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Release of funds gives local governments get some holiday cheer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

Municipalities throughout Illinois received a holiday present of sorts on Monday when the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that Gov. Bruce Rauner promptly signed, releasing $3.1 billion in funds that had been held up since July due to the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield.

The legislation, which was approved by the House last week, will reportedly send $1 billion to lottery winners whose payments had been held up. But it was the revenue from local gaming, as well as $582 million in motor fuel taxes that was due to local governments, $77 million for local 911 emergency centers, in addition to local use taxes, a percentage of sales tax revenue, that local mayors are most looking forward to receiving.

“We have a phone call in to the state comptroller (Leslie Munger) to see whether or not we can expect to receive the funds this fiscal year, ending Dec. 31, or whether we will have to wait until next year,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar.

He said that the MFT funds, and revenue from video gaming and other monies his village is owed, could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We have a budget hearing next Tuesday, and we want to know if we can expect a lump sum or whether it will be coming in dribs and drabs,” said the mayor.

“I’m grateful that they were at least able to do this much, but I hope the guys in Springfield will be able to come to some agreement on the entire budget,” added Tokar, who has stressed at recent village board meetings the difficulty of finalizing the village’s budget for next year when cuts to the funding municipalities get from the Local Government Distributive Fund are considered likely in any eventual state budget.

The Orland Park Village Board approved the 2016 budget following a brief hearing on Monday, and Mayor Daniel McLaughlin said whether or not state funding would be allocated didn’t play into it.

“We were conservative, but we figured that they have to give us the same amount as last year. State senators and representatives know we depend on those funds,” he said.

“I’m just glad to see some movement toward agreement. Hopefully, this will spur them on to do more,” McLaughlin added.

“All our local governments are happy about this,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is president of the Southwest Suburban Conference of Mayors. “Hopefully, the funds will start coming to us in January.

“The hold-up of these funds affected 1,300 cities and villages around the state,” Bennett said. “It took a lot of work to get this done, and to get (legislators) to see that this money was never part of the state budget, and shouldn’t have been included in it.”

“This is a win-win situation for both sides in Springfield. Whether it spurs them on to come to agreement on the budget is debatable, but before long, they will have to start work on the following year’s budget so it will get convoluted,” Bennett noted.

“We’re relieved to know that they are releasing our funds, our taxpayers’ money,” said Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz. He said his city expected to receive perhaps about $200,000, including MFT funds and the portion of the local use tax.

Like Orland Park, he said his city was not depending on the state action to balance the budget.

“We have very good staff members who go through every line item. We try to live within our means,” Straz said.

 

Water rates to rise by 3 percent in Worth

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Worth residents will see a three per cent increase in their water rates in 2016, but no increase in the cost of their vehicle sticker fees, due to action taken by the village board at the Tuesday night meeting.

With the water rate increase, residents will see an increase from $7.64 per 1,000 gallons in 2015 to $7.93 per 1,000 gallons in 2016. Business and commercial uses will increase to $7.93 per 1,000 gallons in 2016, from $7.70 in 2015.

Churches, schools and nonprofit institutions will see an increase to $7.34 in 2016, compared to $7.13 in 2015.

Village Clerk Bonnie Price presented the board with a comparative study of water rates in neighboring communities, including Palos Hills, Bridgeview, Burbank, Palos Heights, Chicago Ridge, Crestwood and Hickory Hills. According to the report, Worth was one of four communities, including Chicago Ridge, Crestwood and Hickory Hills, with the lowest water rates.

“We do not charge a minimum use rate,” said Worth Mayor Mary Werner. “We have many seniors in our village who do not use even 1,000 gallons per billing period. We have not had an increase in five years.”

Trustee Rich Dziedzic asked if the City of Chicago, which supplies Lake Michigan water to Worth, had notified the village of any increase in water rates for 2016. Price stated that she had not been notified of any increase.

On the matter of vehicle sticker fees for 2016-2017, the board voted to not increase the fees. They will remain at $28 for passenger automobiles, $22 for recreational vehicles, $18 for motorcycle/scooter, $33 for Truck B Plates, $55 for Truck D,F,H,J Plates and $133 for Truck P,X Plates. For seniors, 62 years and over, the cost is $5. The vehicle stickers will go on sale May 1.

In regards to finances, Werner was asked how the village is coping with the budget impasse in Springfield.

“For the last three or four years, we have been very, very conservative with our budget,” said Werner. “So far, we are OK. We have been able to meet our obligations. We are hoping that the state will come to a resolution, but in the meantime, we are holding our own.”

In other business, the board approved an ordinance repealing the village’s leaf collection program. As of Dec. 1, the village will no longer administer a leaf collection program.

Chicago Ridge approves adding rental inspection fees

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Chicago Ridge Village Board at the Tuesday meeting voted to amend the section of the village code pertaining to rental properties to add inspection fees for the first time, among other things.

          The idea of requiring annual inspections of rental properties had been discussed at recent meetings, so it was passed without too much discussion. Starting in January, owners of rental properties will now be required to pay $200 for annual inspections of houses being rented, and $75 for condos or apartments.

          Mayor Chuck Tokar noted afterward the amendment that was passed also removes the language that had assessed fines to owners of properties for excessive 911 calls.

          “We had to change that, because we don’t want to discourage people from calling 911. It could be a case of domestic violence, and if police need to be called daily so be it. That is what they are there for,” he said.

          Tokar said he and the trustees agreed that requiring that rental properties be inspected is needed for health and safety reasons. The fees will go toward paying for a part-time inspector, who will have to be hired.

          “We want to make sure that the properties being rented meet the fire code, and are in livable condition. We need to look at them, and ensure that the houses and apartments are not being subdivided and rented to multiple families or anything like that. If there are mattresses all over the floor, we will know something is wrong,” he said.

          “Most landlords are very good, but some aren’t. We’ve seen houses being rented with windows covered in cardboard or wood, and we can’t have that. We want Chicago Ridge to be a respectable community.”

          Prior to voting on the amendment to the village, Trustee Jack Lind said he would like it to also include penalties for leaving pets unattended for long periods of time.

          He and Tokar explained that they have received reports of dogs being left on balconies all day and even overnight in some cases.

          “I want to put some teeth in this ordinance to prevent that from happening,” Tokar said.

          At Tokar’s suggestion, the board agreed to approve the ordinance as-is, and then amend it in the near future because it was important to get other changes enacted immediately.

          Trustee Amanda Cardin pointed out that a newly enacted state law that will go into effect on Jan. 1 will make leaving pets outside in extreme weather a Class A misdemeanor if the animal is injured or dies. Pet owners could pay a $2,500 fine, or face up to one year in jail if found guilty.

Acting Village Attorney Burt Odelson said that the language in the state law could be incorporated into the new village ordinance as well.

Local police are prepared in wake of worldwide alert

  • Written by Joe Boyle

A meeting is scheduled for this week among members of the Chicago Ridge Police Department and officials at the Chicago Ridge Mall to discuss security after calls for a three-month worldwide alert following the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility of the attacks that occurred several minutes apart at a soccer stadium, concert hall and restaurant in Paris on Nov. 13. The attacks resulted in 130 dead and over 350 injured.

As a result, cities across the U.S. and the municipalities that surround them are dealing with how to prepare for any unusual activity at businesses, schools and shopping centers.

Chicago Ridge is one of the first southwest suburban villages to be mentioned due to the presence of the Chicago Ridge Mall, which features 120 stores and a variety of events taking place to mark the holiday season.

While ISIS has mentioned malls as possible American targets, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said his staff and police department will proceed with diligence as they have in the past.

“We are going to be stepping up our patrols at the Chicago Ridge Mall,” said Tokar. “Well, you know what, we should be doing that. There will be larger police presence at the mall. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is.”

Tokar said that he has not been notified directly by Homeland Security. However, he did say that Homeland Security contacted Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski on Nov. 23. Tokar added that was to be expected because of the mall. The mayor said the police department has gone through extensive training and prepare for the possibility of an attack.

“Our police department has gone through a lot of training,” added Tokar. “So, this is not new. We are increasing patrols there (the Chicago Ridge Mall). It’s the right thing to do.”

The U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert on Nov. 23 for American citizens for the next three months due to a reported rise in terrorist threats. The state department is not only concerned about ISIS, but al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. They believe more terrorist attacks in various regions are planned.

The alert will continue until Feb. 24 after ISIS said they were not only responsible for the Paris attacks, but also for the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed 224 people.

Oak Lawn, which has a population of 56,690, does not have a mall but does have an assortment of businesses along 95th Street and Cicero Avenue. The Stony Creek Promenade, at 111th and Cicero, has seen rapid development in the past couple of years, and is anchored by Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.

Mayor Sandra Bury said that she would not be contacted directly by Homeland Security. The Oak Lawn Police Department Emergency Management Agency would be the first to be notified by Homeland Security if suspicious activity or a physical threat was targeting the village.

While Oak Lawn may not have a mall, they still could be a target, the mayor said.

“We have the Advocate Christ Medical Center, which is the largest trauma center in this area,” said Bury. “We also supply water for communities to the south.”

The mayor said the Emergency Management Agency is well trained and conduct mock drills on how to complete tasks during a heightened alert.

Evergreen Park once had The Plaza, a well- known mall that became dated over the years and is in the process of being demolished. However, Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said the village has been attracting lots of businesses during the past few years. He is aware of the worldwide alert but is confident in his police force.

“We have not heard from the Office of Homeland Security,” said Sexton. “But we get daily alerts. Hey, our guys (police department) have been on high alert since 9/11. We have schools and businesses that we check on.”

Sexton said the police department has undergone extensive training and receive daily alerts.

“We have not had any credible threat to Evergreen Park and the surrounding areas,” said Sexton. “However, that doesn’t mean were not ready.”

Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn for new businesses

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has nothing against Oak Lawn.

However, if he can attract a few businesses to his village instead of his southwest suburban neighbor, he is all for it.

Sexton, who in his 14th year as mayor, said that he is delighted at the recent prospects for Evergreen Park. While The Plaza was brought down by the wrecking ball last month after years of underachieving, The Evergreen Marketplace, which will replace the once iconic mall, is drawing plenty of attention.

“We are redeveloping what was The Plaza,” said Sexton. “And now I’ve heard that (Chicago) Ald. (Matt) O’Shea has said that he has been contacted by businesses who are interested in the development at the old Plaza. This is something that can help everyone out.”

Sexton informed a crowd that attended his “State of the Village” address Nov. 23 at the Evergreen Park Senior Center that the Evergreen Marketplace is expected to attract Dick’s Sporting Goods, Whole Foods, TJ Maxx, Party City and DSW Shoes. The Carson Pirie Scott that was part of the old Plaza and is still operating, will be rebuilt and added to the Marketplace.

Evergreen Park also has Mejer’s Grocery, BInny’s and Mariano’s. A Wal-Mart and Pete’s Market has also been part of the Evergreen Park business community for several years.

Sexton said that competition for businesses between Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn is healthy. However, he adds that both villages win because competition actually helps draw other businesses.

“It works out well,” said Sexton. “Naturally, I would like all the businesses to come to Evergreen Park. But we are succeeding at attracting businesses. Even when a business goes to Oak Lawn, it can help us in the end because it may attract someone else.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is in agreement. She believes that it is a healthy competition that benefits both villages.

“If Evergreen Park is successful, Oak Lawn is successful,” said Bury. “For instance, we have at least 20 optometrists up and down 95th Street. Now, some would say that is too many, but actually this draws more doctors to the area. They come because the other optometrists are successful.”

Bury can point to the wide variety of businesses along 95th Street and Cicero Avenue. The Stony Creek Promenade District at 111th and Cicero has drawn more businesses since Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant opened. Both well-established businesses drew record crowds for their opening days and have continued to attract customers.

“The Stony Creek Promenade resonates with us,” said Bury. “We have one of the top Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk in the area. They are glad they chose Oak Lawn. We are glad they came here.”

Sexton is in complete agreement. However, what pleases him is the stigma that was once attached to the southwest suburbs has eroded with the surge of development taking place in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn.

“They (developers) should have been looking this way for years,” said Sexton. “We are no longer anyone’s leftovers.”