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Orland Park may sue state over shutdown

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The Orland Park Village Board met Monday night for the first time in person since statewide stay-at-home orders went into effect in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In accordance with social distancing practices, the trustees, Mayor Keith Pekau and Village Clerk John Mehalek sat far apart. Village staff sat at separate tables around the board room, rather than together, taking up most of the seating space in the room. (Photo by Dermot Connolly)

 

By Dermot Connolly

The Orland Park Village Board approved a controversial resolution 6-1 Monday night urging the General Assembly to make changes to Gov. JB Pritzker’s five-step Restore Illinois plan that would allow many Orland Park businesses to reopen as soon as next week.

Supporters of the measure argued that the extended shutdown was no longer necessary, and was too costly to business owners, employees and the village.

One indication that board members were serious about getting business back to normal was that they met in Village Hall instead of online for the first time since mid-March, when the state stay-at-home order went into effect. The seating of village officials was spread out around the board room to maintain social distancing.

Before discussing the resolution, the board also unanimously approved an ordinance allowing restaurants, when they do reopen, to receive 90-day permits for outdoor seating in their unused parking lot space.

Mayor Keith Pekau credited communications director Nabeha Zegar for coming up with the idea, which is designed to help restaurants unable to seat as many people inside due to social distancing.

One of the contentions included in the resolution was that since March, Pritzker has been making decisions about keeping the state economy shut down without any input from local legislators, who were to be receiving copies of the resolution with a letter from the village this week.

If action is not taken by the General Assembly, due to reconvene this week, the resolution states that legal action against the state will be considered.

Pekau said the board would wait to see what happens in Springfield during the remainder of this month, and whether Pritzker extends the stay-at-home orders due to expire May 30.

“At our next meeting scheduled for June 1, we will discuss what our options are,” he said.

The village has already drawn up its own plan for reopening, which is available on the village website at orlandpark.org.

“It is not that different from the state’s in many areas,” said Pekau.

He pointed out that 49 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois have occurred in nursing homes, which account for all 10 virus-related deaths in Orland Park. He believes the state should be focusing more attention on that vulnerable population.

Trustee Dan Calandriello cast the only vote against the resolution, after trying unsuccessfully to get the wording changed or stricken in several sections.

He maintained that it was wrong to say state lawmakers were not working since March, even though they weren’t in Springfield.

He also argued against threatening legal action, and suggested the federal government shared the blame for not providing enough personal protection equipment, while the resolution only cites the Illinois Department of Public Health for “not being prepared for a pandemic.”

“This resolution is just starting a non-productive fight with the governor,” said Calandriello.

Most of the 30 comments submitted by members of the public regarding the measure and read aloud at the meeting were against it. These included 12 of the 13 people who identified themselves as Orland Park residents.

Opponents also conducted a caravan of cars through the parking lot before the meeting.

But a supporter of the resolution, Oak Lawn resident Rich Meskauskas, also got honks of support from some passing motorists as he stood at the entrance to the village hall property carrying a sign and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

“I wish my own village did this,” said Meskauskas, who works in Orland Park.

Village Finance Director Annmarie Mampe gave a presentation showing Orland Park has already met all the mandated state requirements for opening, and the economic effect the closure has had on the village.

Based on estimates from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the village of Orland Park is expected to lose $2.6 million in sales tax and $412,000 in income tax in this budget year. Other revenue losses exceed $1.5 million. These include $400,000 in lost gaming taxes, and a 15 percent decrease in motor fuel taxes.

Mampe said the village was expected to see at least a 10 percent drop in retail sales tax, which would be worse than the 8.7 percent decline in 2009. That was the worst decline since 1988.

The village is making budget adjustments to ensure that the tax levy will not go up next year.

Board members who voted for the resolution took issue with the commenters claiming that they were thinking more about revenue than the health and safety of residents.

“I have always put the health and safety of residents in front of anything else as long as I have been on the board,” said Trustee Kathy Fenton, who was participating from home.

Trustee Jim Dodge addressed the commenters who said science should be followed. “We emphatically agree on that. There is a lot of information out there (about pandemics). We will all get through this.”

“We have accomplished a lot of good things here,” said Trustee Michael Milani. “But without taking a proactive approach, without an economy that is flourishing, we can only do so much. I look forward to returning to normal, whatever that will look like.”

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