Major League Baseball teams ended the regular season this last Sunday. If you are a Cubs fan the season wasn’t what is always hoped for, the play-offs, and it’s “wait ‘til next year,” again. The White Sox fans have more games to look forward to and maybe even a World Series victory. We’ll see. Since attendance at the ballpark is one measure of a successful season, how did the two Chicago teams due this year? Better, certainly, than the 2020 season, when attendance records were not kept, although they did play an abbreviated season.
The City of Joliet is the third largest city in the State of Illinois so it should not be surprising that a lot of attention comes to the city from outside its boundaries. It has been a little over two weeks since the Illinois Attorney General started a civil investigation into the Joliet Police Department to determine if it should be investigated regarding its “patterns and practices.” Now, this last Friday, the Better Government Association, an Illinois Non-Partisan Full-Service Watchdog, has spotlighted an investigation they are conducting regarding Joliet’s “ambitious plan to buy Lake Michigan water from Chicago and resell it throughout the region.”
It was about two months ago that Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk stated at a City Council meeting there was a “war on police.” Sometimes, I guess, it just depends on your perspective. That was not one of the implications contained in an article of the September 7 issue of the USA Today news section. It’s a national newspaper with a national audience. The article was titled Behind the Blue Wall. The subject was regarding Joliet’s Police Department and the video of Eric Lurry’s arrest and ultimate death while in the custody of the Joliet police. The article was about the subsequent action taken by Sgt. Javier Esqueda releasing video of the arrest and that was unauthorized for public release by the police department. The subtitle of the article is “A police officer exposed a video showing a death in custody. Now he’s facing prison time”. For those who might think there is a “war on police” the article is a must read.
About four months ago, U.S. News and World Reports released its Overall Best Countries Rankings. The United States moved up this year from seventh to sixth. In 2016, when Donald Trump became President, the U.S. was ranked fourth. By 2017 we were ranked 8th. Perhaps we’re on the way back up. The five Countries ahead of us are Canada, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. There are a variety of metrics used to determine the overall rankings. The U.S. Ranks number one in Power and Agility. We rank 45th for being open for business. Switzerland ranks number one and Canada is number three by comparison. Amid the 50 states, Illinois ranks number 30. Our highest ranking using the same metrics to rank the positions on the list is number 11 for education. Illinois is dead last among the states for fiscal stability. Will County didn’t do very well among the 500 counties that were ranked. Will County came in at 483.
The ability of any organization to succeed requires planning. Another requirement is, of course, money. Generally speaking, government organizations have those two requirements built in. For instance, a municipality has a planning department and tax dollars to accomplish its goals. However, it’s almost become a cliché for governments to say first, “We’re going to do a study,” before they do anything. Joliet is undertaking another study to assess parking on Joliet’s downtown (City Center) streets that also includes the one city-owned parking deck as well as the Ottawa Street parking deck recently sold to John Bays. The revenue source for the study is the money received from Bays from the sale of the parking deck sold to him by the city. Bays has already spruced up the Ottawa Street deck and installed an automated system for collecting revenue to support maintenance of the deck. He is also providing free parking for tenants of some other downtown properties he owns. The City of Joliet for their part has to conduct a “study” to determine what inevitably will come to a similar conclusion: the need for an automated revenue collection system, a clean facility that is welcoming and some free parking.
Gambling is an established fact in Illinois. One would be led to believe that it is an innovation unknown to Joliet City Hall. Recently, a few gas station owners in Joliet have decided to take advantage of the profit involved in Video Gaming Terminals, or VGT’s. One requirement to securing a VGT is a liquor license. The granting of a liquor license to a gas station is apparently one of the biggest unviable propositions in Joliet. Bad things may happen. Drunks will seek out the opportunity to fill up the gas tank while guzzling one or two beers in the process. Worse yet, they may drive off while enjoying a forbidden liquid refreshment. Of course, that’s illegal, but since there is a shortage of police in Joliet, whose checking? So seriously, what’s this all about?
If you missed last week’s City Council meeting and maybe haven’t read local news sources, including The Times Weekly, you might be unaware that Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk stated there is a “war on police” in our State of Illinois and in our country. By implication, one can assume he also meant to include our local police department. One council person Larry Hug, brought up the fact that legislation that is not yet effective is “tying the hands of our police.” We’re going to “fight it as a city”, Hug said. Really? What does that mean, exactly?
This Fourth of July weekend will be the first three-day holiday that all of the official restrictions have been lifted since the pandemic began more than 16 months ago. Longer than that actually if you were among those taking the warnings seriously when the first alerts sounded. Fact is, those warnings are still with us due to the COVID-19 variants. For those who are vaccinated the risk has been lessened but not eliminated. For the 46 percent that have been fully vaccinated, family gatherings for the traditional Fourth of July celebrations will most likely be able to proceed with lessened caution. There are still some impediments to the celebrations with fireworks. According to Business Insider, fireworks are in short supply due to the supply chain crisis. Americans spend about $1 billion a year on fireworks. It’s illegal to purchase or possess most types of fireworks in Illinois, but drive through any neighborhood the week before or after July 4th and it’s obvious many do not observe the legality.
Joliet has considered itself to be a destination for out-of-towners for many years. As the county seat for Will County, many people come to Joliet because of the county services that are located primarily in downtown Joliet. The Will County office building on Chicago Street is located just a few blocks from the Will County Court complex on Jefferson Street. In fact, most of the downtown Joliet area is home to government offices and services, including City Hall. Many residents and non-residents have occasion to visit downtown Joliet.
The summer season is at long last upon us. Seems we missed last summer altogether with the intense concentration to control the pandemic numbers. Masks, washing hands and social distancing are terms that most people continue to pay attention to. More than half the country remains unvaccinated with the prospect that it will be late Fall before the gap is closed on vaccinated and non-vaccinated. The CDC has somewhat lifted the ban on masks for those who have completed a vaccination regimen.
Most of us have considered the various risks that exist in our everyday lives. Most of us tend to ignore those risks if we perceive they are not an immediate threat to our wellbeing. While the risks may be apparent, we all tend to go on with our daily lives without allowing them to curtail what we do, with some exceptions of course. In other words, life goes on. It is getting more difficult to ignore the risks we face in life because of “transparency.” The slightest risks are magnified due to what seems a 24-hour news cycle across multiple outlets. I’m not just fingering news programs and newspapers, but also the vast array of internet sources both personal and public. It has been pointed out to me from various sources, that it is difficult to know the “truth” and what are the absolute facts.
The predicted lack of excitement regarding the recent Consolidated Election was reflected in the low voter turnout. While the turnout in Will County was approximately 16 percent, a closer look at some precincts shows a much lower rate in Joliet. The precinct I vote in, for instance, had voter turnout of less than 10 percent on election day. Mail-in ballots may boost that somewhat, but probably not much.
This past Monday was Vietnam Veterans Day. The day was noted in this column a couple of weeks ago. The day was established by Presidential Proclamation in 2012. The day is for recognition of all living veterans who served on active duty in the Armed Services, regardless of location, during the time period November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975. During that time span approximately 10 Million served in the military. The memory of Vietnam has faded somewhat for most Americans since the time period marks a span that was 50 years ago. How have Vietnam veterans fared since then?
The fourth anniversary of National Vietnam Veterans Day will be on March 29. It’s been about 46 years since the official end to that conflict. As a matter of perspective, a 19-year-old who was in Vietnam at the end of the war in1975 will turn 65 in 2021. Most Vietnam vets are in their 70’s. Veterans today are a much-respected group in society. Veteran issues are often a focal point for debate in both Federal and State governments. It’s considered patriotic and a form of national pride to support veterans’ needs. Most local governments usually are relegated to issuing proclamations celebrating veterans sacrifices and victories on holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Myself and other veterans appreciate the acknowledgement of our service.
The Consolidated Election is less than three weeks away. There is very little evidence that an election is on the horizon, save for a few candidate signs scattered around in various locations in the county. This election has all the makings for a low turnout on April 6. Having just come through one of the most contentious national elections in recent history, I doubt there is much appetite for another election in less than three weeks. But there is one and it’s time for a little campaigning background.
Most of us, myself included, often use quotes we have heard to make or to emphasize a circumstance or opinion that makes a point seem more profound than our own words can accomplish. One of those quotes came to mind and seemed appropriate in light of another item in the local media last week. Abraham Lincoln used the quote on more than one occasion probably because it fits so many occasions. He said: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Joliet decided last week how it plans to access Lake Michigan as the sustainable source of drinking water for the next 100 years for Joliet residents. They have partnered with the City of Chicago for the solution. What could possibly go wrong?
Should the exception to the rule get the best solution? Many small businesses are struggling to make ends meet. Separate from actually contracting or battling the COVID-19 disease itself, many small businesses have suffered substantial financial losses. That includes job loss in the industries affected. The hospitality industry seems to be experiencing some of the worst of the pandemic economy. Hospitality businesses primarily include restaurants and most venues that rely on travel. Many small businesses, including those in hospitality and travel, have been able to take advantage of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help with the loss of revenue.
Peace prevailed at Monday’s Special Joliet City Council Meeting. This last Monday the Joliet City Council received the annual proposed budget presentation for the upcoming year. There was no bickering, no outraged concern and no disagreement among the Council members or objections from the Mayor regarding the budget. Actually, there was almost no discussion or questioning of Finance Director, Jim Ghedotte during or after his presentation that proposes spending $334.4 million during fiscal year 2021. That’s almost as much expenditure as last year’s budget that sparked a year-long City Council feud. The Council also approved Herb Lande as the at-large council member to replace Don Dickinson who resigned the elected position last week. Again, no disagreement. He was sworn in right after the near-unanimous vote to be the Council Member-At- Large. Bettye Gavin abstained from the vote. Is it going back to a more congenial problem-solving atmosphere? Perhaps. We’ll see.
Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season. The Thanksgiving Day holiday is the most American of our holidays but the annual tradition of gathering friends and family for a feast may take a hit this year for many of us. The pandemic will alter many plans for indoor gatherings, but the meaning of the holiday should not be lost because of COVD-19. The Thanksgiving Day holiday should begin by being thankful for what we have, but, more importantly, for what we have been able to share with others. It’s also a time to reminisce about past Thanksgivings and the meaning of the holiday. Thus, reminiscing about some past Thanksgiving occurrences seems appropriate for this column.
This past Wednesday was Veterans Day. In past years there were many public celebrations in and around the Joliet and Will County area honoring veterans and their military service. That didn’t happen this year but you can always thank a vet for their service anytime of the year. Most vets don’t give a lot of thought to their military service once they return to civilian life. The veteran population has been declining in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs the vet population is about 19.5 million. The Gulf War era makes up about 50 percent of all war veterans. The World War II vets now total less than 325,000. More than 50 percent of all veterans are age 65 or older. The veteran population is expected to decrease by 30 percent over the next 20 years or so.
This time next week the presidential election will be over, but at this moment it is obviously unknown who will be sitting in the White House on January 20,2021. Speculating on the outcome from this vantage point seems unnecessary and pointless. I can live with that and, instead, choose to shed a little light on the local elections that will take place next April 6. Currently, there are 16 people who have requested nominating petitions for one of the three At-Large City Council positions. That doesn’t mean they will necessarily be on the ballot. That’s only the first step to become a candidate. Lots of time remains before ballot names are assured. The next step for the petitioner is to find a minimum of 95 qualified signatures on the nominating petitions. That’s one percent of the total votes cast two years ago at the last Consolidated Election. That’s a small turnout in a city of 147,000+ people. Most likely there will not be long lines of voters casting their choice for a candidate on election day next April.
The Joliet city budget for fiscal year 2021 has had very little, if any, public mention by City Council Members. The reason may be the realization that the 2020 budget could miss its expected bottom-line result by as much as $20 million. The biggest hole in the budget will come from the loss of approximately $10 million of gaming revenues. Based on current projections, gaming revenues may not reach a $6 million total for the year. Revenues were projected to be over $17 million for budget year 2020. One of the current mayor’s long-term objectives when he was elected for mayor was to wean the city budget from a dependence on gaming revenue to achieve annual budget goals. This year’s budget result is probably not what he or any of the Council Members had in mind.
Sometimes I enjoy looking back on past issues to see what was going on a few years ago. The news cycle changes so fast that we sometimes forget the recent past. For instance, it was just about three years ago that Joliet’s last City Manager, David Hales, was hired. He started in November of 2017 while he was still City Manager for Bloomington Illinois. The whole hiring process was done behind closed doors to protect his privacy, we were told. The entire procedure took place without regard to the much-touted process of transparency. He was gone in less than one year. Since then Joliet has entertained three interim city managers. No public disclosure has been released to indicate who will be the new city manager, but after more than two years, City Council is still looking for one. Transparency aside, we are promised a hiring decision before the next at-large City Council Members are elected in April, 2021.
Every year about this time the Joliet City Council is subjected to one of the more boring responsibilities of municipal government. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, is the affirmation that the City’s financial records are in order. The City of Joliet was, in fact, awarded the “coveted” Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. They have received this award for the umpteenth time and evidence that the city reports an accurate and fiscally responsible set of books. Accurate accounting is one of the necessary elements of any business, public or private.
“What’s past is prologue”. Have you ever heard or read that phrase before? I have seen the expression used many times and have often relied on its usage over the years. The basic origin of the phrase is actually from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”. I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, so I had to look it up. According to my source, the phrase that Shakespeare invented came to mean that the past is a preface to the future – we can’t forget the lessons of history. Why bring this up? Because it can also be a predictor of the future.
Political partisans are in their realm for the next couple of weeks with the start of this week’s Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention starting next week. Both conventions are being conducted remotely due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. There are many complications associated with the November election making it almost impossible to condense into a few words for this week’s column. Therefore (notice, I didn’t say “So”), the best advice I or anyone can give is to vote the earliest and most convenient method available. Also, vote your interests based on your own circumstances. Party votes should take a back seat to the leadership needs of our country.
Axioms are statements that, according to definition, are “regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.” When referring to commercial/industrial development, for example, infrastructure follows development and is seldom the other way around. Will County has experienced that in the past and is very aware today that the explosion of warehousing developments in the county has led to the need for highway improvements to handle the increased volume of truck traffic to and from warehouses.
It is not a great stretch of imagination to understand we humans face a worldwide crisis that threatens all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated almost all aspects of our lives for the past six months and that is unlikely to change very soon regardless of who is doing the talking. We have witnessed peaceful protests, partisan quarreling and unwavering stances on some of the simplest of things such as wearing a mask in public places. With all of the serious business going on in the world, Joliet managed to make headlines by paying four city employees overtime wages on a holiday for providing a porta-potty for nurses on strike at Amita St. Joe’s hospital. Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk ordered up the portable facility by directly calling the public works department to set-up the city-owned property. The part-time interim City Manager Steve Jones, who has resigned but not gone, was not happy over the incident and let it be known Mayor O’Dekirk has no authority to do that.
Life continues from day to day no matter what struggles or victories are presented to our specific circumstances. The past few months have tested most of us in one way or another. Many (too many) have lost their lives from the COVID-19 pandemic and other causes that seem avoidable and unnecessary. Many more have lost jobs and income necessary to maintain our daily lives. All of the life issues that we faced prior to the current circumstances still exist, we are just paying less attention to them. Obviously, I don’t have any answers for the current state of affairs that have not already been articulated. I am prompted to write my column this week but Instead of weighing in on some of the serious issues of the day, here are a few tidbits of news that probably don’t have a big impact on most of us.
The Fourth of July is this weekend. It will be a three-day holiday that will probably be somewhat calmer than past years due to COVID-19. Most States, including Illinois, will be more open for celebration than has been possible the last three months. While many restrictions on businesses have been lifted, social distancing and wearing a mask covering are still in place and recommended. The Fourth of July is the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The day celebrated as Independence Day is fixed on the Fourth of July, but like many historical events it’s an arbitrary date chosen to accommodate the celebration of our independence from Great Britain. John Adams, the second U.S. president, refused to acknowledge the Fourth of July as Independence Day. He recognized July 2, as the date of the official birthday of the new nation. He did, however, host the first Fourth of July party held at the White House in 1801. Perhaps he’s the original “flip-flopper.”
The role of leadership in Joliet seems to be very muddled in the minds of many of its citizens. It is no wonder. The City Manager is leased from a third party, the Mayor wants to play policeman and the city council is split on most items that are not routine. Coverage of the incident has been widespread in the local media, including The Times Weekly. There has even been mention of the incident in other media locations around the nation. In light of Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s altercation last week with two protesters, perhaps it is time for those elected and appointed officials to review their roles.
Gaming revenue losses are one of the many casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Illinois Gaming Board reports, in 2019 Illinois generated more than $821 million in revenue from casinos and video gaming. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has closed casinos and video gaming to the public since March 16 due to the stay-at-home order. So far, Illinois gaming losses exceed $150 million year to date. Joliet has lost approximately $2.6 million of gaming revenue thus far. The loss of the gaming revenue has brought about an interesting response from the Illinois legislature. Last year’s state budget included a casino for the City of Chicago, along with sports wagering in Illinois but that has yet to come to fruition. Rather than reduce some corresponding expenditures, both the House and the Senate passed a casino measure that would give a larger share of gaming revenue to a Chicago casino, when and if it’s built, rather than share additional revenues with the nine other communities with casinos. There are 10 casinos, and Joliet has two.
The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues to alter the way we conduct our lives. The first three-day holiday since the shelter-in-place began back in March will be the Memorial Day weekend that starts on Saturday the 23rd and ends with Monday the 25th. Connecting dates to the days of the week is important because it’s getting harder to separate when the weekend starts and the work-week begins, or is it the other way around?
It was just about eight weeks ago that voters in 14 States voted in Primary Elections to select Republican and Democratic candidates for National, State and County offices that will be voted for on November 3, 2020. Just two weeks later, the Illinois primary was held. That was March 17. Since then, COVID-19 has dominated just about every aspect of our lives. The one exception in the Joliet area has been the Northpoint issue and even that has quieted down in the last two weeks. This next week, the City Council meets on Tuesday and no doubt discussion on how Joliet will confront the impending financial crisis facing city government operations will be on the agenda. City revenues have been greatly impacted in at least two of the city’s major revenue sources: gaming and sales taxes. Assuming a modest decrease in sales taxes and the complete loss of gaming revenue in the last six to eight weeks losses could exceed as much as $5 million year to date. There are few possibilities that revenue can be recovered. That only leaves the option of what expenses can be cut.
The people of Joliet have heard from the City’s financial professionals that currently run our city and the news is bleak. Joliet could run out of money to pay all of its obligations by October. That includes the city employees’ payroll. The City Council heard from non-resident, contract Interim City Manager type, Steve Jones and full-time city employee, Finance Department Director, Jim Ghedotte, that the crisis is a result of the pandemic currently being experienced. Nonsense! More explanation than that is necessary. The comments made by Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk that many municipalities in Illinois and around the country are in a financial bind, while true, do not illuminate the whole picture. The City’s financial dilemma dates back some 28 years ago when Joliet became the recipient of casino revenue. In 1992, Joliet was still suffering from what was called the rust-belt syndrome. Midwest manufacturing in Joliet was declining. The need for domestic raw steel production was being replaced by foreign markets. To help offset the loss of jobs and revenue, the State of Illinois made casino gambling on riverboats legal and the beneficiaries of the gaming tax revenue that was imposed, besides the State, would be the rust-belt river towns like Joliet, Aurora, Peoria and East St. Louis among others. The idea was to provide those cities most affected by the loss of industry a source of revenue for capital improvements like infrastructure, roads and bridges. All of the communities with gaming revenue did earmark the money for major capital improvement projects with one exception—Joliet.
It’s been just a little over two weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency by President Trump and the Illinois Primary squeaked by with a dismal voter turnout for a Presidential Primary. Turn-out this year was just over 25 percent. The last Presidential Primary in 2016 netted slightly less than a 45 percent turnout. The official results of the 2020 primary will be posted on April 7. Provisional and mail-in ballots were added as of March 31. There are no changes in the outcome of any race. There have been no Presidential Primaries held in the U.S. since March 17.
The news is almost completely dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are very few positives that can be highlighted regarding the crisis, but perhaps those objecting to development of the Northpoint intermodal project can take some solace from Mondays announcement. The public hearing on the pre-annexation of the 1260-acre project has been postponed until further notice. Seems the best efforts of many people to delay the vote had unanticipated outside help. This project has been on a fast track for, what appears to be, no visible reason. Why the rush? That’s the question. According to the pre-annexation agreement, several things must be accomplished before any dirt is turned over. A bridge over the Des Plaines River must be built. Even though it has been approved and preliminary plans to proceed with construction have been made, it’s possibly two or more years away from completion. The project’s main concept is that of a closed loop facility with only two places to enter and exit. The promised bridge is one of them.
Tuesday, March 17 is primary election day in Illinois. Early voting began this last Monday. Voters in Will County should have received a sample ballot for both the Democratic and the Republican Primary races. You have to pick one or the other and declare the party ballot you wish to use for your vote. Other than the presidential race, there are not many races providing an array of selections. As of this week the Democratic Party has four choices for President: in ballot order, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard. There are four other races on the ballot that are contested. The contest for the 11th Congressional District is between Bill Foster and Rachel Ventura. The 49th State Senate race is between Meg Loughran Cappel, Larry Hug and Michael Crowner. The Will County Board Chief Executive contest is between Jennifer Bertino-Tarant and Nick Palmer. The Coroner race is between Laurie Summers and Sean Talbot.
Curious. That’s another word for peculiar. Odd, strange and unusual are also words that are derivative meanings of “curious.” What am I talking about? Leadership at City Hall. The City of Joliet continues its administration without a fulltime, permanent City Manager. The current part-time, Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, has a new status. Beginning March 1, according to Jones’ new arrangement with the City of Joliet, he is an independent contractor under the terms and conditions of an Employee Leasing Agreement with GovTempsUSA, LLC. The compensation payable to the leasing company is $135.10 per hour. The Assigned Employee, Steven Jones, will be paid only for hours worked. The maximum number of hours that can be invoiced is 40 per week. It is unclear if that means there is no 24/7 on the job or if he has to show up for 40 hours per week. It is also unclear who determines the number of hours actually worked. Jones?
Overtime pay at 135% over budget?
No decision has been made about Joliet’s next permanent City Manager as was implied at a recent Special City Council meeting. City management leadership in Joliet will have to wait at least another couple of weeks. Officially the current part-time Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, will continue in the role. That is until he takes some time off this week and next. According to sources, Jones is appointing City Clerk Christa Desiderio as Acting Interim City Manager during his absence. She will be the fifth person to fill in at the manager role, at least temporarily, since Jim Hock left the City Manager position in May of 2017.
The first order of business for the City Council meeting this week was a proclamation recognizing the work of the Environmental Commission. The Proclamation stated in part the Commission “exceeded expectations and provided for a thorough, unbiased and transparent study process for the benefit of all City of Joliet water customers and potential regional water partners.” As a member of the Environmental Commission, I can confirm that is a true statement. That objective guided the study from the beginning. The fact that Lake Michigan was the final choice for Joliet’s alternative water source should come as no surprise. Approximately 83 percent of communities in the Chicago region, which includes seven counties, use Lake Michigan as their drinking water supply. The Great Lakes Region contains more than 20 percent of the world’s surface drinking water.
The end of the year is often the time to reflect on the passing year’s memorable happenings. In keeping with that tradition, here’s my attempt to remind you of a few topics covered by Wayne’s Words columns in 2019. A column in January reminded everyone that in spite of the lousy weather January had dropped on Joliet, polar vortex and snow, that the baseball season was just around the corner. Hometown team, the Joliet Slammers, promised better attendance and a hope for a championship. The promise of improved fans in the stands was kept with a 38 percent increase at the gate. Unfortunately, the team tanked and didn’t make the playoffs as they had in the previous year.
To budget or not to budget was the question at Tuesday’s Joliet City Council meeting. Since the decision was not made this week, the Council will meet again next Thursday. The budget vote requires at least five votes to pass. The vote was four to four on Tuesday. Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, and Council Members Larry Hug, Terry Morris and Jan Quillman objected to several tax and fee increases contained in the budget. The four also opposed a bond issue included in the budget for a $6.5 million renovation of the downtown library. Council members Pat Mudron, Sherri Reardon, Don Dickenson and Mike Turk voted for the budget. One of the major points of disagreement is whether the $11 million deficit projected by Interim City Manager Jones will actually materialize when final revenues for the 2019 budget are realized probably sometime in February or March next year.
Joliet’s pursuit of a new water source has become a complicated saga of miscommunication and questionable cost comparison information. Last week the DuPage Water Commission sent a letter to Mayor Bob O’Dekirk questioning how cost estimates to become a DWC customer were derived. The DWC did not submit or review any of the cost estimates attributed to DWC. According to another source another candidate that could provide a river water source, Aqua Illinois, also did not submit costs. What’s going on? Good question, the trite response goes! The City’s response was sent to DuPage Water Commission on Tuesday in an effort to explain how the cost figures were computed. The reply was provided by Allison Swisher, Public Utilities Director for Joliet. In the letter Swisher suggests they read the Phase II Study Report and after reviewing the full report “provide us with any specific issues that you feel may need to be addressed.”
The City of Joliet received a letter on Monday, November 25, from the DuPage Water Commission (DWC) contesting inclusion of cost estimate comparisons of water source alternatives. The letter was addressed to Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and copied to the Joliet City Council, the Joliet Environmental Commission and Allison Swisher, Public Utilities Director. The letter acknowledges making a presentation made in March that established the reasons why Joliet should consider using DWC for their water source. The presentation did not include any cost estimates. Since then, the DWC has been invited to submit a formal Request For Proposal (RFI), attend a workshop meeting in Joliet and received an email from Joliet that included cost estimates the DWC deemed inaccurate. The DWC did not respond to any of the requests nor prepare or present anything, according to the letter.
Approximately 18 Months have elapsed since the City of Joliet engaged in a study to determine a sustainable, high quality and cost-effective water supply for the City. The Environmental and Refuse Commission has been charged with the task. There are eight members of the Commission and I am one of them. I have learned a substantial amount of information about water quality and sustainability, but I am not an expert on the subject. All members of the Commission are unpaid volunteers. The expertise supplied to the Commission came from Joliet’s Utility Department and a consultant organization with proficiency in this type of study. The Commission’s conclusions are contained in two reports. Phase I is a 273-page Alternative Water Source Study and Phase II is a 622-page Final Report. The Commission will vote on its choice at a meeting on December 10 in the City Council chambers. The Joliet City Council will decide on the new source of water based on the Commission’s conclusions at a City Council meeting in January. From that point, the City will embark on an infrastructure plan that will take approximately 10 Years before a turn of the faucet will bring a new water source to Joliet. At least that’s the plan.
Ethics in city government. Apparently, it’s a crisis in Joliet that none of the high price talent employed at City Hall can resolve without assistance from a third-party expert. Part-time Interim City Manager Steve Jones proposed a contract this week to retain the services of law firm Ancil Glick in order to “avoid the perception of any type of impropriety.” You’re kidding, right? The City of Joliet has a whole legal department, a temporary city manager, department heads and a city council that costs a large portion of the city budget and we have to hire outside help to settle disputes that are, by and large, petty and unnecessary? Again, really? You’re kidding!
Early Fall is the time of the year when all of the major professional sports are being played simultaneously. Professional and college football dominate the airways, but basketball, hockey, and soccer are also being played and of course baseball is winding up their season. It’s questionable if baseball is still America’s pastime, but the World Series begins this week and that usually generates some interest even if the hometown team (Chicago) isn’t in it this year. A few weeks back our Joliet hometown baseball organization made its annual report to the city, and touted a successful season. Not on the baseball field mind you, but attendance was up and, apparently, they had many more events, besides baseball, that took place in the stadium than in previous years. That’s because the owners of the baseball stadium, Joliet taxpayers, spent a few million dollars in upgrades to the stadium in order to provide a better experience and allow more diversified events.
The City of Joliet fiscal year runs from January 1 to December 31. Every year the city manager submits a recommended budget to the City Council for approval. Of course, each department is expected to live within that budget barring any unforeseen events. The budget is usually adopted sometime in December. Usually by October the budget is coming together for presentation to the City Council in November. It’s probably too early to speculate on any increase in property taxes, but we do know that the Will County Supervisor of Assessments sent out a notice in August regarding the 2019 Quadrennial Assessment for property tax. Most properties show an increased assessment value. The City of Joliet will set the property tax rate accordingly. Even if the tax rate is lowered, it doesn’t mean property taxes will decrease. It usually doesn’t work that way. Property taxes account for about 20 percent of Joliet’s revenue.