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To Break Ground for Mariano’s

But Budget Woes Brings Heated Debate at Lengthy Oak Lawn Meeting

The news that construction will begin next month for Mariano’s Fresh Markets should have been a ray of optimism during the Tuesday night meeting of the Oak Lawn Village Board.

However, news that the anchor store that has been described as the centerpiece of the Tax Incremental Financing District (TIF) project at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue was tempered by budget recommendations that could result in the loss of village jobs.

During a meeting that lasted nearly four hours and 20 minutes, board members discussed and debated recommendations to lower the village’s debt.

Pat O’Donnell, the new treasurer for the village, provided a pre-budget presentation for board members and residents who attended the meeting.

His preliminary five-year budget and pension plan would include multi-year budgeting while having a more transparent explanation for residents.

In a phrase that was mentioned often during the lengthy meeting, O’Donnell said the village could no longer Òkick the can down the road” in terms of the village’s annual budget, which in large part is due to pension liabilities.

The slide presentation was filled with figures indicating a greater budget deficit during the next five years if adjustments are not made.

O’Donnell suggested a 90-day freeze on hiring and starting new projects. O’Donnell added that would not include current projects.

When discussing options for the future, the subject of pension contributions came up. O’Donnell indicated an antiquated system that dates back to the 1970s is no longer adequate to record future projections in terms of pension contributions.

Taking into account that people are living longer than they were 30 years ago indicate adjustments are needed for the future, according to O’Donnell.

ÒDetroit was once a great city,” said O’Donnell about the Michigan city that recently declared bankruptcy. ÒWhatever way it goes will make a difference everywhere.”

O’Donnell mentioned that adjustments will have to be made for future village pensions, specifically for fire and police.

To prevent the stalemate that is occuring in Springfield over the pension crisis, O’Donnell suggested that the board approve a 2014 budget to include 90 percent of acturial recommended pension payment. While implementing a 90-day freeze on new hires, O’Donnell suggested a 90-day spending freeze on new projects and any new loans.

He also suggested that the board consider a 90-day freeze for all non-union employees.

Board members listened intently to O’Donnell’s presentation. But Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) wondered if all these adjustments are necessary.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen countered that these decisions on pension benefits are decided on in Springfield

ÒIf we are going to rely on Washington or Springfield, it isn’t going to happen,” said Deetjen.

Mayor Sandra Bury interjected at this point, saying that Òif we do nothing, it will snowball.

ÒThis is the big gorilla in the room,” added Bury. ÒWe just can’t ignore it.”

Streit commented on the village’s recent agreement with Advocate Christ Medical Center that will result in $3.2 million for the village.

While admitting that it is a lot of money, Streit said he knew nothing about the deal until he read a newspaper that day.

ÒThere was another way to approach this,” said Streit. ÒWe could have entered into a partnership.”

Under previous Mayor Dave Heilmann, Christ Hospital was not paying any taxes. Streit said a meeting took place with Christ Hospital officials in which an agreement was considered for the hospital to fund future projects.

Deetjen, at the urging of Trustee Mike Carberry (6th), replied that he did not know of any such agreement.

Bury replied that the village wanted the hospital to pay its fair share. The mayor and Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) said this is what residents wanted as well.

The hospital has agreed to pay $167,000 by Jan. 16 and up to $500,000 through 2016, Bury said.

Streit insisted that a partnership was a better method.

ÒOf course the hospital wants to pay its fair share,” said Streit. ÒI think they got off easy.”

Terry Vorderer (4th), who was elected this year, disagreed.

ÒI’m very pleased with the settlement,” he said. ÒIt was an amicable agreement. I give a lot of credit to Tom Duhig (the former 4th District trustee), who led the charge on this. This agreement came about through a lot of hard work.”

Trustee Carol Quinlan (4th) was appreciative of O’Donnell’s slide presentation. However, she is concerned that such extensive details need to be examined in depth.

ÒWe need to have more PowerPoints (on this),” said Quinlan. ÒThis is a lot of information to wrap your brain around.”

A resolution authorizing Deetjen to retain Kathleen Field Orr and Associates as Village TIF Counsel was the subject of a debate.

Deetjen said that Orr and Associates were chosen because of their economic planning expertise with TIF Districts. It was also at a lower cost, he said.

While most of the evening was spent on budget concerns, the meeting began optimistically with the news that Hamilton Partners will begin the first phase of construction in September on Mariano’s.

Hamilton Partners is the the developer of the Stony Creek Promenade project. Deetjen said that the village and Mariano’s will continue to work with Hamilton Partners to secure other successful tenants to the development.

Representatives from Hamilton Partners gave a slide presentation of what the store will look like and possible landscaping plans for the future.

The parking lot will be completely landscaped to include green space before the curbs, a departure from its present 1970s look.

Deetjen said that Olejniczak has worked with the village’s Green Committee to integrate the project with Mariano’s and the nearby Wolfe Wildlife Refuge Center. Bicycle paths may extend to the Cal-Sag.

A big glass rotunda will be a prominent feature of Mariano’s, greeting customers and motorists along Cicero Avenue.

Deejten said that Mariano’s sales average about $15 million per year at their five other locations. The development will result in at least 800 new jobs, according to Deetjen.

With Mariano’s as the anchor, at least five stores have either shown an interest or have contacted Hamilton Partners and the village about becoming a part of the Stony Creek Promenade project.

Mariano’s will be 72,000 square feet when completed.

In other news, James Spoto and James Murphy received awards for Eagle Scout projects. Spoto collected eyeglasses through the help of St. Gerald Parish. Murphy collected clothing.

A request to allow the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn’s ÒFun Fest” was approved. The fun fest will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29 at the museum, 5100 Museum Drive.

Bury reported that the Metra Station on 95th Street will now officially be called the 9/11 Memorial Patriot Station. The effort for the name change was not only to honor the victims of 9/11 but to recognize the efforts of first responders.

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