Oak Lawn mayor set to fix town's 'leaky bucket'

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Page-12-jump-buryPerhaps the most significant part of Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury’s State of Village address on Tuesday came toward the end.


“We’ve got it all right here,” Bury said Tuesday afternoon during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Oak Lawn Hilton. “We’ve got the whole bucket. Here’s the problem: it’s a leaky bucket.”


After her formal remarks, Bury explained that the leaky bucket was analogous for the amount of money residents spend outside of the village.


Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton is fond of telling residents to “keep the green in Evergreen” while Bury likes to repeat the mantra: “Shop Oak Lawn.”


The message, which can be found on this year’s village vehicle stickers, should be taken to heart, Bury said.


Most goods and services can be purchased in Oak Lawn, but too often she hears of people traveling to Orland Park to purchase a car or to the mall in neighboring Chicago Ridge for a variety of items.


She said residents could make a difference by spending $50 from time to time in three or four Oak Lawn businesses.


“That would drive other businesses,” said Bury, who also encouraged residents to talk up the village’s business community.


The addition of Mariano’s brings an upscale grocery to the village. The store serves as the anchor to Stony Creek Promenade, which also features restaurants and retail stores.


Development has not been limited to the Promenade, as banks, medical offices and other retail shops have sprung up around town. The challenge now, Bury said, is to encourage residents to patronize the businesses.


The bulk of the remarks in Bury’s second State of the Village address focused on finances, services and development.


“It’s an honor and a privilege to stand here and represent the village of Oak Lawn,” Bury said to the crowd of Chamber members and representatives from various village taxing bodies and organizations.


Bury pointed out that the village represents only 10.6 percent of a homeowner’s property tax bill, or about $435 annually for the average homeowner.


“I think we’re getting a great value for your $36.35 (a month), the mayor said.


Approximately half of the revenue in the village’s $54 million comes from property and sales taxes, Bury said.


The goal is to increase sales tax revenue (currently $14 million) in order to keep the property tax levy down, she said.


The most significant financial dilemma facing the village, Bury said, is the ongoing difficultly funding pensions—a problem that can no longer be delayed.


“This is the thing that keeps me up at night,” Bury said, adding that an additional $5 million budget cut will be required in the 2015 spending plan to help fund mandates.


Other points made in Bury’s speech included:


  • The fire department responded to 8,188 in 2014, and the vast majority were for ambulances;

  • The police department responded 58,140 calls in 2014, and the department’s budget is up 19 percent since 2012;

  • The 911 emergency dispatch center—perhaps the largest bone of contention between Bury and her political opponents—answered 95 percent of its calls last year in less than 10 seconds;

  • The village removed 164 ash trees in 2014, significantly less than the 248 removed in 2013. Only 300 of the original 2,000 ash trees in Oak Lawn remain. “It’s really devastating and terrible,” Bury said of the emerald ash borer responsible for destroying the ash trees.

  • The village has replaced the ash tress by planting 242 trees from 58 species along residential streets.

    Bury said the plan to move the village’s senior center into the VFW Hall is ongoing.

    The plan calls for the village to build a small addition on the west end of the hall, 9514 S. 52nd St., which could be both by seniors and VFW members.

    The plan still requires the approval of the VFW’s approval.

    “It’s not a done deal,” Bury said.

    There are approximately 750 visits to the senior center each month, mostly by seniors seeking exercise, Bury said.

    Bury also outlined the ways in which the village has improved communications an outreach with residents by redesigning its web page and posting information to Facebook and YouTube. A new telephone system is expected to be installed at village hall by April, she said.