Menu

Two new red-light cameras operating in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Two new red-light cameras began issuing violation notices in Oak Lawn on Monday, bringing the total to six working cameras in the village.

          The newest additions, which have been in place for a while, are monitoring the southbound approaches of 95th Street at Pulaski Road, and the east and westbound approaches of 111th Street and Cicero Avenue.

          Village Manager Larry Deetjen explained that the cameras often do not monitor all corners of an intersection, especially when it is not fully within the jurisdiction of the same municipality. This is the case with the intersection at 95th and Pulaski, which is divided between Evergreen Park on the east side of Pulaski, and Oak Lawn on the west.

          The red-light enforcement program has been working in Oak Lawn since 2008, and the other red-light cameras are focused on the northbound lanes of Southwest Highway at 97th Street; northbound Cicero Avenue at 95th Street, and eastbound 95th Street at the same intersection; and westbound 95th Street at Ridgeland Avenue.

          Violators received $100 tickets in the mail, along with a photograph of the violation.

          According to information about the program posted on the village website, the new locations for the cameras were chosen following an evaluation of crash data at several red-light-controlled intersections.

          Deetjen said the Village Board approved the new red-light camera locations in 2014, and sent their requests to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which approved the three locations earlier this year.

          “(IDOT) doesn’t approve all the locations requested,” he added.

          As with all the other locations where cameras are situated, the cameras will photograph violations where motorists proceed through an intersection while the light is red. These cameras will also capture motorists who do not follow the law pertaining to “right turn on red” situations. In order to avoid a ticket when turning right or left on a red light, where it is allowed, vehicles must come to a complete stop before entering the crosswalk or intersection. Cars must also yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

         Deetjen noted that the village contracted with SafeSpeed LLC to install the three new cameras, while RedFlex, the company originally contracted to operate the original group of cameras had agreed to continue doing so on a month-to-month basis after the original contract expired in September.

          “Next year, we will be able to make an assessment about both companies (before deciding on a long-term agreement),” said the village manager.

          He said the village is not expecting to make more money on the newly installed cameras, asserting that safety and not revenue is the goal.

          “We allocated $561,000 in the budget for red-light camera revenue this year, and that is not going to be increased for 2016,” said Deetjen. “When you’re looking at a $560 million annual budget, that is only one percent. Our goal is not revenue. It has always been about traffic safety.”

          More information about the red-light camera program and how the intersections were chosen is available on the village website at www.oaklawn-il.gov.

Suburbs still waiting for stalled funds

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett views the recent turn of events in Springfield during the past week much like someone who is determining if the glass is either half empty or half full.

The House Democrats and Republicans voted 115-1-0 to allow funds to be released for the motor fuel tax, video gaming and the 911 dispatch centers on Nov. 10. However, the glass became half empty when it was learned that House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie moved to have the bill reviewed.

The Senate did not vote on the bill. They are not expected back until January. Bennett’s celebration was somewhat muted after that. However, he preferred to look at the glass as half full. He believes the Southwest Conference of Mayors had a successful run this past month.

“We are elated that the message has gotten through,” said Bennett, who is the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “We are waiting to see what is going to happen.”

Local municipalities have not received funding from the motor fuel tax, video gaming and 911 centers for over the past four months during the budget impasse. Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) are scheduled to meet along with other legislators on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Under pressure from even some Republicans regarding the programs that were on hold for local municipalities, Rauner said that low-interest loans could be provided for these villages and cities to pay for MFT funds and other programs.

Bennett, along with other members of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, voted unanimously to oppose the low-interest loan proposal. Bennett said it was like entering a bank and taking out your money only to be charged for the privilege.

“It was a major victory for us,” said Bennett. “The light bulb finally seemed to go on.”

After the suburban mayors voted against the proposal, other organizations blasted the idea.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar could not believe it when he first heard of Rauner’s proposal. He was one of the mayors who voted against the idea.

“I could not believe it when I first heard about it,” said a frustrated Tokar. “It just didn’t make any sense. The governor is a smart man. How can you even propose something like this?”

The Chicago Ridge mayor said that despite the logjam in Springfield, he was pleased with the vote on the MFT funds.

“Well, I’m really gratified they have come to an agreement on a couple of things,” Tokar said “But it’s almost impossible to plan ahead. You have to plan for the worst.”

Bennett is hoping that the Senate can reconvene before January to vote on the bill. However, just like a half-empty glass, he is not optimistic. But he looks at the positive aspects and is proud of the southwest suburban mayors.

“Absolutely. He (Rauner) offers us low-interest loans for own programs. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Bennett. “Even the legislators had enough at this point. We can be proud of what we accomplished.”

Bennett also points out that the mayors voted against the three percent amusement tax proposal by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The tax would have included golf courses, bowling alleys, other recreational sports activities and cable TV. The mayors voted unanimously against the amusement tax last month.

The vote appeared to spark a chain of activity that week. In less than five days, Preckwinkle chose to pull her proposal under heavy criticism. She has since introduced a one percent tax on hotels and motels that has been approved by the Cook County Board.

While the MFT funds are now on hold, Tokar is glad the House at least voted for it. But he sees other difficulties ahead.

“As far as the motor fuel tax and video gaming, that’s fine,” said Tokar. “That’s at least something. But what I’m concerned about is income tax revenue. That is even bigger than the MFT funds. That is the biggest part of our revenue source with the exception of property taxes.”

Tokar is not confident that something can be worked in Springfield in the near future.

The Senate could reconvene in December to take a vote. However, Bennett believes that is wishful thinking.

“I don’t think anything is going to get done by the end of the year,” said Bennett. “The biggest fear we have is that this could go into the spring.”

Trash talk gives Orland recycling tips

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Orland Park residents have diverted nearly a quarter of the village’s trash away from landfills under the village’s recycling program.

          Waste Management representative Mike Morley deemed that to be good progress when he updated the Village Board’s Public Works Committee on the village’s recycling program last week, but gave some do’s and don’ts to not contaminate recyclables with other garbage.

The municipal marketing manager for Waste Management, Morley praised residents for their 85 percent participation rate in recycling efforts. He noted that 5,462 tons of recyclables were collected in 2013, when the village began picking up recycling weekly, rather than every two weeks. In 2014, that number rose to 5,625 tons.

“That’s roughly an equivalent of 32.5 trucks,” Morley said. “That’s good progress from the village residents. That gives you a diversion rate of about 24 percent.”

For the first nine months of 2015, about 4,025 tons have been collected, he added.

A Waste Management slogan of “recycle often, recycle right,” is increasingly important because although the total waste stream has fallen since 2005, easily recyclable types of trash are falling compared to those impossible to recycle.

Factors such as a reduction in newspaper readership with the advent of the Internet, the low price of petroleum and changes in packaging of consumable goods have all contributed to a drop in refuse production since 2005. Prior to that, the numbers had been increasing annually since 1960, he said.

“I just want to pound away at that message,” he said, offering three pieces of advice to residents who want to recycle effectively. These include recycling all empty bottles, cans and paper, and keeping food and liquids out of recycling containers.

Morley said that 16 percent of the materials collected in recycling containers are contaminated with food and liquids.

He said the third, and perhaps most important piece of advice, is to keep plastic bags out of recycling containers as well because the plastic get caught in machinery and are costly to remove.

Morley said glass bottles, metal cans and paper are highly recyclable. But because recycling material is measured in weight, rather than volume, the switch to lighter, individualized packaging, more is needed to turn a profit.

For instance, he said, light plastic jars are replacing glass, and pet food, juices and other products that used to be sold in cans are often now packaged in light plastic film bags.

“Convenience is trumping sustainability,” said Morley, pointing out that material recovery facilities were built roughly 20 years ago, when 80 percent of recyclables were paper and cardboard, and 20 percent was “everything else.”

“We need a lot more of those film packages and plastic jars to make any money recycling them,” he said.

Also, he said that low petroleum costs have resulted in the market for recycled plastics in countries like China being reduced because they can make their own products.

And as the stream changes, the stuff that is really not recyclable or hard to recycle is making up a greater percentage of what is coming through.”

“I would imagine for your average recycling family that the most confusing thing is you get pounded by the media about the alleged virtues of plastic bags versus paper, yet you’ve got to keep them out of the recycling,” Trustee James Dodge said. “It’s got to be completely counterintuitive to people not close to those details.”

Morley agreed, and suggested that the best way to dispose of the plastic bags is to bring them back to the grocery stores that collect them.

Hurley seeks state payments owed to municipalities

  • Written by Jack Murray

State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-Chicago) is sponsoring legislation to release motor fuel tax and other state payments owed to local governments that have been delayed during the months-long budget impasse in Springfield.

Hurley announced her support to pay cities and villages the millions the state owes them only days after the Palos Heights City Council voted last week to adopt a resolution also passed by the Southwest Conference of Mayors calling upon the governor and General Assembly to “immediately release all non-general fund state revenues owed to local governments,” including revenues from the motor fuel tax, local government video gaming, casino gaming, wireless services and use tax.

Copies of the resolution were sent to Hurley, fellow area state lawmakers who represent Palos Heights in the General Assembly, Gov. Rauner, the four partisan leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives and the Illinois Municipal League.

More than $150 million is owed by the state to municipal governments as a result of the state having no budget since July 1, Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz told his City Council on Nov. 3.

Backing the mayors’ resolution’s call for immediate disbursement of the back-logged funds Illinois owes to cities and villages, Rep. Hurley said: “Some of the most important government work happens at the local level, and these cities and villages not only were promised a portion of this funding, but their essential services depend on these state dollars,” Hurley said in a release. “From upkeep on local streets to life-saving 911 services, we need to be sure that municipalities can continue to function.”

Hurley’s House Bill 4305 would allocate funding to local villages, cities, and townships from the state tax on motor fuels and gambling they are owed since July. Although Illinois has continued to collect this funding, Gov. Rauner’s veto of the budget eliminated the ability to distribute this money, according to Hurley.

While some communities have considered property tax increases, Hurley believes local governments, and ultimately taxpayers, should not suffer due to the budget crisis, her office stated.

Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz, decrying “the total mayhem in Springfield,” introduced and won unanimous passage by the City Council on Nov. 3 of a resolution urging Gov. Rauner and leaders of the General Assembly to release the revenues payable to local governments.

No state budget has cost Palos Heights about $25,000 a month since July in delayed motor fuel tax revenues that would normally be disbursed by the state, Straz noted.

          He and other local mayors in the 21-member southwest mayors group are also concerned that revenues from the local government distributive fund, or the share of state income taxes disbursed back to municipalities from the state, are in jeopardy.

In a normal year, Illinois’ budget is passed by both houses of the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor before or on or around the deadline of June 30. And now Veterans Day has come and gone, and Illinois is still without a long overdue spending plan.

Straz and fellow mayors many don’t expect the delayed state budget to be adopted until January or February, “maybe even not until April,” he has said. 

Meantime, “our communities should not be held hostage over this budget impasse, and there is absolutely no reason that already overburdened homeowners should pay a single dollar more in property taxes because of dysfunction in Springfield,” Hurley said. “The state has continued to collect this revenue, which sits in accounts separate from the rest of the state budget. Communities that count on this funding for things as critical as police and fire services, should be given what they were promised and are owed.”

Threat of dumping sludge in Worth site is removed

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has relinquished the deed for the 78-acre Lucas-Berg Preserve Site in Worth back to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which will remove the threat of the site being used for the dumping of silt dredged from the Cal-Sag Channel.

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said this is great news for Worth. The deed was turned over from the Army Corps to the MWRD on Oct. 28.

“This is a big victory for the community of Worth and the surrounding area,” said Lipinski. “For many years it has been a priority of mine to remove Lucas-Berg as the Army Corps’ designated site for dumping dredged materials from the Cal-Sag. It was a difficult road to get this done, but it is important for me to do all I can to work with local residents and protect communities in the Third District.”

Lipinski said the final step was accomplished last year to protect the preserve by inserting language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in June of 2014, which stopped the Army Corps from ever being able to dump dredged materials into the preserve property.

Concern over the future of the Lucas-Berg site goes back decades to when it was privately owned and was used to excavate sand. The MWRD acquired the land in 1975, and then granted easement rights to the Army Corps’ of Engineers, which opened the door for the possible dumping of sludge into the site.

Under former Worth Mayor Randy Keller, a commission was established to fight plans for using the lake in the preserve as a dumping site. For more than 20 years, Worth has designated two days per year as “Clean-Up Day” at the preserve. For each day, the village requests a permit from the MWRD to open the gate to the site, at 111th and 76th Avenue, to allow volunteers to go in to weed and clean up the preserve.

This year, Clean-up Day was Saturday and more than 40 people showed up to walk the site and pick up and bag refuse. According to Village Clerk Bonnie Price, an estimated 100 bags of weeds and trash were gathered by the volunteers. Participants included Cub Scout Pack 3668 and Boy Scout Troop 668, Worth Park District commissioners, Worth Police Chief Mark Mizepick and Deputy Chief Chuck Kulisek, and several village officials including Mayor Mary Werner and Trustee Rich Dziedzic.

Also present were representatives of the Worth Lion’s Club. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) also stopped by.

“We also had people come from other communities this year. There were people from Palos Hills and Alsip,” said Price.

Werner said the village is interested in purchasing the property but it could be at least two years before it may be available.

“The MWRD will have to decide if it may have a corporate use for the property, and if not, it will be sold,” said Werner.

Allison Fore, public information and intergovernmental affairs officer for MWRD, agrees with Werner.

“The MWRD needs to evaluate whether it has a corporate purpose for this site,” said Fore.“ If not needed, the MWRD is required to sell the property. After this determination is made, the MWRD would move forward in selling part or all of the property. Currently, the MWRD is evaluating a local flooding issue submitted by the Village of Worth and determining whether a portion of Lucas Berg could play a role in alleviating this issue.”