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Palos Gardens annexation not city’s call: Mayor Straz

 

Unlike the mayor of Crestwood, Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz is under no fixed compulsion to annex Palos Gardens or any other unincorporated residential subdivisions located in between the two suburbs.

Although he is not adverse to the idea, either.

News reported in a local daily newspaper that Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta seeks the annexation into his village of the Palos Gardens and Navajo Gardens sections east of Ridgeland Avenue roughly between 127th and 134th streets has caused “the city to receive many inquiries from residents there” about Palos Heights’ stance on the issue, Straz told the City Council Tuesday night.

“We told them they should ask the village of Crestwood; it’s their officials who are the ones bringing this up,” he said.

Palos Heights’ interests are involved or affected only to the extent that the city delivers and bills for water and sewer services to those areas, he added.

“Twenty years ago they voted it down, a referendum to annex into Palos Heights” before he was elected mayor, Straz said of Palos Gardens voters.

The area is located mostly north and east of Shepard High School. The school itself remains in unincorporated Cook County, having never been annexed into Palos Heights, he later noted after the meeting.

So to the council and anyone watching on Channel 4 on TV, Straz reiterated that residents can stop calling City Hall about the matter because “Palos Heights is not in any way involved.”

It would take approval by homeowners voting in a referendum for any unincorporated area to be annexed, in any case, he told The Regional. “And many of them don’t want it.”

A few years ago, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a policy to encourage the annexation of unincorporated areas into neighboring municipalities to cut costs in the strained county budget of delivering sheriff’s police protection and other services to them.

Palos Heights got a press release, Straz said, but little else in the way of any follow up by Preckwinkle or the County Board to her proposal seeking the removal of unincorporated areas from the Cook County’s jurisdiction. Locally, she made a personal pitch for it when she addressed as guest speaker local municipal leaders, including Straz, and others in attendance at an annual dinner meeting of the Palos Orland Area League of Women Voters held each May at Midlothian Country Club.

Although Straz disavowed any part in this trial balloon for annexation by Crestwood’s mayor in his published interview, he was amenable to give his opinions on the subject after the council meeting.

Straz noted many Palos Gardens or Navajo Gardens residents like it just fine to remain unincorporated. Although they don’t save the costs of purchasing city vehicle stickers – Cook County has its own – they save on real estate taxes levied by a city or village.

Palos Heights would derive no great sale tax benefit from annexation because the areas contain little commercial development beyond the businesses near Straz’s own CNB Bank workplace on the southeast corner of 127th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. And opinion among the owners of the bank’s business neighbors in that retail strip is mixed, he added.

Annexation, however, would boost Palos Heights’ real estate tax revenues and its share of Illinois income tax revenues allotted by the state.

But would it be a strain on city spending for the Palos Heights Police Department to replace the Cook County Sheriff’s Department as the patrol agency to provide police protection to Palos Gardens, Navajo Gardens, or both?

Straz answered not at all; the city and its police would be able to handle it. Left unsaid was that new revenues annexation would generate would more than pay for any additional costs associated with having Palos Heights police serve and protect the Gardens areas.

Crestwood planned a public meeting this week to further discuss Presta’s annexation bid, Straz ended.

So with all the potential benefits for Palos Heights to be derived from winning any annexation war with Crestwood that Straz’s financial analysis on the cuff allowed, why is the city peacefully not pursing it?

Straz can surely afford to be nonplussed and noncommittal on the annexation topic at this time. He and the city are sitting on a comfortable budget surplus, and he and the council have much more immediate fish to fry on the docket for coming agendas of the Palos Heights City Council.

This city has a new Recreation Center approved by voters last November to build, a Harlem Avenue commercial destiny to guide, and while they’re at it plenty of ribbons at Diane’s Place formerly Tastee-Freez – Palos Heights and Palos Place ceremonially to cut.

It is summer and the living is easy in Palos Heights. The city can afford to await events in Palos Gardens and Navajo Gardens. After all, in the long twilight struggle that is not brewing ahead, imagine if you were resident of either area which town you would pick to place your own home within by voting for annexation: Crestwood or Palos Heights? Or neither; remain unincorporated?

To that question, Mayor Bob Straz seems very content — as he did on the vote to modernize the Rec. Center — to let The People decide this one, as well.

And if you have any more questions about any of this, just call Crestwood. It’s their things, not ours.

 

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