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Monday’s meeting of the Joliet City Council hosted another presentation from Holsten Development regarding the former Evergreen Terrace public housing complex, now known as Riverwalk Homes. The discussion that followed the presentation seemed to run in circles at times. In fact, at one point in the conversation, City Attorney Marty Shanahan in response to a question from the Council said “It’s complicated.” Indeed! It was August of 2011 when HUD (Housing and Urban Development) filed a lawsuit against the City of Joliet citing 35 factual allegations against the City’s housing plan. The lawsuit accused Joliet of violating the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the Housing and Community Development Act. The lawsuit was dismissed when the City agreed to a mandate that basically stated that Joliet would maintain the same number of units currently available at Evergreen Terrace’s current location. The reduction of any available units at that location would have to be replaced by units located at other sites within the corporate limits of the City of Joliet. A mandate known by other names is an order, command, directive, decree, dictate, obligation, or most importantly “you must do it.” It has taken the ensuing seven years to arrive at the juncture reached at this week’s City Council meeting. The final decision has not yet been determined and may not be reached for several more months. What seems most certain at this time is the final decision will look much like what was determined seven years ago: Riverwalk Homes will be maintained at its current location with the same 356-unit configuration currently available.
Good planning, we are taught, is essential for an endeavor to succeed. Of course, what is not always considered is whose success we are talking about. Success or failure in the private sector is often overlooked beyond the financial news in the media. Not so in the government arena. Two of those municipal planning endeavors have grabbed our attention of late. One is the re-purposing of the old Joliet Prison on Collins Street. The other is yet another proposed trucking terminal off of Renwick Road next to I-55. One is for fun and the other promises jobs and municipal revenue. Let’s go for the fun one first. The old prison finally closed as a viable penal institution in 2001. As a sustainable incarceration institution, it was over as far back as the 1970’s and maybe before then. It was built as an answer to overcrowding of the privately-run Alton prison located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. That prison was run like a slave-labor camp for the profit of it’s owner. The Joliet Prison opened in 1857 as a solution to overcrowding. The location of the prison was steered by a three-person committee. One member of the committee was Nelson Elwood, a former Mayor of Joliet with considerable political and economic influence. That’s according to the book “Joliet Prisons, Images in Time” by former area resident Robert E. Sterling.
After 165 years the Joliet Fire Department has hired its first female Firefighter. If you believe a new wave of diversity is occurring don’t hold your breath. According to the website DATAUSA female firefighters account for less than five percent of the 1.1 million firefighters in the country. Diversity in firefighting is a long way from reality. It’s one of the last bastions of white male employment. Approximately 85.5 percent of firefighters are white males. It’s also one of the best paying jobs in municipal government. Average pay for a Joliet firefighter, including overtime, exceeds $100,000 annually. The new firefighter, Carissa Smith, can look forward to substantial pay and excellent benefits. At age 59 she can retire with a generous pension and free lifetime health insurance. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 165 years to recruit more female firefighters. While we’re on the subject of benefits, a couple of weeks ago the City of Joliet settled a lawsuit originally brought by a retired Joliet firefighter that will cost the Joliet city coffers in excess of $700,000. The city must reimburse employees who retired prior to 2010 for an increase in premiums for their guaranteed lifetime health insurance. The premiums, according to the settlement cannot increase until 2030. It’s possible they won’t increase then either. The final cost of the settlement will be determined by the addition of the legal expense for the lawsuit.
The City of Joliet baseball stadium is now in it’s 16th season and has been continuously occupied since opening day in 2002. The first occupants were the Joliet Jackhammers. The initial season saw over 180,000 fans attend the games played. The fans came to see the team play, have a couple of hot dogs, maybe a beverage and they were kept amused with between inning entertainment. Success seemed assured. The city used casino revenue to pay cash for the construction of then named Silver Cross Field. The original cost was somewhere around $27- $29 million. There never was a plan submitted by the city, or anyone else, that projected how much revenue would be necessary to maintain the structure and the grounds. There was never any consideration made for paying back to city coffers the revenue used to build the stadium. Quite the contrary, it was said to be a “quality of life project” that would enhance the downtown and its environs. It was also said that no taxpayer money was used in its construction. In those days casino revenue was free money, not taxpayer dollars, according to city officials at the time.
The summer of 2018 officially began with the Memorial Day weekend and is on the books. Proper complaints against the weather can now begin with “it’s too hot” in place of “it’s too cold.” Just as the summer is beginning the Illinois Spring legislative session ends this week on Thursday. Expanding gambling is again up for discussion in the legislature. Opposition to any new gaming positions is quite strong among those who believe any expansion of gaming only diminishes existing gambling operations. Senator Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, disagrees. He was quoted as saying: “They build new casinos next door to one another in Vegas, and none of them are going out of business.” He may have a point regarding Las Vegas but it hasn’t panned out in Illinois over the last 10 years. In 2011, before video gaming spots were legalized for locations outside the state’s 10 casino sites, the State of Illinois’ share of gaming receipts for the year was $400.8 million. The revenue had peaked in 2007 at $718.2 million. Then in 2012 video gaming was introduced in September. Only $3.1 million was produced in the four remaining months of 2012. The next year the State’s share of revenue jumped to over $75 million from video gaming and more than doubled that to $164.9 million by 2014.
The Memorial Day holiday is less than four weeks away. The day is traditionally set aside to remember those who gave their life in military service to our country. Most communities will remember the fallen with parades, commemorative services and tributes to all veterans who served in the military and are no longer with us.
Many expectations come from all of us with the passing of winter into spring. Warm weather, baseball, and the construction season are but a few of those expectations.
One of the best ways to express patriotism in the U.S.A. is to show how much veterans are appreciated.
A haunted house will open in part of the former Collins Street prison this fall but some residents are forgetting the other haunted house that the city owns.
This week’s Joliet City Council meeting sparked what could be identified as a ‘balance of resource and need’ debate. In the name of efficiency, the city is considering the use of one piece of fire-fighting apparatus that would replace two pieces of equipment.
Balance is a word sometimes used to explain the “challenges” of issues that are difficult to resolve and not everyone is satisfied with the solution. The most common definitions of “balance” can be found in any dictionary.
This week Wayne talks about the Tet Offensive and parking in downtown Joliet.
Wayne makes sense of 2017 or as much as it can make sense before the calendar clicks over to 2018.
It has been several years since the Joliet City Council has received much hue and cry relating to the Joliet City Budget and this year doesn’t seem any different.
The start of every holiday season should begin by being thankful for what we have, but, more importantly, for what we have been able to share with others. The Thanksgiving Day holiday is the most American of our holidays.
Veterans Day honors past and present veterans who served honorably during war or peacetime in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard and includes Reserve and National Guard veterans.
This week Wayne discusses the current debate regarding the Affordable Care Act which has been going on since its inception.
The City Council has hired a new Joliet City Manager. The buzzword in local government today is TRANSPARENCY. Its talked about a lot and always promised by our elected officials. It helps prevent surprises when the process is open.
Two years ago, then newly elected Mayor Bob O’Dekirk issued a report titled the 2015 Mayoral Transition Report.
The subject of sports, particularly youth sports, is deeply imbedded in the City of Joliet and its environs. The slogan “City of Champions” is part of the city’s moniker. Joliet has developed many successful athletes throughout its history. High school sports are highly regarded and area schools provide excitement with the many rivalries that have evolved over the years. A couple of weeks ago, Time Magazine ran a story about the exploding youth sports industry that has grown into a $15 billion business. They weren’t talking about high school sports either. The star athlete of the article was a 10-year-old kid who plays baseball for nationally ranked teams, with jewelry and clothing companies asking him to endorse their products. He’s not the normal example of a child athlete according to the piece, but he is the paragon of what the Time magazine story called a new reality for America’s aspiring young athletes and their families. Really, a 10-year-old boy! Kids’ sports have gone big-time. Around the country local sports leagues are no longer attracting large numbers of kids in the community. Little League participation is down 20 percent from its peak less than 20 years ago. However, youth sports are being played hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, away in tournaments that cost parents of the participants thousands of dollars per year. The young stars receive private lessons, attend sports academies and actually play for different clubs depending on their skill level.
One of the easiest complaints to make about government is that it spends too much money. “My taxes are too high” is the refrain heard from almost everyone. Belt tightening at all levels is what’s needed according to most people. One step towards “belt tightening” has been taken by the City of Joliet. When the State of Illinois finally passed its budget, effective retroactive to July 1, one of the provisions reduced the amount of tax revenue that comes to municipalities. The impact on Joliet’s revenue will be approximately $2.6 million less per year than was anticipated in the city’s coffers. The city’s immediate response has been to eliminate all “non-emergency overtime.” The current city budget shows almost $6 million is allocated to overtime for all city employees. The most current status report for overtime shows city employees have used almost half of the budgeted overtime. The report reflects just under six months of the current budget year. All city departments, except two, have used less than 40 percent of the OT budget. The Finance Department is over budget, but it accounts for only $7,300 out of the total six million dollars.
According to all published reports, the City of Joliet government is committed to redeveloping the City Center, more commonly known as “downtown Joliet.” The idea of the downtown revitalization has been talked about, written about, planned for and studied ever since all the major retail establishments left City Center almost 40 years ago for the Louis Joliet Mall. Since that time, downtown has become primarily a government campus. Most all tangible redevelopment has come about through government spending, totally reliant on taxpayer dollars. The city has redeveloped the train station (twice) and built a ballpark, Will County built a new jail and will soon be building a new $200 million courthouse, and the Joliet Junior College put up an eight-story campus building at a cost of $58 million. The only other major development that has occurred downtown is Harrah’s Casino and Hotel. Harrah’s evolved into a permanent structure when the State of Illinois deemed land-based gaming was legal in Illinois when it replaced a riverboat gaming operation.
By Wayne Horne – email@example.com Healthcare is a major topic in Washington and around the country. This week marks the 51st anniversary of Medicare. Approximately 19 million people ages 65 and over became eligible to enroll in Medicare in 1966. It provides hospital and medical insurance for those eligible Americans age 65 or older. The program is entirely funded through the federal government and partially paid for by payroll taxes. Ironically, rates for individual health insurance for people under age 65 and purchased through the government marketplace website are projected to increase by as much as 43 percent for 2018. Most people who receive coverage through marketplace insurance products are also receiving a government subsidy that reduces the premiums and out-of-pocket costs to “affordable” levels. At the present time those subsidies are available but there is no guarantee they will continue beyond 2018.
Columnist Wayne Horne cautions the city to take a step back and proceed with caution before investing city funds in a proposed high-tech incubator proposed for downtown.
By Wayne Horne – firstname.lastname@example.org History is, sometimes, a good indication of what may occur in the future if circumstances in the present are similar or remain substantially unchanged. For instance, about 30 years ago a rock concert was held in what was then the Soviet Union. It was characterized as evidence of the new relationship with the United States. Then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had promised economic and democratic reforms seemed to portend a new and less antagonistic relationship was possible. Thousands of armed guards at the concert that did not allow concert goers near the performance stage indicated promised reforms would not occur. Many diplomatic efforts since 1987 and before have attempted to bring the U.S. and Russia closer to little or no avail. The big positive to date is that no nuclear buttons have been pushed. There have been several displays of machismo since then but in spite of attempts to spin perceived success, not much is different today than 30 years ago, just the players are different.
By Wayne Horne – email@example.com What do you do when you can’t afford to pay your expenses? The State of Illinois is in that position. No one is happy about it. It’s already too late to cut past expenses. The Republicans in the state legislature, along with the Democrats, arrived at a decision over the last few days and accepted the idea that has been put forth many times over the last two years: raise the state income tax rate. But that’s just a start. The Illinois senate has also agreed on the increase and the governor needs to sign it. He probably won’t. The legislature will need to override the governor’s veto. Most likely they will. In anticipation of those actions, Credit agencies are holding off making Illinois eligible for junk bond status. Raising the tax rate is just a small part of the solution. The backlog of bills facing Illinois is over $14 billion. The state will have to borrow money to accomplish paying most of those debts. The tax increase only nets about $5 billion the next fiscal year. By the way, don’t think you have time to plan or think about the impact on your personal financial situation. If it passes the necessary legislative hurdles this week it’s retroactive to July 1, based on current language in the bill.
firstname.lastname@example.org Gun violence is an everyday topic of news these days. That’s especially true if you live in certain areas of Chicago. Terrorism is another topic that’s hard to avoid in today’s world. Seems like the terrorism tool of choice in London are bombs and trucks running over pedestrians. Terrorism in our country is usually from home-grown individuals. The weapon of choice here in the U.S. are firearms, usually handguns, but not always. Last week, when the shooting occurred at a baseball field in Arlington Virginia, the weapon used, according to reports, was an AK-47 assault weapon. It is a weapon used in conflicts around the world. It was the preferred weapon used against U.S. troops in Vietnam. My point is, the AK-47 has been around a long time. It’s accurate and deadly, even in the hands of an amateur. I can attest to the fact of my own experience in Vietnam that it is difficult to defend one’s self from an individual well positioned and without warning. An untrained individual using a handgun is at a distinct disadvantage and without much chance of responding if they are pinned down by rapid fire from an assault weapon. Trained law enforcement personnel did an outstanding job of overcoming the shooter and saving the lives of those targeted. They were in a position to react and were not the initial targets. They took advantage in the situation because of their training and firepower.
The City of Joliet is still in a holding pattern regarding the Evergreen Terrace apartment complex on North Broadway Street. The City has still not received the keys to the set of buildings that make up the subsidized housing units. Until the courts decide when Joliet can actually take possession, management responsibility remains with the former owners, The Burnham Companies. In the meantime, according to a recent Chicago Tribune report, Burnham lost a lawsuit regarding payment to the law firm representing them in their lawsuit against Joliet’s takeover of Evergreen Terrace. The dispute was over $5.7 million of legal fees. The family of Ron Gidwitz, principals of Burnham Companies, claimed they had an alternative legal fee agreement for $1.5 million. Cook County Judge Patrick Foran Lustig sided with the law firm Ungaretti & Harris for the $5.7 million of disputed fees.
email@example.com It happens to every homeowner with a lawn. Sooner or later the lawnmower needs to be replaced. A few weeks ago, my 25-year-old mower was showing signs of old-age and I decided to replace it. Being a modern type, I googled “lawnmowers.” After reviewing several in my price range I decided on one with all the features I liked, for the price I was willing to pay. Plus, the free shipping was to my house or the retail store near me. I chose my house. It worked out well. I was home when the delivery truck came. The driver was happy to see me because he was uncertain how he was going to lift the awkward size box off the truck and to my front door. I helped him scoot it right into my garage. I proceeded to unbox the machine, perform the minor assembly, fill it with oil and gas. It looked great, had an electric start, one lever to adjust the blade height and it was self-propelled. I was happy with the purchase and moved my old mower to a storage shed in the yard. It was actually a few days later before I could mow due to rain and by then the grass had grown higher than usual. I set the mower to a high setting to accommodate the growth. Too make a long story short, the mower did a lousy job cutting the grass.
The world of ‘news’ these days is very cloudy. I try to write an article each week that attempts to connect the dots of varied interests into something that makes sense for all concerned. It’s not always easy and, sometimes, not possible. So, this week I wanted to share some random thoughts that don’t necessarily warrant much consideration and aren’t really connected. They portray our government at work for us. One item I came across this week regarded passage of an Illinois legislative bill that would allow the Secretary of State to put advertising material on license plate renewal notices. According to the requested legislation that is awaiting the governor’s signature, this would offset the cost of sending out the reminder. I don’t know about your own situation, but the last two or three years my renewal reminder has come by email. I’m trying to understand how much it could cost to send an email to individuals that directs you to a state website to order a small weather-resistant sticker about the size of a quarter. I’m sure there could be some one-time costs initially but it’s hard to fathom how much help this will provide to a state that is $14 billion behind in paying its bills and has not had a budget for almost two years. Go figure.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day and traditionally observed on May 30. Decoration Day has evolved into Memorial Day and it is this weekend. It was officially declared a national holiday in 1967. It is the traditional holiday that starts the summer. It is always a three-day weekend since the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect in 1968. The holiday moved from its traditional observance on May 30 to the last Monday in May. Families and friends gather for picnics and numerous outdoor events in observance of the holiday weekend. There are also the incessant holiday sales hyped by businesses big and small. But that’s not really what this weekend is about. The purpose of Memorial Day is commemoration of soldiers who died in battle. The grateful phrase “Thanks for your service” should be reserved this weekend for those service members who paid the ultimate price-- they died fighting in battle for the United States of America.
firstname.lastname@example.org We all have expectations that our public sector employees will possess the ability to perform their duties in a safe environment and in a manner that does not jeopardize their own safety or that of others. For instance, it is a given that police and fire personnel will be drug and alcohol-free when they are on the job. The reason for that expectation is obvious. The same holds true for airline pilots and public transportation drivers. An inebriated bus driver is a danger to all around their vehicle, not just the passengers entrusted to the driver’s care. Most private employers require some form of periodic testing to ensure their personnel meet safety standards necessary to safeguard passage from point A to point B. Those standards include vehicle inspections as well. Many employers also require background checks of their employees. Annual background checks, even simple ones, include criminal record searches, a nationwide sex offender search and a routine motor vehicle record search. The motor vehicle record search reveals speeding tickets, accidents and DUI convictions.
Last week’s arrival in the mail of the property tax bill probably delighted no one when it was discovered most, if not all, taxing bodies showed an increased amount due. Most homeowners have their property taxes escrowed as part of the monthly mortgage payment and don’t always scrutinize the amount due unless it increases their monthly mortgage payment. The property tax bill is calculated by combining the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) with the tax rate of each government unit. In Illinois, of course, there are a multitude of government units on a property tax bill. Many times, you may hear from the taxing body that the tax rate was not increased. “Why did my tax bill go up”, you say? Because the assessed value increased. This year, in some instances, both increased. That’s been less likely the last few years because property values have fallen, but that trend has reversed itself the last couple of years. Local governments face increasing costs and the tax bill reflects those increases. The biggest percentage increases on my tax bill this year came from Will County, the Will County Forest Preserve District, and Joliet Junior College. The biggest dollar amount of the tax bill goes to the various school districts on each homeowner’s bill, usually from 60 to 70 percent of the total dollar amount.
According to final totals from “Vote by Mail” and “Provisional” ballots counted By the Will County Clerk’s office last Tuesday results have not changed from election night. The election results from two weeks ago are not official until April 28. The closest election night margin in the area was for Village Clerk in Bolingbrook. Only two votes separated Carol Penning and opponent Jaime J. Olson on election night. The additional ballots counted on Tuesday increased Penning’s vote totals making her the unofficial winner. As expected, there were no other substantial changes affecting other races. Another report due this week is the Quarterly D-2 form required of all candidates who had campaigns that raised and spent more than $5,000 money on their campaign. Most candidates for local municipal offices spend relatively small amounts on their campaigns, but there are always campaigns that exceed that threshold. Newly elected Joliet City-Councilman at Large Don “Duck” Dickinson for instance, raised $9,560 and spent a little over $8,200. Two incumbents on the Joliet council also reached that threshold. Jan Quillman raised and spent over $8,000 for her reelection bid. Mark Turk raised almost $20,000 and spent about $13,000. The last Joliet mayoral election in 2015 exceeded $200,000 in expenditures. It was the costliest election in Joliet’s history. That’s unusual in Will County, except in Bolingbrook.
Campaign promises are easily made when a candidate seeks a political office and often times those promises are forgotten after the election results are in. Usually they are forgotten because they are verbal in nature and the candidate who gets elected didn’t put them in writing for someone to follow-up. Two years ago, Bob O’Dekirk was elected Mayor of Joliet. Once in office, he put together a transition team that actually published a report that could be gathering dust on a shelf. It’s never mentioned in a formal sense, but I pulled it out to see if any of the findings are being considered in practice. The report was summarized into a top ten list. I was interested to see if any of the ten priorities were being worked on. Some have progressed to being worked on and some remain in the “not yet” category. For instance, one finding suggested a Department of Senior Services should be created along with an initiative for a youth-senior interaction program that would mentor youth programs. Interesting idea, but that seems more like what parents and grandparents provide for their own family. Nothing so far has happened with that and probably shouldn’t anyway. Another item that hasn’t seen any formal movement is the idea of streamlining basic government operations. I’m not sure what that means. In the report, it is coupled with the concept of redeploying casino revenue from day-today operations to support future economic growth and development. Seems that is happening anyway, because casino revenue continues to decline every year and it is no longer revenue that can be depended on for daily operations.
When you read this week’s column, election results are known and probably analyzed as to why the small number of voters who turned out, chose candidates who won. Usually, incumbents are returned to the office they ran for and most referendums are defeated. How do I know this the day before results are known? History tells us so. Incumbents are reelected about 90 per cent of the time. Referendums are usually defeated unless it’s the second or third time they’ve been offered to voters. Finally, only a small percentage of registered voters will cast a ballot. The precinct I vote in, for instance, has approximately 1400 eligible voters. During last November’s election, approximately 1000 people voted. Presidential elections typically draw about 75-80 per cent of registered voters. Local elections, like this one, usually generate about 12-15 percent of the voters eligible. That equates to less than 200 votes at my polling place in Joliet. I was number nine when I voted at 9:30 Tuesday morning. That doesn’t count anyone who voted early, absentee or by mail. One possible reason for low voter turnout is the fact that elections occur quite often. How often? They occur annually. We just had an election this last November. Here it is five months later and another election. The next one? March 2018 will be the Primary Election for Republicans and Democrats to choose who will be on the ballot in November of 2018. The following April, 2019, will be for local races again. In Joliet, we’ll be voting for Mayor and five City Council District members. The campaigning for political office never stops.
A little over two weeks ago, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, was granted emergency powers to close a business for up to seven days. As previously reported the term “emergency” was not defined. The stated reason for the action was police had a difficult time making arrests and controlling criminal activity on private business property. It was also noted at the time, that street cops were “clamoring” for the ordinance giving the mayor the power to close businesses that made controlling criminal activity so difficult. The police were again thrust into the limelight this last week by Michael DeVito, President of the Joliet Fraternal Order Police Union. He addressed the mailing of a political campaign letter by a candidate for City Council, Rachel Ventura, to a number of police officers at their residences. The nature of the letter was apparently a rebuttal of information previously given to union members that was misleading, in the opinion of the candidate. The contents of the letter were not being disputed by the union official. What DeVito questioned was how candidate Ventura obtained the mailing list.
We live in the age of “it’s not my fault.” There has always s been the question of “who’s at fault?” since time began. It just seems more prevalent today. When it is our own fault, we need to take responsibility. Sometimes that fault is collective. The collective fault is often most visible in the political realm. When the Joliet Junior College board of trustees met last week, they approved a student tuition increase for the fall session. They insisted it was not their fault the tuition increase was necessary. No, no, it was the lack of adequate funding from the State of Illinois that caused the increase. One Trustee, the board’s Vice Chairman Andrew Mihelich stated “We’re not here because of ourselves. This is the state. I want to make this completely clear to our public. This is a state funding issue.” Really, you have no responsibility for this Increase? This “funding issue” came on suddenly, with no warning. That’s your story? I beg to differ.
US falls in world ranking: Joliet’s new way to fight crime?
Who knew? The United States fell from number 4 to number 7 in the world ranking of Best Countries. That’s according to a U.S. News and World Reports survey conducted after the presidential election last November. The survey asked 21,000 business leaders, informed elites and everyday citizens their views on certain aspects of a variety of countries, including the U.S.A. The media company U.S. News transitioned several years back to a primarily web-based company in 2010 that specializes in highly popular ‘Best of’ lists. There are nine sub-categories of featured rankings. Some categories such as power, entrepreneurship and quality of life are self-explanatory. Others like Adventure and Movers need a little more explanation. The U.S. ranks 35 and 24 respectively in those two categories. Apparently, we are not an adventurous people compared to number 1 Brazil and number 4 Thailand. I’d rather be bored than live in either of those places. The number 1 and 2 countries considered Movers are the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. They rank number 22 and 15 in the overall Best Countries. We’re 35th when it comes to Open for Business but the U.S. is 16 and 18 respectively in Citizenship and Quality of Life. Canada and Sweden are 1 and 2 in Quality of Life rankings.
Governments at all levels want voters to believe they are working hard for the best interests of their constituents.
The local election season is less than six weeks away. Even if you haven’t received any candidate mailings in the last couple of weeks, it’s getting hard to miss the ‘vote for me’ signs that are popping up in yards all over Will County. If it seems as if elections are happening all the time, you’re right! There is at least one, and usually two, elections every year. Odd numbered years, like 2017, are for the consolidated elections, more commonly known as municipal and/or township elections. Even numbered year elections are for Federal, State, Judicial and county officials. If you are like most people, you can take comfort in the fact that, after this year’s April 4 election, the long interlude between elections will occur. The next one will take place almost a year later on March 20, 2018. What makes it seem like there’s always an election is the almost continuous candidate campaigning for the various offices. Campaigning usually starts anywhere from six months to a year before the election date. That’s particularly true for Federal and State offices. There are 419,372 registered voters on the books in Will County. Voter turnout in the Consolidated Election four years ago, was 18.1 per cent. If that percentage holds true for the upcoming April 4 election, a little over 76,000 people will vote in the 303 precincts in Will County. Some of the municipalities in Will County are in more than one county. For instance, Bolingbrook has part of its population in DuPage County and Joliet is partially in Kendall County.
It seems somewhat ironic that Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s State of the City address took place at Harrah’s casino this year. It was a positive address touting several past and soon to come commercial successes that will enhance Joliet’s tax base. It was just 10 years ago, in 2007 that the City’s share of casino gaming revenue peaked at just over $36 million for the year. Gaming revenue totaled $18.4 million in 2016. According to the latest gaming revenue reports, Joliet’s share of gaming revenue continues to decline. Joliet’s casino revenue share this month is down by almost 10 percent compared to January last year. The addition of video gaming revenue to the city coffers over five years ago, has not stemmed the tide of the decline. It was September of 2012 when the city received its first share from the only video machines licensed in Joliet. Izzy’s bar had five machines that paid the city’s share of $430. Last month Izzy’s shared $898 with the city. They were one of 74 locations with a total of 295 gaming machines. Last year video gaming revenue totaled $665,802. No significant increase from video gaming is anticipated that will offset the expected decline of casino revenue this year. Economic growth can and should replace gaming revenue as a source for everyday expenses and be used for capital projects as was the original intention of the state legislature.
If you lived in downstate Peoria and woke up on Tuesday morning and read the local paper you might have been surprised to learn that the world headquarters of Caterpillar, the heavy machinery manufacturer, was leaving town. They have called Peoria home for over 100 years. The new headquarters is destined for Chicago, or maybe the suburbs. For weeks, we have been reading about the loss of Illinois residents to other states. In fact, Illinois is shrinking in population, according to many reports. Also, the City of Chicago needs to call in the Feds to restore order. But Caterpillar headquarters is moving to Chicago, Illinois. It was just two years ago, the company made a big announcement regarding the expansion of its downtown Peoria headquarters. At a news conference, held in Peoria at the Caterpillar Visitors Center and attended by some 250-people including Gov. Bruce Rauner, then CEO Doug Oberhelman was given a standing ovation when he announced, "Caterpillar will stay in Peoria." He went on to say they were definitely staying in Peoria and had no future plans to leave. Oberhelman is no longer the CEO and the headquarters is moving to Chicago. No permanent site in the Chicago area has been selected to date. Caterpillar is one of Illinois’ largest companies. According to the new CEO, Jim Umpleby, the sales revenue of the company has fallen 40 per cent since 2012. They have closed 30 facilities around the world and eliminated 16,000 jobs.
The promise of repeal and replace the nation’s healthcare plan known as the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) is the hot-button issue of the day. According to recent census data for the State of Illinois, approximately 54% of the U.S. population are covered for healthcare by their employer. Another 19% are covered by Medicaid, the program for low-income individuals. Medicare covers about 14% of persons’ age 65 and older. About six percent are uninsured. The ACA affects all of these categories. That’s only a portion of the dilemma as it regards “repeal and replace.” The law seeps into almost every facet of healthcare, as well as daily life. For instance, most national restaurants and fast food chains must have menus showing calorie counts. Eating establishments didn’t do that on their own, the law made them do it. Hospitals face penalties if certain quality care benchmarks are not met. According to Kaiser Health News, about half the nation’s hospitals are penalized by Medicare because of the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program. Under the program hospitals are measured for the number of patients who are readmitted to any hospital within 30 days of their initial hospitalization release.
The beginning of every year often brings about the desire to predict the coming year’s big events. Predictions for the future can be interesting as well as unusual. The 14th century seer Nostradamus still gets attention for some of his predictions. For instance he predicted that 2015 humans would live to be 200 years old, be able to communicate with animals, and taxes would be abolished. He made that prediction 450 years ago, One could only imagine what 200-year-old politicians might do. That possibility would make the abolishment of taxes impossible and as for communicating with animals, we have difficulty communicating with each other. One of his predictions for 2016 was that Donald Trump would win the presidency. Of course, another interpretation was that Hillary Clinton would win the election. It just depends on who interprets what the predictions mean. What’s in store for 2017? According to one source the five most important predictions are: Obama will be the last President of the U.S., the Middle East will have massive explosions, solar energy will become the predominant energy source going forward, the North and South poles will melt, and Russia will make peace with America. Thus, a new year begins.
Can the Rialto Square Theatre survive without a bailout from the City of Joliet? We are all patiently waiting to see what the outcome of the Rialto board’s request for $500,000 from the City of Joliet will be. Are you curious how the Rialto Theatre survived in the first 50 years of its existence? Since the current crisis began, the emphasis has been on the status of the theater since its renovation beginning in 1978 and the grand reopening in 1981. Prior to the 1970’s the Rialto was a “vaudeville movie palace”; an undertaking owned by six brothers named Ruben, according to a booklet published about the Rialto in 2004. When the Rialto Square Theatre opened in 1926, the Royal Theatre Company was formed by the Ruben’s to guarantee $2 million to build the project. The actual operation of the theatre was then leased to the Great States Theatre, Inc. The Ruben brothers still owned the property.
This time of the year is when the City of Joliet passes the Budget. The procedure seldom passes without some controversy and this year is no exception. In past years, issues such as declining gaming revenue, budget deficits, who will occupy Silver Cross Field, the Evergreen Terrace housing complex, the new Intermodal Transportation Center, tax increases, etc. took center stage. This year it’s the plight of the Rialto Theatre. The focus is on whether or not the City Council should authorize a $500,000 subsidy for the venue. According to some the future of the Rialto hinges on who has control of the operation of the theater. Some have suggested the City can’t afford to fund the Rialto without jeopardizing city operations. Perhaps. But Tuesday’s City Council meeting witnessed a revision in the idea that the City of Joliet “takeover” operational control of the Rialto. The Resolution requesting the State of Illinois General Assembly transfer title from the governing board of the Rialto to the City of Joliet was removed from the agenda. Instead, the Council passed a motion to include a $500,000 subsidy in the City of Joliet 2017 Budget.
The City of Joliet wants to “takeover” the Rialto Theatre. Seems we’ve been down this road before. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” only the situation is somewhat reversed. About 15 months ago, Dan Vera, Joliet Township Supervisor, offered to “takeover” the much-neglected Joliet Bicentennial Park from the city. The city had neglected needed maintenance of park facilities for several years. The fountain located in the park was not operable and had been filled with gravel to prevent any further deterioration. The theater building’s roof leaked in addition to other problems needing attention. In February of this year the township decided not to pursue what was being called a partnership with Joliet to arrange for entertainment and special events in the park. The city showed limited interest in the idea and the township withdrew the offer. The matter was dropped. The arrangement was unlikely to be approved by the city anyway according to public discussion at the time.
The long national debate over the Affordable Care Act seems destined to continue even after January 20 next year. That’s when the new president takes office. Congress is actually seated on January 3 according to the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The probable reason the debate will continue is there is no concrete plan to replace the healthcare plan commonly known as “Obamacare.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, most recent report on healthcare spending in the U.S. shows the big picture numbers. In 2015 healthcare spending in the U.S. reached $3.2 trillion. When that is broken down into more understandable dollars it means that the cost to each of us, every man, woman and child, is $9,990 annually or $832 per month. Put another way, if the amount you are paying for yourself and each member of your family every month is less than $832 per month, you are not paying your fair share. Now that I have your attention, maybe you can begin to grasp the problem. The cost of healthcare has doubled in the last 15 years. The per capita cost of health expenditures in 1960 was $125 according to CMS recently released data. The per capita cost by 1990 had escalated to $2425. In just 25 years the cost of healthcare has risen more than 312 percent.
Budgets, particularly government ones, tend to be cumbersome and overly detailed. The newly proposed Joliet 2017 Budget offers several fresh approaches in transparency. When City Council members meet for a workshop session on the 2017 proposed budget they will see a several items not contained in previous budgets. Joliet budgets have changed over the last several years in order present a more accurate picture of the coming year. One bit of information that is no longer in the city budget, though, is a four-year projection of revenues and expenses. The financial statement stopped projecting the future with the 2012 budget. The City Council and the City Manager have discussed putting the projections back in but have not done so yet.
The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Sunday was the Will County Take Back the Night observance. It marks the 20th anniversary of the vigil and march against violence that has taken place here in Joliet and Will County. What is domestic violence? According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it is defined as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. I have attended the Will County event for many years but it seemed to have a greater impact on me this year and I wasn’t sure why.