Palos Hills recognized for green energy use

  • Written by Kelly White

Go green. That’s what some residents in Palos Hills have decided to do during the transition to a new electrical supplier, according to city officials.

FirstEnergy Solutions offered residents and some businesses in Palos Hills a green energy option for only a few cents more per kilowatt, and since the August 2012 changeover from ComEd the city has used 5 megawatts of green energy. Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett at Tuesday’s City Council meeting presented to the city a certificate of recognition from FirstEnergy Solutions.

“It’s great to see that residents are taking advantage of the green option available to them,” Bennett said.

 Green energy produced in such a way as to minimize its negative impact on the environment. Traditional energy sources, most notably fossil fuels, produce greenhouse gases that are believed to be the primary cause of an effect known as global warming or climate change. Sources of green energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro energy have been promoted as alternative sources that make little or no contribution to climate change. Nuclear energy is sometimes considered a green energy source because some types of nuclear technology produce less waste than either oil and coal.

Bennett reported that 6,858 Palos Hills residents have chosen to opt in to the electrical aggregation program, whereas 220 residents have decided to stay with ComEd. Slightly more than 700 other accounts were not eligible because the resident is currently in contract with another energy supplier, and 68 opt-out forms were returned because they were undeliverable. The exact number of residents or businesses within the city who chose the green energy option is not available. The option was made available to all residents and businesses that opted into the electrical aggregation program last year.

Alderman Joan Knox (1st Ward) questioned whether or not residents currently in contract with FirstEnergy Solutions could change their account over to the green option. With a two year contract, FirstEnergy Solutions Corporation’s electrical aggregation agreement with the city continues through the July 2014 billing cycle.

“I, myself, would like to switch over if it is possible to change now without having to wait for the contact to be expire,” Knox said. “I think if the option is available to switch over to green energy, a lot of residents might consider it.”

Chicago Ridge mayor envisions mixed-use development at old Yellow site

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne

Abandoned trucking terminal comprises 75 acres of proposed TIF district

When the mayor of Chicago Ridge looks at the swath of largely vacant properties along the village’s Harlem Road frontage, he envisions a mixed-use development-- spurred by the establishment of a tax increment financing district – that would generate both retail and property tax revenues.

The Chicago Ridge Village Board last month approved a proposal to Chicago-based developer Weston Solutions for the firm to redevelop land that includes the former Yellow Freight site at 103rd Street and Harlem Avenue. The 75-acre abandoned trucking terminal would comprise roughly half the size of a tax increment financing (TIF) district that would also include the shuttered Aldi, in the 10500 block of Harlem, and the long-closed Nikobee’s at the northeast corner of 103rd and Harlem.

CNSMR ridgeTIF 4colThe abandoned Yellow trucking terminal, 103rd Street and Harlem Avenue in Chicago Ridge, is the centerpiece of a proposed TIF district that Mayor Chuck Tokar believes is a prime area for a mixed-use development. Photo by Kevin M. CoyneVillage officials are hopeful the properties qualify under Illinois TIF district statutes that include various factors such as blight and the age of buildings . The special taxing district would be bounded by Harlem, Southwest Highway and the Tri-State Tollway.

“One thing to remember is that the TIF district is more than just Yellow Freight and is double the size in acres,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar. “Developing a mix-use facility will bring in tax revenue but besides just revenue, the TIF district will also bring jobs to the village.

“We will be speaking with Weston Solutions and Yellow Freight to determine what will benefit the village, developers and Yellow. We want to develop a mix-use development with a mixture of retail, office space and entertainment.”

Creating a TIF district would enable the village to float bonds that would help Weston finance the construction of a mixed-use development at the Yellow site and throughout the district. In a TIF district, real estate tax revenues yielded by properties that increase in value are used to fund improvements within the district, or as an incentive to the developer.

“I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of creating a TIF district,” said Tokar. “We created TIF districts for the Commons (south of the Chicago Ridge Mall) and the Industrial Park, and both proved beneficial in terms of jobs and tax revenue. Once we begin to develop a mix-use development we will entice businesses to come into the village and it will help to keep a lid on property tax, said Tokar.

While negotiations are underway with Weston, the village will continue to seek out bond counsel to help regulate the issuance of bonds and the oversight of financing the project using increment tax revenues.

Establishing a TIF district is one of the most common uses of public funds as a catalyst for economic development. Typically, a TIF is created only if municipal officials believe it is the best way to redevelop the designated area.

Critics of TIF district often oppose the use of public tax dollars as an incentive to private developers, and sometimes state TIF district work to dissuade other business from moving to a non-TIF area because of the “free pass” a developer of the TIF district received.

New D123 supt. presents plan for his first 100 days

  • Written by Jessie Molloy

The superintendent of Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 presented his first 100-day plan at the board’s committee of the whole meeting Tuesday night.

Paul Enderle, who began his job July 1, began his presentation by saying he is proud of the community he serves and wants to secure a successful tomorrow for children in the district. The eight-page plan details Enderle’s goals for getting to know the inner workings of the district and improving communications with district “stakeholders.”

“It [the plan] is designed based on the belief that the role of the superintendent is one of public service, and that the most powerful and sustainable educational reform efforts are built by people from the ground up,” Enderle stated.

Enderle’s plan places a strong emphasis on communication and building relationships between himself and with the board, students, parents, and the district staff as well as other groups of people in Oak Lawn. Enderle plans to meet with each member of the school board individually to get their feedback and discuss the district’s possible strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.

The goal of all this is to make a smooth transition into the position and be able to compile a detailed report of the district’s strengths and areas in need of improvement, he said. He intends to present the report to the board in December following the completion of his first 100 days on the job. Enderle believes this report will help him become more informed about the district’s greatest needs and priorities “in order to make decisions that are reflective of community expectations and most importantly, in the best interest of our students.

In the discussion following Enderle’s presentation of his plan, he and the board prioritized the finalizing of the district’s strategic plan.

The last plan took the district through 2012 and initial meetings were held last school year with staff and parents to create a new one, but it was set aside incomplete during the resignation and replacement of former Superintendent Art Fessler. Board members agreed it is important to restart discussions on the plan, and they intend to begin working on it so additional community meetings can be held in the fall.

The previous meetings held on the subject set four goals for the new strategic plan: student achievement, healthy communication systems, fiscal responsibility, and community partnership, but the final details, including when the plan will last through and need to be reevaluated -- most likely in three to five years -- need to be established.

“The work was about 90 percent done,” Enderle said. “We just need to have another meeting or two to cap it off.”    

Verbal punches fly in Oak Lawn over pension knockout

  • Written by Brett Rush

Tensions regarding the Oak Lawn Village Board’s decision last month to end pension participation for elected officials boiled over Tuesday night into a series of heated verbal exchanges between trustees that had the mayor reaching repeatedly for her gavel.

Trustee Robert Streit (District 3), who last month voted along with Trustee Carol Quinlan (District 5) against eliminating the pension program, fired the opening salvo by calling the measure nothing more than a political ploy meant to garner appreciation from voters eager for pension reform.

“First of all, I want to be absolutely clear that I support pension reform,” Streit said. “What I do not support are political gimmicks that may sound good, but actually do nothing.”

Streit continued his argument by claiming the village’s contribution to the pension fund for elected officials is so small that its effect on village finances is negligible.

“In fact, while our general fund budget is about $50 million, to fund all of the trustee’s pensions costs less than $2,000 per year, which is .004 percent, or four one-thousands of a percent,” he said.

The pension fund to which the village contributes – the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) – is funded at 86 percent and is not indicative of the state’s unfunded pension liability, Streit contended.

The IMRF is not funded by the state, but is comprised of contributions from participating workers, park districts, and municipalities excluding Chicago and Cook County. The fund possesses about $25 billion in assets.

Unfunded liabilities in Illinois include contributions to police and fire pensions, teacher pensions, and Chicago and Cook County employees. According to Moody’s Investment Services, Illinois leads all states in unfunded pension liabilities, which it estimates at $133 billion.

Despite interjections from Mayor Sandra Bury and village Clerk Jane Quinlan over the appropriateness of his remarks during a new business report, Streit upped the verbal ante by insinuating Trustee Mike Carberry’s vote for the measure was hypocritical. Carberry served as the appointed state representative in Illinois’ 36th House District from March 2010 to January 2011.

“This is not surprisingly a ‘Springfield,’ because it sounds good, but it solves nothing,” Streit thundered on. “And I say ‘not surprisingly,’ because [Carberry] is a former representative who during his term in Springfield never proposed pension reform, where he actually could have done something that was meaningful.”

As Streit finished his report, he turned the question of pension reform to Bury, who responded by highlighting Streit’s apparently lackadaisical communication.

“Trustee Streit, when you do have questions, I have email, other people have email,” Bury stated. “We in fact have sent you emails that you don’t acknowledge or respond to, so please don’t imply there’s lack of communication on our part.”

Trustee Terry Vorderer (District 4) also took time to clarify his reasons for supporting the measure, arguing it served as a gesture of goodwill in future pension dealings.

“I voted for eliminating the pension, but I didn’t do it as a solution for the pension crisis that we all know exists in the state,” Vorderer declared. “I did it for the symbolism of us giving up our pension rights so that we can ask others [the same] as we deal with this crisis. It’s a lot easier to say ‘you have to give up something and I’ve given up something.’”

Carberry, meanwhile, during his report fired back at Streit, stating the structure of the pension system could allow a former elected official to cash in by taking a full-time position with a municipality. By working four years in a full-time pension supported position, such an official would reap the average salary of those final four years of employment – not the comparatively small sum earned during his elected service, Carberry clarified.

“This happens all over the state, and it’s been happening for years,” Carberry said. “It’s an unfair pension liability. For a part-time politician, why in the world should you get an opportunity to get a 30-year pension based on a full-time salary when you never paid into it? In the first year, you’ve already taken out more than you ever put in.”

An interruption by Streit then resulted in a flurry of exchanges between the two, with Carberry demanding an apology.

“You know what you should apologize for?” Carberry insisted. “You say ‘poster-boy’ one more time, that’s what you should apologize for.”

Bury struck the dais with the gavel several times to end the verbal altercation, however, Streit attempted to continue the fight at the conclusion of Carberry’s report. His final point was quelled by Bury.

“I’m going to gavel this personal attack down and we’re going to move on to general village matters,” Bury concluded.

Deadline approaches for resolution of Chicago Ridge’s Roche problem

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne

PG3 roche1 3colThe Roche property is occupied by trucks, storage units and other items that can be best classified as junk.

Photos by Kevin M. Coyne  For nearly 15 years, Chicago Ridge property owner Mike Roche Sr. has vowed to clean up the land he leases to several businesses in the village’s industrial park.

  Village officials have time and time heard Roche say he again how his property, 10014 Andersen Ave., will be cleaned up by the next board meeting, or how completing a certain task is not possible at that given time.
  Trustees last month finally told Roche they had enough, and put the landlord’s feet to the flame, demanding he remedy the situation or face the revocation of his business licenses.
  “I’ve been on the board now for 16 years and at least 14 years we’ve been dealing with Mr. Roche and trying to clean up that property,” Trustee Dan Badontolf Roche’s son, Mike Jr., at a meeting in June. “We’ve given him ample time, extension after extension after extension. I’ve listened to Mr. Roche’s promises all these years and they are unfulfilled promises. I’m going to dig my heels in here and say I want at before anybody is issued a license.”
  Roche Jr. has at the board’s last two meetings said the property will be cleaned up by the July 16 deadline. The younger Roche has made a lot of headway, and he continues to make progress in cleaning up the site, according to Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar.
  At the most recent board meeting the village grilled Roche Jr. about repaving the entire property. Roche Jr. PG3 roche2 3colacknowledged he will not have the paving done this year; however, he will take care of the laundry list of code violations documented by village Building Commissioner Rich Sumner, he said.
  Roche’s property is home to the largest recycling plant in the United States, Resource Management, at 9999 Andersen Avenue. In addition, Casey Czochara, owner of CMD Conveyer, 10008 Andersen Ave., promised to close up shop and move from Roche’s property within the next six months. Czochara’s decision to relocate his business may end up harming Resource Management since his business is tasked with fixing conveyor belts and equipment for the recycling plant.
  The village is at this point at a standstill with Roche Jr. who must complete the remaining items on Sumner’s list and provide a contract outlining the scheduled completion date of repaving the property.