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Archive for the ‘DuPage County’ Category

With dire predictions of snowpocalyptic weather conditions set to arrive Tuesday afternoon, Village Hall is on alert.

“We have a snow plan and are ready to activate that if conditions present themselves. We’ll be pretreating the roads before the snow falls and when it does we’ll be ready to plow. We have the ability to call in extra help if we need it.” said village spokesman Doug Kozlowski.

The village has two meetings scheduled during the current Blizzard Watch of 2011:  a council meeting on Tuesday and a Human Services Commission meeting on Wednesday. The decision to cancel a village meeting is staff initiated after consultation with Council members, according to Mayor Ron Sandack. “In my 8 years on the Council we have only canceled one meeting due to weather,” he said.

Kozlowski said the staff has several reference points when making the decision to close Village Hall. “We look at the National Weather Service and DuPage County Office of Emergency Management recommendations when it comes to canceling meetings. If they are suggesting that people stay off the roads, then that would be a reason for us to cancel a meeting.”

The village is prepared for all potential problems caused by the storm, he added. “If conditions become dangerous, the village has contingency plans in place in the event that emergency shelters are needed.”

Districts 58 and 99 make the decision to close schools due to weather conditions early in the morning, based on a number of factors which include not only facility conditions but the ability of the buses to safely transport students to and from schools. Both districts utilize a phone system to notify parents of any school closings. School closing information is also immediately posted on their respective websites.

According to Jewel spokeswoman Karen May, area stores haven’t experienced any major runs on food or supplies. “Our stores are stocked and ready to go. They’re prepared in case shoppers need to get anything.” Shoppers don’t need to worry about the stores closing early, she said, adding, “We’re like the post office. We stay open for our customers.”

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Lost in the rhetoric and teeth-gnashing of last week’s vote to increase state taxes is the role that local government plays in attracting and retaining businesses. Economic development programs to entice businesses are the norm for most counties, but a few cities have taken matters into their own hands and have formed economic development corporations (EDC) of their own.

The two municipalities- Downers Grove and Naperville- in DuPage county with public-private EDCs are among the most successful at attracting new businesses in the region.  In The Business Ledger’s ranking of top 10 business stories in 2010, Downers Grove successes in economic development earned it two separate spots on the list.

According to Greg Bedalov, president of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation, “The ability to remove obstacles and streamline processes have been a tremendous advantage for Downers Grove.” As an example, he pointed to the EDC’s role in facilitating the swift (six months from concept to completion) construction of an additional lane on 31st street to meet the expanding needs of businesses in an adjacent office park.

Bedalov is proud of the EDC’s accomplishments. “We run through walls to get things done,” he says. “Businesses want to know they’re in partnership with local municipalities and we focus on that.”

Part of the “tools in the toolkit” of any economic development program- whether county or municipal- are the incentive programs the state offers to businesses. In the competition for businesses, states offer a variety of services which are designed to “help Illinois businesses thrive in today’s economy.” according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

One of the popular state programs offered to businesses is the EDGE tax credit program. A business can receive this tax incentive when making a substantial development in Illinois, vis a vis job attraction or retention. The EDGE program gives businesses a credit against their tax liability. This credit is based upon income taxes their employees pay to the state of Illinois.

EDGE agreements already signed with the state of Illinois would be based on the previous individual tax rate of 3%. During the inauguration festivities in Springfield last week, Bedalov spent much of his time speaking to legislators about this program. “It’s a major issue,” he said. “Will businesses with EDGE agreements have their corporate tax credit increased to the new 5% rate? With the corporate tax increase up to 7%, it could make a big difference for our businesses.”

While EDCs are talking to legislators to keep their municipalities and counties competitive in today’s economic climate, DCEO is “still internally analyzing the impact of the new tax rate on the EDGE program.” said spokeswoman Marcelyn Love.

In the midst of the uncertainty, Bedalov says the EDC will be sticking to the tried and true of business retention: nuturing the relationships between the village of Downers Grove and local businesses. “For the next six months, we’ll be focused on retention and making sure we have good customer service. It comes down to old-fashioned blocking and tackling and we’re really good at that.”

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Senator Dan Cronin has announced the selection of Downers Grove Mayor Ron Sandack to fill the remainder of Cronin’s term, which runs until January 2013.

“Mayor Sandack will contribute a local perspective and new ideas that are needed to deal with the tough issues our state will confront over  the next few years,” Cronin said. “He’s been a vocal advocate for pension reform, fiscal accountability and economic development. His experience and leadership  will be beneficial  as  Illinois  attempts to rebuild its fiscal footing and stimulate our economy to produce new job opportunities.”

Cronin won election this November as DuPage County Board Chairman, and will be sworn in on December 6. Cronin’s resignation from the Illinois Senate is effective November 30. His election as County Board Chair left a vacuum which had several local politicians, including state Representatives Sandy Pihos and Chris Nybo, angling for the job.

“I’m truly honored to have the chance to serve in the Illinois Senate and am grateful for this opportunity,” Sandack said. “I realize the challenges before us are formidable, however, I know firsthand the strength of our communities and the desire to for a fresh start in Illinois. I will work hard each day to address the state’s fiscal crisis and create a better business environment that will get our state back to work.”

“I look forward to partnering with Ron Sandack and other Republican leaders to bring about the necessary reforms we desperately need in Illinois,” Cronin said. “We all realize that heavy lifting is  required  and I feel confident that people like Ron Sandack will work in the best interest of Illinois taxpayers to regain the trust and fiscal future of our state.”

Sandack told the Chronicle he wanted to be able to fill out the remainder of his term as mayor, noting that mayors from Buffalo Grove and Tinley Park had done the same in similar circumstances. “I’m not vacating anything, not right away. I’m going to do what’s best for Downers Grove. I’m not running for reelection as mayor, but I would like to fill out the remainder of my term.”

When asked how he would juggle both positions, Sandack laughed. “I’m going to sleep less, drive more, and be busier than I’ve been. These kinds of opportunities are rare, and I think I have something to give.”

Village Commissioner Geoff Neustadt, who is considering running for Mayor to fill Sandack’s now open office, offered his congratulations to Sandack on his appointment. “I’m very excited that Ron was tapped for the senate. He’s been a great leader for us here in Downers Grove and he’ll be a great leader for all of the 21st senate district. I’m sure he’ll keep Downers Grove close to his heart when he’s down in Springfield.”

Commissioner Bob Barnett, who managed Sandack’s 2007 campaign for mayor, told the Chronicle “Ron has demonstrated leadership in difficult times in Downers Grove, not unlike those currently facing the state. I have confidence in his ability to lead in Springfield as well. I’m looking forward to working with both he and Cronin on issues that are important to Downers Grove.”

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What happens when a sitting state senator with two years left in his term wins election to another office?

A: Survivor of the (Political) Fittest.

In DuPage County, where Senator Dan Cronin was recently elected to DuPage County Board Chairman, it’s become a pickle of a political mess. Cronin has until December to take his seat as chairman and has 30 days after that to choose his own successor in the senate. Cronin gets to choose his own successor- with nominal consultation- because it is a partisan seat and he is chair of the DuPage County Republicans.

That’s not all Senator Cronin will be choosing.

With State Senator Randy Hultgren’s election as US Representative, and DuPage State’s Attorney Joe Birkett’s appointment to the appellate court, Cronin will have the responsibility of filling those vacancies as well.

Sandra Pihos and Chris Nybo, both of whom are Republicans and who both won elections last week in their respective districts to the state legislature, have expressed interest in filling Cronin’s seat. If Cronin chooses either one of them, he’ll have the responsibility of filling that vacated seat as well. Constituents in both of their districts have been grumbling about electing someone who immediately pursued appointment to another political office.

Downers Grove Mayor Ron Sandack has expressed interest in Cronin’s seat as well. Sandack, locally popular and well-respected for his common sense fiscal conservatism, has long been considered to be the front runner in replacing Cronin. However, Sandack is rumored to be hindered by the opposition of Republican township chairs in DuPage County, who fear Sandack’s vocal opposition to township government.

The chair of the Downers Grove Township Republican organization is Brian Krajewski, who was recently elected to the DuPage County Board for District 3. There’s no love lost between Sandack and Krajewski, whom Sandack beat 2-1 in the Downers Grove mayoral election just under 4 years ago.

But wait, there’s more.

Cronin is facing the reorganization of the disastrous mess of the DuPage Water Commission, which has lost money- literally- and has faced a series of scandals in recent months.

By all accounts, Cronin is a guy who doesn’t like confrontation and prefers to keep a steady state. It’s hard to see how he’s going to manage that in the current political stew his very election has created.

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After years of planning, the Belmont underpass in Downers Grove is finally moving forward towards completion.  The project was sparked by the longstanding need to address the high occurrence of accidents at the intersection of the railway tracks and Belmont, as well as delays in emergency response times and traffic flow through the Village of Downers Grove.  Despite the obvious desirability of an underpass at the intersection, it wasn’t until October 2002 that all affected interests were able to agree to a partnership and commit to building the underpass.

Since then the project has steadily, albeit at times slowly, progressed towards construction.  Last fall, construction of the new public commuter parking lots and a temporary bypass road was completed.  In late June, Belmont will be closed for two weeks while Metra engineers move the signals and railroad gates to the bypass road.  After completion of this phase of the project, construction can begin in earnest on what has been referred to as ‘the big dig’.  Nan Newlon, Director of Public Works for the Village of Downers Grove told the Chronicle, “The fact that it is all coming together, in this time frame, when there are issues with funding and the economy, is a positive.”

Conceptual Rendering of the Belmont Underpass in Downers Grove. Picture courtesy Village of Downers Grove.

When finished, the underpass on Belmont will begin 100 feet south of Hitchcock Road on Belmont and return to grade approximately 100 feet north of Haddow Avenue.  To accomplish this, construction crews will excavate Belmont and reconfigure the road to pass under the railroad tracks and Burlington Avenue, providing for a 15 foot clearance.  The railroad tracks will remain in their current location.  During excavation and construction of the underpass, vehicular traffic at Belmont will be rerouted to the bypass road, and commuter service will not be disrupted.

Additional construction work includes the construction of bridges for the railroad tracks and Warren/Burlington Avenue, boarding platforms for Metra commuters and access ramps to the Belmont underpass.  Except for the two week closure this summer, Belmont is expected to remain open during the entire construction process

Part of the planning process has included the difficult scheduling of both Metra and BNSF trains, as the Burlington will be reduced to two tracks instead of the current three while the underpass is under construction.  Managing the project schedule includes working with Burlington and Metra in determining when the peak times of traffic occur.  “We must continually assess windows of opportunity,” Newlon said.

Lorig Construction, which was awarded the construction bid, recently proposed modifications to the project which should reduce both the time and cost of the project, Newlon told the Chronicle.  Although originally projected to have two lanes completed by 2011 and four lanes by 2012, the changes might allow for four lanes to be opened by late 2011.

The project in its entirety is slated to be completed by June of 2013.

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The DuPage Water Commission was first formed in the battle to get Lake Michigan water to DuPage municipalities, and its responsibilities would continue to grow until 1992, when it assumed all responsibility for purchasing and redistributing water to municipalities and providing for the construction and maintenance of the water supply system.

Governed by a Chairman and 6 Commissioners appointed by the County Board Chairman, and 6 Commissioners selected by the municipal mayors, the Water Commission is a separate entity from the County Board.  “It’s a unique form of government with no accountability.” Commissioner Liz Chaplin told the Chronicle.

It is that very lack of accountability that, by all accounts, has led to repeated financial blunders at the Water Commission.   First appearing to have 19 million dollars missing from its accounts, a recent forensic audit of the books by Jenner & Block determined that accounting errors were to blame for the inaccuracy of the financial reports, but the audit also scathingly blames a culture of mismanagement and a lack of oversight by the commissioners.

It wasn’t the first time the DuPage Water Commission has been in turmoil over the size of its bank accounts.   In 2003 the DuPage County Board got permission to raid the Water Commission for $75 million.  In 2007, with the reserves growing again, the Commission rebated $40 million to its municipalities and reduced the water rates.  That, coupled with the accounting errors, an increase in the water rate by Chicago, and the plummeting revenues from the quarter of a penny sales tax the Commission gets, forced the Commission to borrow $30 million at the end of 2009  to pay for previously approved capital improvements.  In April the Commission will vote to increase water rates to the municipalities by over 20%.

The forensic audit did spare some praise for two of the appointed commissioners, singling out Commissioners Liz Chaplin and Allan Poole for their role in uncovering the financial reports irregularities.  Emails between Chaplin and former financial administrator Max Richter show an increasingly frustrated Chaplin repeatedly requesting answers to her concerns about the Commission’s reliance on the sales tax to subsidize its operations.   Eventually, says Chaplin, “I had to go to the Attorney General to get information from the administration, because the management wasn’t forthcoming.”

Along with Max Richter, General Manager Bob Martin and Treasurer Richard Thorn are no longer employed by the Commission, with Martin’s duties currently being handled by Terry McGee.  Concerns about the Commission have led State Sen. Dan Cronin- who is running for DuPage County Board Chairman- to introduce legislation in the state senate that would fold operations into the DuPage County Board, a move that has some mayors crying foul.

Downers Grove Mayor Ron Sandack sees it differently.  “It’s hard for me to believe we could do anything worse if it goes to the county, and at least there we have elected officials who are accountable to the public. Experience shows us this experiment failed.”

Commissioner Liz Chaplin concurs.  “I think the Water Commission should be a department of DuPage County, but if it doesn’t get taken over by the county, it should become an elected, not appointed, board.  I think it’s a huge conflict of interest for mayors to sit on the board, because they’re voting on their own rebates and reductions. If nothing happens it would be very unfortunate.  As the saying goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.'”

Chaplin would also like to see an abatement of the sales tax currently collected by the Water Commission. “If the commission goes to the county, they should use the sales tax to retire the (current Water Commission) bonds and then abate it.  When there are millions of dollars lying around, it often leads to a misuse of funds. That’s the customer’s money, and they should get it back.”

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