Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett led off his president’s report at the recent Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on an issue that continues to bother him: a lack of Metra train service in the southwest suburbs.
“We have not had an area representative from Metra at our meetings in a long time,” Bennett said at the mayor’s conference on March 28 at the Evergreen Park Village Hall. “We are tired of being a poor stepchild for ridership. We have upgraded and improved seven stations in the southwest suburbs and we have less service than ever.”
Vicky Smith, the executive director for the Southwest Conference of Mayors, assured Bennett that Metra officials will be notified and will be encouraged to attend a future meeting.
Other local mayors were in agreement and believe service should be improved. But Bennett was the most vocal on the subject. He provided an example of his ongoing frustration with Metra.
“We wanted and requested more train service for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that was being held downtown,” Bennett said. “But we received no extra train service – no more trains. All these train stations have been built in the southwest suburbs and we have no additional train service. Yet, you see plenty of service provided up north and in the western suburbs,”
Bennet dismisses the argument that some Metra representatives provide, stating that southwest suburban residents are not using the train service.
“If we build it, they will come,” Bennett responded. “Residents will take the train if more service is offered. But when it is inconvenient and when it is not offered on weekends, then residents have no choice but to look elsewhere. It just isn’t fair.”
Bennett would like to see Metra representatives attend a meeting sooner than later to address the situation.
Jim Garrett, president of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the mayors he had concerns about recent changes to the Cook County Incentive Program. But he is specifically points to a proposal about the Prevailing Wage Tax Incentive Amendment, which requires prevailing wages be paid to contractors that work on a project whose business receives a tax incentive and requires installation of apprenticeship programs.
“It also places an unfunded mandate on municipalities to collect and hold certified payrolls for all workers associated with any new construction or repair projects,” Garrett said. “As you are aware, communities are already being asked to do more with less and this requirement is another unfunded mandate that adds to that burden.”
Garrett is concerned about the rise in rates for building hotels in the south suburbs.
“It will have a major effect on the poorer communities,” Garrett said. “It could be devastating.”
In other news, Smith reminded mayors and audience members of the important work that the PLOWS Council on Aging provides residents over the age of 60 who have physical ailments or might be psychologically impaired. PLOWS stands for the four townships the program covers – Palos, Lemont, Orland and Worth.
“PLOWS can help seniors with medical issues but quite a few other things,” Smith said. “Some reps help make lunch for some of these people or help do laundry.”
Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz asked if PLOWS could look into situations in which seniors are charged exorbitant rates for home construction projects. Wasowicz said in many cases these seniors are taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. He mentioned one instance in which an elderly couple was charged $43,000 for minor repairs.
Smith said she would pass that information along to PLOWS, which can be reached at their Palos Heights office at (708) 361-0219.
Bennett said that in terms of legislative activity in Springfield, a lot of bills are being considered.
“They (legislators) are nit-picking about local issues,” Bennett said. “They are looking into mandates and have packed the agenda with a lot of bills there. That usually helps them but hurts local government.”