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Mayor, trustee spar over cafe liquor license

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

What started as a routine Worth Village Board meeting on Nov. 17 took a quick turn when the approval of a business application for Eli’s Café located at 10607 S. Harlem Ave. sparked a heated discussion about granting another liquor license for a video gaming café.

Over the strong objections of Trustee Colleen McElroy, the application was approved in a 5-1 vote.

McElroy, who co-chairs the Economic Development Commission with Trustee Rich Dziedzic, who also oversees Building, Licensing and Ordinances in his role as trustee, adamantly objected to the vote because the Economic Development Commission had recommended in its Nov. 12 meeting that it not be approved.

“What are we doing here?,” she asked. “What is more important to the village, sales tax revenue or the appearance of our village?” She reminded the board that Roma’s Café, also a video gaming business, had been approved last month and granted a liquor license.

“We are working on a long-range plan for the village with the RTA and hired a consultant to advise us. They have recommended to us that we look at the number of same-type businesses allowed to determine what is best for the overall future of Worth. Are we just wasting everyone’s time?

Citing a recent Open House Town Hall meeting on the Long-Range Plan, McElroy said it seemed apparent that residents want more restaurants, both fine dining and family-style, along with a better atmosphere for the village in general.

McElroy suggested that the role of the EDC be reevaluated. “It would be nice to get some direction from the Board. What role do you see for the EDC?”

“What they are doing, is good. Our last meeting was just a little rough,” Dziedzic responded.

Trustee Kevin Ryan said, “The EDC is a recommending body, but we (the Board) have the final word. We don’t want to be counter-productive.”

Agreeing with him was Trustee Pete Kats. ”I agree, we need to control our liquor licenses, we need to take a good hard look at it and set a number. But to say ‘No’ to this one would be wrong. A lot of hard work has gone into this project.”

Prior to the vote, Dziedzic responded to McElroy’s comment about the earlier approval of Roma’s Café, stating that there had been a misunderstanding with the owner of Eli’s Café about the timing of the paperwork needed for his application.

“They have come forward in good faith and provided the information needed and have offered to make the changes we had requested regarding the type of food they will serve. We are comfortable with allowing another liquor license at this time.”

In a statement before the vote was taken, Mayor Mary Werner said, “I have supported this project from the beginning because the business owner, Elias Mseeh, also owns the property and has proved to be a good business partner with the village.”

In a later interview, McElroy said, “We need to make sure we are all on the same page with our long-range plans and what we want for the village. We (the EDC) need more communication from the liquor commissioner (the mayor) and building, licensing and ordinances. These applications should be coming to the EDC first for review, especially on businesses prohibited by our Municipal Code. How long are we supposed to wait for paperwork to be in order? We need more control of what is coming in. I believe we are over saturated with video gambling businesses and I am not in favor of any more being approved.”

Werner later addressed those issues.

“The heart of the problem seems to be that the Board has the authority to change an ordinance,” said Werner. “There are two mandates in our Municipal Code; the number of liquor ordinances allowed and the number of tattoo licenses. If we want to add a liquor license, we can change the ordinance, which is what we did in this case.”

Werner reiterated that she had been for this project from day one because the business owner was also the landlord and had proved to be a good partner with the village.

“The building has been empty for a long time and he has maintained it and kept it in good shape,” she said.

She added that even though there had been a delay in the paperwork being turned in, when Mseeh returned in September still expressing the desire to open the business, Werner sent an email to the trustees on Sept. 10 asking if they were interested in adding a liquor license. All were in favor except McElroy.

Werner said she notified Dziedzic of the responses on Sept. 14. In October, the required paperwork was returned. The next step was for the EDC to review it. On Oct. 6, all the information was provided to the EDC so they would have it for their Nov. 12 meeting.

“The bottom line is that even though the EDC does not recommend an approval, the Board has the final authority” Werner said.

Currently, there are 24 liquor licenses in Worth, with 13 of them issued to businesses with video gambling, including the recent approval of licenses for Roma’s Café (not open yet) and Eli’s Café.

In other business, the board voted approval to continue its Electric Aggregation Program and Power Supply Agreement with Eligo Energy LLC. The contract calls for a flat rate charge to residents and no charge for opting out of the program.

Evergreen Park Board approves more parking along 95th Street

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


Action taken at the Evergreen Park Village Board meeting on Monday night will result in additional parking for businesses along the 95th Street commercial corridor.

The board unanimously approved an ordinance for the purchase of property located at 2942-2046 W. 95th St., which will be transformed into additional parking space.

Mayor James Sexton said the existing structures on the site will be demolished and replaced with a parking lot that will provide better access to nearby businesses.

“Back in the day when 95th Street businesses were built, people walked to stores and most families only had one vehicle, so parking was not an issue. But things have changed and parking space is limited, so we do what we can to help our businesses.”

Trustee Carol Kyle added that this action is part of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan.

“Recognizing the parking problem on 95th Street, the trustees incorporated the plan to acquire any property which became available and to transform it into a parking lot where it was feasible. It seems to be helping our businesses,” she said.

In other business, the board approved two ordinances regarding village tax levies. One was for general corporate purposes for the Fiscal Year beginning Nov.1, 2014, and ending Oct. 31, 2015, in the amount of $24,536,782; and also one for library purposes for the Fiscal Year beginning Jan. 1, 2015 and ending Dec. 31, 2015, in the amount of $1,083,756.

The Board also approved payment of its annual membership dues to the Illinois Municipal League for the 2016 membership year, in the amount of $1,500.

Sexton also announced a proclamation establishing Saturday, Nov. 28 as “Small Business Saturday.” He urged residents to support Evergreen Park’s small businesses on that day. “We appreciate our larger corporate stores, but let’s not forget our small business people who are important to our village.”

In a approving a second proclamation, “Celebrating Maranatha Chapel’s 40th Anniversary,” Sexton commended Pastor Doug Banks for the hard work he does for Evergreen Park. “We are happy to honor you and the church and what you mean to our community,” he said.

Upcoming events in the village were announced including a performance of the City Lights Orchestra “Sounds of the Season” at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish. Tickets are free on a first-come, first-served basis and may be picked up starting Monday, Nov. 30 at the Evergreen Park Community Senior Center, 9547 S. Homan Ave.

The Village Hall will be closed Thursday, Nov. 26 and Friday, Nov. 27, in observance of Thanksgiving. Village Hall will re-open on Saturday, Nov. 28. Garbage pick-up for Thursday will be done on Friday, Nov. 27.

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.