Southwest suburban residents weathered through a series of storms that blew through 2015. But while the year featured plenty of chaos and friction, there were some highlights that showed the better side of the human spirit
The year was dominated by the impasse in Springfield that has not resulted in a budget. And as we enter 2016, there are no discussions or a sense of urgency to end this stalemate.
- The budget (or lack of)
This is the number one story of the year because the grudge match between the new Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) has so many ramifications. The new governor essentially wants reform but will not discuss higher taxes or other proposals unless until unions lessen their grip on the workforce.
Critics state that he wants to diminish the powers of unions to bring down salaries. Madigan continues his constant phrase during the fall that Rauner is “too extreme.” So, that’s where the budget talks stand entering a new year.
- Mayors strike back
While the budget impasse entered a fourth month, the Southwest Conference of Mayors said they had enough. During a meeting in October at the Lemont Village Hall, the mayors voted in unison against Rauner’s proposal to provide low-interest loans to municipalities for the motor fuel tax, 911 funds and video gaming revenue. Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said these funds have nothing to do with the budget and should be provided to municipalities in the state.
The vote seemed to create a chain reaction in which a variety of organizations spoke out about the governor’s proposal. Bennett said it was like going to the bank to take out money and then informed that you had to pay a fee to do it. The mayors also rejected Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s call for a hotel tax. Both Rauner and Preckwinkle quickly took those proposals off the table.
- End of The Plaza
While it became official in June, the end of The Plaza was a bittersweet episode for southwest suburban and Chicago residents who grew up with the iconic mall. The Evergreen Plaza, as it was once known, was erected in 1952 with great success and later in the 1960s became the first indoor mall. While the structure had become outdated, Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who made the first dent in the demolition proceedings with a sledgehammer on the old Montgomery Ward’s building, said it was a sad day before a large crowd who came to watch. The Plaza will make way for the Marketplace, which will have notable retail shops and a variety of businesses to replace The Plaza at 95th and Western.
- Methodist churches unite
Much like The Plaza, membership had been dwindling at Worth United Methodist Church, 7100 W. 111th St. A decision was made in in May to unite the congregations of Worth United Methodist and Palos United Methodist Church, 12101 S. Harlem Ave., Palos Heights. The new congregation is at the Palos Heights church.
- Medicinal marijuana in Worth
After a year of meeting to alleviate fears and misconceptions residents had, the Worth Village Board approved a medicinal dispensary to officially open sometime in January. While there was originally some anger over the idea, a large crowd attended a town hall meeting in September. Residents asked a variety of questions but most of the comments were favorable. Worth Mayor Mary Werner said the paperwork has been approved and the renovation of the facility at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. is currently taking place.
The marijuana is designed to alleviate pain from patients who have a variety of ailments. Illinois law has 39 conditions and diseases that already qualify for medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s signature. Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis already qualifies.
- Survives earthquake
Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani, 34, somehow managed to survive a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the mountains of the Himalayas. The earthquake caused massive damage and fatalities when it hit and appeared to be little hope that Ascolani would be found alive. Ascolani, a graduate of Stagg High School, had been living in Barcelona and teaching English when he went on the hiking trip to the HImalayas with 26 other people. Helicopters managed to find Ascolani and others five days later after receiving faint messages from cellphones.
- Firehouse reopens
The Chicago Ridge Village Board and the fire department settled some differences after a tense period and agreed to add part-time firefighters to the staff. The positive negotiations resulted in a critical step for Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who wanted to reopen the firehouse at 107th and Lombard. A ribbon-cutting took place on March 21.
- Hospital expands
While this was expected, expansion plans for Advocate Christ Medical Center, 4440 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, and related support facilities were approved by the Illinois Health Facilities Service Board last January. The $85 million expansion will provide a boost in adult and pediatric emergency stations from 42 to 70.
- Gift of life
In one of many positive stories this year, Bobby Sianis, 15, a student at Stagg High School, was attending his grandmother’s wake when his father, George Sianis, suddenly fell to the ground. Bobby kept his cool and coached his mother to tilt George’s head back and to blow air into his lungs. George survived his ordeal due to Bobby’s actions. Bobby later received the Citizens Hero Award from the Roberts Park Fire Department.
10) Ride of devotion
Marist teacher Owen Glennon took a cross country trek on his bike from upper state New York to the high school this past summer to raise money for Marist. Glennon was honored at Marist when he rode up to the school at 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago. Glennon said he did it because he loves the school and wanted to give something back.