Local Dems seek solutions for budget impasse

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner originally vetoed a bill by state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) that passed through the Senate on Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants, for college students.

Burke felt confident that after a few revisions with the assistance of state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-17th) that Rauner would be in agreement with the bill as he prepared for his budget address on Feb. 17.

But what happened is Burke’s bill was vetoed for a second time within a month.

“You know, I was hopeful that he would agree this time,” said Kelly, whose district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn. “We will just have to go back to work.”

The governor vetoed the Senate Bill 2043 because he said it would “explode the state’s budget deficit.” Rauner believes that approving MAP grants would put a strain on the cash flow for other agencies in the state that are already having financial difficulties because of the budget stalemate.

Burke said that she, along with other legislators, have sent a letter to the governor to discuss aspects of his “turnaround agenda” and where they can find some middle ground. Rauner would like to see some loosening of union rules that he thinks restricts employers from hiring and prevents companies from settling in Illinois.

“Talking about the budget and funding is an ages-old struggle,” said Burke “So, if we talk about the budget, I think we can come up with some ideas. But the maddening part of the budget talks is that the governor wants to eliminate collective bargaining. That’s why these conversations don’t go any further.”

Many Republicans oppose that the bill was going to restore $397 million in scholarships and more than $324 million for community colleges. GOP leaders said the funding does not exist because there is no budget.

State Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) said that hearings will be held next week in Springfield to deal with the budget issue and at that time discussions will focus on some compromises that can be reached with the governor.

Cunningham mentioned that perhaps some pension limits can be examined, especially the “golden parachutes” offered to some college executives who some institutions want to rid themselves of for a variety of reasons. However, some of these officials are offered large sums of money in an attempt to sever ties.

“I think if we can talk to the governor about some reforms in these areas, we can compromise on other issues like MAP grants,” said Cunningham. “In the realm of higher education, I don’t think we are really that far apart.”

But limiting collective bargaining that the governor has insisted on is not going in the right direction, said Cunningham.

“We can be mired in this standoff for a long time,” said Cunningham if collective bargaining reductions are stressed by the governor. “The right for workers who can negotiate for better wages is a right that should not be taken away. It is at our core beliefs.”

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission estimated that if the Senate bill was not vetoed, 125,000 to 130,000 eligible students would have been approved for MAP grant assistance.

In regards to compromise, Republicans have stated that they would set aside $1.6 billion for grants for community colleges and four-year universities with their proposal. But according to the Republican plan, this would allow Rauner to move funds around during a budget crisis.

Burke is suspicious of that idea because money that is set aside for MAP grants and education in general should not be altered during a budget standoff.

Colleges and universities have not received funding from the state since July 1 because of the budget impasse. Other programs have been funded through court orders and laws.

“Thousands of Illinois students rely on the MAP grant program for access to education and to prepare for a better life,” Burke said. “Higher education is an essential state service that is just as important as elementary and secondary school, and should not be held up by this budget impasse.”

Chicago Ridge raises rates for video gaming machines By Dermot Connolly

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

After seeing how much money was being spent on video gaming in town, the Chicago Ridge Village Board has decided to raise the fees to businesses for each video gaming machine they have.

“Nobody knew how much would be raised from this when we started it several years ago,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar, explaining why the annual fee per terminal was originally set at $100.

But after reviewing data gathered by the Illinois Gaming Board on the amount of money spent on video gaming, the board agreed unanimously with Tokar’s suggestion that the annual fee per machine be raised to $500.

The mayor said the village can use the additional funds for law enforcement, among other things, because the video gaming is done at places that serve alcohol, where the police typically have to focus more attention.

Trustees Fran Coglianese and Bruce Quintos suggested even raising the fee to $1,000, after Coglianese pointed out that Illinois Gaming Board statistics showed more than $5 million was wagered last year on video gambling in one business in the village.

But when Trustee William McFarland said raising the fees might hurt non-profit organizations such as the Glen Maker American Legion Post 1160, at 10739 S. Ridgeland Ave., and McDonald-Linn VFW Post 177, at 10537 S. Ridgeland, the board settled on raising the fee per terminal to $500. The Oak Lawn Elks Lodge 2254, at 10720 S Central Ave., is the third non-profit in Chicago Ridge with a gaming license.

Village Attorney Burt Odelson explained that non-profits cannot legally be charged a different fee per terminal than other businesses.

“I can’t believe I am the one saying $500 is enough,” said Trustee Andrea Cardin, noting that she has been seeking a limit on video gaming licenses for some time.

When Coglianese brought up the issue of limiting the number of video gaming licenses allowed in the village, Tokar said the trustees could treat them just as they do liquor licenses, which are limited.

Neighboring Oak Lawn had 35 establishments with video gaming licenses in 2015, while Palos Hills had six, Hickory Hills had 14, Worth had 10, and Evergreen Park only has one, the Evergreen Park American Legion Post 854.

Detailed information about the gambling activity at all of the establishments, including the 20 in Chicago Ridge with gaming licenses, is available on the Illinois Gaming Board’s website at VideoReports.aspx.

According to the IGB, Jenny’s Steakhouse, at 11041 S. Menard Ave., was the business that saw most, with $5.49 million in wagering done on its five video gaming terminals last year. Over $5 million was won, leaving a net wagering activity of $463,749.

Just five of the Chicago Ridge establishments with gaming licenses recorded less than $1 million in wagers, with the least amount registered by O’Connor’s Pub & Grill, 5900 W. 111th St., with $21,993 wagered. The $19,278 won left a net activity of $2,715.

The net taxable income, which is roughly the same as the net wagering activity, is taxed at 30 percent, with 5/6 of the money going to the state, and 1/6 to the municipality. So in 2015, Chicago Ridge’s share of the video gaming revenue was $240,778.22.

Rename ice rink in Evergreen Park in memory of fallen firefighter

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Residents came out in full force late Saturday in Evergreen Park to pay tribute to the late firefighter Dan Capuano, whose memory was honored with a dedication service and renaming of the ice rink at 9000 S. Kedzie Ave.

Capuano, 42, served as a part-time Evergreen Park firefighter for 16 years. He was also a Chicago firefighter for 15 years. Capuano, 42, died in an abandoned warehouse fire on Chicago’s Southeast Side on Dec. 14.

He left behind his wife, Julie, and three children, Amanda, Andrew and Nick to mourn his loss. He was known as devoted family man and was active in coaching his sons in hockey, which made the remaining the rink in his memory fitting.

Mayor James Sexton announced last month that he and the board of trustees had agreed unanimously to honor Capuano by renaming the ice rink.

“We could think of nothing more appropriate to honor this young man, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, than to name this facility after him. He spent many hours at the rink, coaching his two sons and other youngsters in the game of hockey,” said Sexton.

More than 300 people gathered in the Evergreen Park Fire Station, located directly south of the ice rink, as the dedication ceremony began. It was a multi-generational group comprised of senior citizens, young families with babies in strollers and toddlers, in tow, and large groups of high school students and young adults.

“There are a lot of good people here today,” said Sexton.

First to speak was Village Fire Chief Ronald Kleinhaus, who thanked everyone for coming out in honor of the Capuano family.

“We were honored to know him not only as our brother in the department, but we were honored to know him as our friend. He will be long-remembered for the good man he was,” said Kleinhaus. “Losing him has been a tremendous loss, both for us personally as fellow firefighters, but for our community as well. He will be greatly missed.”

Sexton said Capuano was a giving man.

“He was devoted to his family, first and foremost. He gave to the community through his work, he generously served his church, Queen of Martyrs, which he loved and he was a dedicated coach for the St. Jude Hockey Club.” said Sexton. “It was never about Dan. For him, it was always about others and what he could do for them. With this memorial located so near the fire station, Dan will be remembered on every call, with each truck that leaves the fire house.

“We are honoring Dan Capuano here today, but I also want to say thank you to all of our first responders, for all that you do to keep our community safe,” added Sexton.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, said, “We are honoring our brother here today with this beautiful memorial, by which he will be remembered. Fifty years from now, a child will be skating here and will ask, ‘Who is Dan Capuano?’ And Daniel V. Capuano will be remembered.”

The Rev. Benedykt Pazdan, pastor at Queen of Martyrs Parish where the Capuano family attends church and school, officiated the service, offering Intercessions and the prayer of blessing.

Sexton then invited the group to move to the site of the memorial, immediately north of the fire house, for the unveiling of the plaque. Following a prayer by Pazdan, Capuano’s widow and the three children unveiled the memorial revealing a large stone on which was placed a beautiful red plaque bearing a photo of Capuano wearing his firefighting gear.

Next to the photo is a block of text telling the story of the tragic accident that took his life. Emblazoned across the top of the plaque, in large gold letters is his name, “DANIEL V. CAPUANO.” Underneath his name it reads, “September 27, 1972 – December 14. 2015.” At the bottom of the plaque are the words, “Dedicated on February 20, 2016.”

In addition to the memorial stone, a new sign has been added near the roof of the ice rink. It reads, “Village of Evergreen Park, Daniel V. Capuano Ice Rink, Dedicated February 20, 2016.” On the bottom left side of the sign is the logo of the Evergreen Park Fire Department and on the right is the Chicago Fire Department logo.

OL Library expanding its outreach to homebound

  • Written by By Janelle Frost

Rebecca Clifford always loved and appreciated books, so after an accident in 2008 that caused a spinal cord injury and placed her in a wheelchair, she had to rely on family and friends to pick up books for her at the library.

Then one day that all changed when one of her sisters was picking up a book for her and learned that the library delivers books to those who are unable to go and use the services in the Oak Lawn Public Library.

Clifford started getting books delivered to her the following week.

“It’s a good service because my sister and friends are really busy,” said Oak Lawn resident Clifford, who has been using the services for about a year. “They’re still accommodating (but); it’s one less thing they had to do for me.”

Now the program is expanding and seeing some changes.

Tippi Price, customer services department head at the Oak Lawn Public Library, said the purpose of the program is to go outside the library’s walls and find patrons not able to come in due to physical, mental or temporary impairments to use services in the library. In doing so, she and her staff are now targeting nursing homes, rehab centers and adult daycare centers.

“We’re going where the needs are,” said Price, who started working at the library in October. “We always had, but with more people we can cover more areas.”

They also are trying to help facilities build libraries and programs that could include artifacts, travel talks and sensory experiences, and have changed the name of the program to Outreach Services.

“We’re not just focused on books but where the books start,” Price said about wanting special programs for patrons that would go beyond reading. “We’re trying to find ways we can incorporate ourselves in people’s lives.”

The Oak Lawn library’s homebound program, now known as Outreach Services, started more than 20 years ago with volunteers before it was eventually given to Nancy Dunne, the library’s interlibrary loan supervisor. Dunne said the services has grown since then where in addition to print books, the library is able to offer audio books and magazines through the Illinois Talking Book program, which is part of a nationwide network that provides library service to residents who cannot read print because of a physical or visual impairment.

“It’s nice that we can bring now more than books. We couldn’t do that before,” Dunne said. “The population was elderly people who never saw computers in their lives, now they are more sophisticated”… and a tech-savvy group, she said.

Clifford said probably down the road she will be interested in using books on tapes but luckily with her injury she can still read a book and turn pages.

As of Feb.12, 17 people are using the Outreach Services, which is up from nine people when Price started in October. The program is growing, but Price said with 60,000 people in Oak Lawn, the numbers are not a true representation of people that are in need of services. The library hopes to make more people aware of its services through word of mouth, its newsletter and the library’s revamping website.

It was through word of mouth that Oak Lawn resident Lillian Spiewak learned about the library’s outreach services.

“Someone mentioned it,” said Spiewak, who is handicapped and homebound. “I called the library and asked and was told I could order books. That’s how I got Nancy ([to deliver books). That was my lucky day. She usually comes on a Wednesday or Thursday.”

Spiewak, who has been using the services for a couple of years, gets eight to 10 books each visit. She likes reading books on the Amish, murder, and dogs and cats written by veterinarians, which she is reading now. Spiewak said the services are a lifesaver as she would never get books if it didn’t exist.

“Nancy’s good at picking out books. She knows my taste,” Spiewak said. “It’s a charm. I read them as fast as I get them. I love it.”

Price said it’s important for them to develop a relationship with the patrons and know their reading taste because they cannot get out and like the visit. “Sometimes it’s more important than the reading materials you bring,” she said. “We try to service their needs.”

Dunne agreed. “It’s not just the books. They love the contact.”

When it comes to the books, Clifford said she doesn’t have to wait long for them to be delivered. She reads about two books a week, mostly fiction books, biographies and what’s on the best seller’s list.

“(The library) is really accommodating. If they don’t have a book they get it from another library,” Clifford said. “It seems like I can keep them for a little while.”

For more information about Oak Lawn Public Library’s Outreach Services, contact Price at (708) 422-4990, ext. 615, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Oak Lawn considers publishing monthly newspaper

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The Oak Lawn Village Board is considering publishing a monthly newspaper, with Mayor Sandra Bury and many trustees saying traditional media and Internet blogs cannot be depended on to keep residents informed about what is happening in the village.

At the invitation of Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), John Fanning, owner of Crestwood-based Fanning Communications, gave a presentation at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday about “strategic communication services” in which he outlined the advantages of producing a monthly publication that would be mailed to every residence and business in the village.

Fanning suggested starting with a 20-page publication, modeled after one he has been publishing for the village of Crestwood for several years. He maintained that in the Internet age, with the “unrestricted dissemination of information” available online, has led to a lot of misinformation and deliberate “misinformation” on blogs and other online outlets.

He said everything from municipal bond ratings and real estate values can be affected by wrong information, and publications such as his would counter that.

In addition to providing information coming directly from the village administration about local plans and projects, Fanning said the free publication would also highlight local school news, including honor rolls, sports achievements and other “positive news.”

Fanning said that monthly printing and mailing costs for a 20-page paper would cost about $4,500, but the goal is to have advertising revenue cover those costs, and provide a profit.

When Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) asked how long it would take to become profitable, Fanning predicted that with a mix of 60 percent news and 40 percent advertising, the publication would pay for itself and even turn a profit for the village within the first few months of getting off the ground.

Fanning proposed that 80 percent of any advertising revenue generated by the publication would go to the village, with 20 percent going to his company.

Trustee Mike Carberry (6th) cautioned that while the publication may eventually turn out to be a profitable venture for the village, the board would have to determine how much the village could afford to pay while it was getting started.

“We also have to decide who is going to take ownership of what gets published,” said Carberry.

Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) suggested talking to officials from the Oak Lawn Library and the Park District, which already print publications, to see if their efforts could be combined, thereby saving money for everyone.

In addition to asking which village account the money would come from, since the budget has been passed already, Trustee Robert Streit (3rd) questioned the need for a publication, pointing out that there were reporters from at least four publications at the meeting.

Bury stressed that the new village publication would not be competing with existing newspapers and news outlets. It would have no political content, and instead of covering breaking news, she said the publication is intended to be a vehicle for the administration to keep residents informed about the goings-on in the village.

She said that while there already is a “Village Matters” blog, that is only available to people with Internet access who sign up for it through the Everbridge application.

The mayor said the new publication would be an improvement on the old village newsletter, which Village Manager Larry Deetjen said was ended due to costs that amounted to as much as $100,000 annually in printing and manpower.

“I think it would be good for the village and good for business development,” said Trustee Bud Stalker (5th).

“If Crestwood can do it, I am totally confident that Oak Lawn can make it profitable, with all our larger business district and car dealerships,” said Vorderer.

As a first step, the board agreed to have village staff meet with Fanning to discuss details and get answers to the many questions raised at the meeting, beginning with how much Crestwood is profiting from its publication.