  On the O and D-lines you’re looking at three kids (Milutinovic, Ribando and Adams), who are physically ready to compete and play at the college level.  I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them made an impact as freshmen.”

 

 

Proposed street improvements planned for Worth

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

The Illinois Department of Transportation held an open house last Thursday at the Worth Village Hall to inform residents about proposed plans for roadway improvements, which will also include Palos Hills.

The plans include widening and resurfacing, the addition of a center turn lane as well as pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, and intersection and drainage improvements.

On hand to explain the proposed project were representatives of IDOT and Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick, Inc., the engineering firm working with IDOT.

The presentation, defined as “public outreach,” is part of Phase I of a preliminary engineering and environmental study initiated by IDOT. It is the first outreach to the public, including businesses, residents and other stakeholders.

According to Kimberly K. Murphy, project manager with IDOT, the Improvement Project would complete improvements that had been made to 111th Street, east of Harlem Avenue, in the 1980s.

“Plans for these proposed improvements, west of Harlem, began being discussed approximately four or five years ago,” she said.

Murphy added that the proposal does not call for any demolishing of buildings. She explained that for the most part the right-of ways along 111th will be used for the improvements such as widening and the addition of a center turn lane from 76th Avenue to Octavia Avenue, and reconstruction of the pavement from Oketo Avenue to Octavia Avenue.

Other proposed work includes the addition of right turn lanes on the west, south and north legs at the intersection of 111th Street and Southwest Highway. Also, traffic signals and pedestrian signals will be replaced.

At Oketo Avenue and 111th Street, permanent traffic and pedestrian signals will be installed and left turn lanes added on the west and east legs.

Traffic and pedestrian signals will be replaced at 111th and Harlem, and the southbound left turn lane will be extended.

Murphy said that IDOT has been working with the Village of Worth to minimize any major negative impact of the proposed improvements. Mid-way through the open house, she commented that there seemed to be an interest in the project.

“We have not heard many objections to the proposals tonight, and this will definitely be an improvement to the area,” said Murphy.

However, resident Pamela Johnson, who lives in Hillcrest Manor, was not happy with the outlined plans.

“What is going to happen to the fence on our property? According to these plans, we are losing eight feet of our right-a-way,” said Johnson. “How much space will there be between the highway and the condos at 111th and Oketo Avenue?

“The proposed addition of a sidewalk will be where our fence is currently located and you are moving the lane closer to our house,” added Johnson. “There have been a lot of accidents there. What is to stop them from crashing into our living room?”

When an IDOT representative replied that the plans called for a curb to be placed there, Johnson asked what good would that do.

“A curb will not stop a truck from crashing through the fence,” she said angrily. “How would you feel if it were your home? Would you be happy about it? None of you care, because it is not your home.”

Village Engineer Mike Spolar responded with a suggestion that perhaps guard rails could be considered at that location. He then asked her to add her comments to the “Comment Box,” which was there to collect comments from the attendees.

“This is the purpose of this meeting tonight, to get input from all of you,” said Spolar. “Don’t hold back. Give them your thoughts and ideas. They want this information.”

Murphy said funding for the project for Phase I is not yet available. The majority of IDOT projects are funded with federal money with matching funds coming from the state.

Upon completion of Phase I, IDOT will initiate the preparation of contract plans and land acquisition (part of Phase II) once funding becomes available. Phase II typically lasts 18 to 24 months. Phase III (which is the construction phase) is also anticipated to take 18 to 24 months.

However, Phase II and Phase III are not currently included in IDOT’s FY 2016-21 Proposed Highway Improvement Program.

What this means is that while IDOT will review all the comments from the residents at last Thursday’s meeting and will integrate any changes into the Phase I plan, it could be many years before the proposed improvements are actually completed.

Murphy said there will not be another public meeting on Phase I but residents interested in viewing the completed plans and designs can visit the Proposed Highway Improvement Program on IDOT’s website.