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.”

New vote opens door for video cafes in Palos Hills

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

From “game over” to likely “game on,” so goes the saga of video gaming cafés in Palos Hills.

A little more than a month after city officials voted 5-4 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance for the gaming cafés, a revote was taken at the request of Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th) during the meeting on Nov. 5.

This time a different result ensued as Mayor Gerald Bennett broke a 5-5 tie and directed City Attorney George Pappas to draft an ordinance creating the special classification.

The council is expected to vote at the meeting on Nov. 19 to approve licenses for Stella’s to open at 111th Street and Southwest Highway and Durbin’s for a location in the strip mall in the 10100 block of Roberts Road. Representatives of both businesses told city officials at a meeting in September they had interest in opening a video game café in Palos Hills.

The reason the vote boiled down to Bennett was the presence of Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th). A deputy sheriff for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Marrotta said he planned on attending the meeting on Oct. 1, but was unable because he was called into court.

“I had all intentions of being at that meeting,” Marrotta said. “I have a full-time job. Some of you don’t, you are retired. I had no choice but to attend a trial for my full-time job.”

Marrotta, along with aldermen Nowak, Ricky Moore (4th), Mike Lebarre (3rd) and Pauline Stratton (2nd), voted in favor of the special classification. Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against.

Kleefisch was particularly vocal in his displeasure that a revote occurred. He noted that even though Marrotta was absent a quorum was still in place on Oct. 1.

“Usually when a quorum votes for or against something that vote stands unless there is a significant change in the proposal,” Kleefisch said. “I don’t see a significant change.

“The alderman that was not here had the ability to call in and for whatever reason he chose not to do that. If you go ahead with this (revote) you are setting a dangerous precedent for revoting things that the losing side does not like.”

Bennett told Kleefisch the council has revoted on things in the past.

“I don’t think this would be precedent-setting at all,” he said. “I don’t think the intention of whatever takes place here on the vote is to keep voting something in and out over a period of time, especially with the full city council present.”    

Nowak said after the meeting that she did not know Marrotta was going to be absent on Oct. 1 or else she would have asked the council to table the vote to a later meeting.

“I’m a new alderman, I was just inducted in May,” she said. “I didn’t know about calling in votes so I was instructed after the meeting that I should have waited until a full city council.

“I think this is fairest way to do it,” she said of taking the vote with all 10 aldermen present.

Any business interested in a video game café license would need to spend $1,800 annually on the license and receive approval from the council. Palos Hills officials have previously said they only intend on issuing a handful of licenses as to not oversaturate the market.

Although no one from Stella’s or Durbin’s was present last week, Nowak said both businesses would still be interested in operating a video gaming café if the council were to create the special classification.

While Palos Hills already allows video gaming terminals in restaurants, the cafés would differ because their menu would consist of lighter options like chicken wings as opposed to a full menu. The cafés would also offer alcoholic drinks.

Nowak was uncertain how much revenue the cafés would generate for Palos Hills, but she believed they would be a welcome addition to a city that at last count had 92 vacant storefronts.

In other news, Bennett and the board paid tribute to building commissioner Gene Nelson, who died on Oct. 29 at age 79. Nelson had two stints with Palos Hills totaling more than 20 years of service, Bennett said.

“I don’t think I need to explain to anybody up here his devotion to that job,” Bennett said. “He loved that job and he loved the City of Palos Hills.

“Gene was always a kind-hearted person and he always did what he could to help people along.”

Bennett then appointed longtime plan commission member and architect Gene Newman to the building commissioner position. The mayor said Nelson actually came to him and recommended Newman for the job approximately a month ago.

“Gene (Newman’s) service to the city on that plan commission has been outstanding,” Bennett said. “We welcome Gene on board as our building commissioner.”

Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School volunteers collect, package food for needy

  • Written by Janelle Frost


Taking classes and boxing are typically what Nasser Nagi and Cayla Fett, respectively, do on Saturday.

But this past Saturday the two Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School students instead did something for others in need.

Nasser, 12, and Cayla, 14, were among 162 volunteers who packaged 17,405 meals on Saturday at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School’s gymnasium. The meals of pasta -- all fortified with soy protein, nutrients and vitamins -- is being donated to local food pantries, the school's food drive, and a veterans’ shelter within the community.

“I wanted to give time back to people in need,” said seventh-grader Nasser. “People around the world are in need. People don’t notice, they just care about their lives.”

Cayla, who raised $100 toward the cost of the food, said a lot of kids don’t have food even though there’s food to give.

“It’s good to help out,” said Cayla, who is in the eighth grade.

This is the third year that the school has participated in the community service event, and has partnered with Feed6, the local affiliate of Outreach – a charity that has been packaging meals for the hungry in the U.S. and abroad since 2004.

Heather McCarthy, organizer of Saturday’s event and a teacher at the school, said the partnership came after she learned about another school that held a meal packaging event and she saw the positive impact it had on the community.

“Our district has a strong belief that students should take part in bettering their school, community, and themselves through community service hours,” McCarthy said. “We require each student to complete two hours of community service each year. I thought this would be a great opportunity for our students to see the positive impact of doing community service.”

In addition to District 123 students, staff, families, alumni and community members helped packaged boxes Saturday, while music played throughout the gym.

“We’re having fun doing it,” said teacher Andy Weber, who participated with his sons, Charlie, 4, and Conor, 3.

Feed6 co-founder Chris Coyne said the community service events are “extraordinarily important.”

“The need is great and this is an ideal opportunity for children to express their giving nature in a safe setting,” said Coyne, who helped Saturday with fellow co-founder Bill Kanatas.

Feed6 has been hosting events with schools, churches, corporations, chambers of commerce, and community organizations for four years, Coyne said. During that period, Feed6 has packaged nearly 2.5 million meals for hungry and food insecure local children, families, veterans, and seniors in partnership with thousands of volunteers. 

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, nearly 762,000 individuals of the 5.2 million people in Cook County, which includes Oak Lawn, were food insecure in 2013.

“It’s something a lot of families camouflage,” said Kristin Simpkins, the principal at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, about hunger and food insecurity in the community. “We definitely need to support families in the community. It’s becoming more prevalent.”

Northern Illinois Food Bank states on its website that it “is committed to filling (the)‘meal gap’ and recently announced a strategic plan with a goal of bringing the number of meals distributed by Northern Illinois Food Bank and its network to 75 million annually by the year 2020, and thus providing every meal, every day, for every hungry neighbor.”

Outreach and Feed6 also are working with organizations and individuals to address the overwhelming and growing need, Coyne said. “This year we plan to package 500,000 meals -- and we hope in 2016 to initiate the first of an annual series of Chicago-based Million Meal Events.”

From Saturday’s event, 2,500 meals will go to veterans, many of whom are homeless, and the hungry and poor, Coyne said. The others will go to children and families.

The packaged meals are a “good way to get something nutritious to those in need,” Coyne said.

C. Ridge village board to discuss ethics proposal at special meeting

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

           The Chicago Ridge Village Board will hold a special committee of the whole meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, to review the details of a code of ethics ordinance that Trustee Sally Durkin proposed at the regular board meeting on Tuesday.

           Durkin had wanted the ethics ordinance to be voted on Tuesday, saying she has been working on seeing it to completion since being elected to the board three years ago. But after Mayor Chuck Tokar and several trustees questioned its restrictions, she agreed to postpone voting until the next village board meeting on Nov. 17 to allow time for the committee meeting, which will be open to the public.

           “I thought there were a lot of good things in it, but there are some concerns,” said Tokar.

           Among other things, the proposed code of ethics, a 14-page document, would prevent village employees, as well as elected and appointed officials, from being obligated to do any political activity as part of their job duties or as a condition of employment. Making political contributions and advocating for or against referendums is also prohibited.

           But although compensated time, meaning during work hours, is mentioned in the document, it is unclear whether a prohibition against employees and officials willingly participating in political activity would extend to after work hours also.

           Tokar, as well as Trustees Bill McFarland and Jack Lind, were among those who understood it to mean a total prohibition, and questioned the legality of such a restriction.

           “It would appear to prevent elected officials from running for re-election, since they couldn’t work on any campaign,” said McFarland.

           “How do you tell anyone they can’t (engage in any political activity)? I work on (state Rep.) Kelly Burke’s campaign. I’m not going to sign on to anything that would prevent me from doing that,” said Lind.

           “How can we tell an employee that they can’t go out and help someone get elected, or work on a campaign?,” asked Tokar incredulously.

           Village Attorney Burt Odelson, who didn’t work on the ordinance himself, said that most of what is in the proposed ordinance is already included in the state statute. But he added that, “there are some additions here that might make it difficult to make any contributions, It could very well restrict anyone from making any money for anything.”

           Durkin asserted that the proposed ordinance is taken “pretty much verbatim” from one already in place in Morton Grove.

           “Really and truly, we want an ethics ordinance in place,” said Trustee Fran Coglianese, who argued in favor of passing the ordinance as is, and then amending it if necessary after the committee meeting on Monday.

           “If it is already in place in Morton Grove, it must be legal,” she said.

           “Well, how would we know unless someone challenges it in court?,” responded the mayor.

           Durkin said she would “rather not waste anyone’s time voting on it” before the committee meeting can determine whether it is too restrictive.

“It’s a matter of interpretation. But we will hash it all out,” said Durkin after the meeting.