By Joe Boyle
With a full council in attendance, Palos Hills officially approved a three-percent tax on the possible sale of marijuana in the city, but the finally tally was reached after some heated discussion.
Ald. Joe Marrotta (4 th) brought it up for a vote during the City Council meeting last Thursday night. The vote was a 5-5 tie but Mayor Gerald Bennett voted yes to break the tiebreaker that resulted in the passage of the ordinance. The mayor was displeased with Ald. A.J. Pasek (3 rd), who opposed it after supporting it when the ordinance was drawn up at a meeting last month. Pasek said he was persuaded by a resident who voiced her complaints about marijuana being sold in the city.
Pasek was referring to a woman who complained about the sale of marijuana in Palos Hills during last Thursday’s session, stating that no amount of money is worth it. She made her comments during the public forum session of the meeting.
“If other suburbs want it, so be it,” the resident said. “We’re better than that.”
Along with Pasek, Aldermen Martin Kleefisch (1 st), Mark Brachman (2 nd), Pauline Stratton (2 nd) and Mike Lebarre (3 rd) were opposed to the ordinance. Aldermen Mike Price (1 st), Marrotta, Ricky Moore (4 th), Dawn Nowak (5 th) and Donna O’Connell (5 th) voted for the measure.
Brachman reiterated the fact that he opposes the sale of marijuana. However, he believes the issue needs to be discussed in a more detailed format.
“This is a very important issue and I think we moved really quickly,” Brachman said. “I think this needs to be discussed during a meeting and this would give the public a chance to comment on it.”
Kleefisch said he was taken by surprise that the vote was taken. He also believed the subject should be discussed during a special meeting focusing solely on the sale of cannabis.
Bennett reiterated what he has said at previous meetings, that the passing of a cannabis tax only means that the municipality has agreed to consider allowing a dispensary or dispensaries to operate in the city with the three-percent tax.
The board would have to consider at a later date if they want to allow dispensaries to operate in the city, Bennett said. The process would begin with a meeting by the planning commission and later a vote by the council, the mayor added. If a dispensary was approved by the city, it could not be located along Roberts Road and Southwest Highway where there are schools, houses of worship, and specific businesses.
Brachman asked where the revenue would go from sales generated from a marijuana dispensary. Brachman suggested that a committee be formed to discuss that matter. At a previous meeting, Pasek suggested that funds accumulated from dispensary sales go to the police department.
Bennett told the board that 70 percent of the city’s budget goes directly to law enforcement. In response to a question by Brachman, aldermen should not have a financial interest in the sale of cannabis.
The planning commission will discuss the matter and seek input from the public during a meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2.
Stratton was concerned that a pension crisis has resulted in the city operating under a debt. The mayor said that is not the case.
“The city pensions are underfunded and we have no control over this,” Bennett said. “The General Assembly, in their wisdom, voted to cap (pension funding) it.”
The mayor said that besides the 70 percent that goes to public safety, a portion has to go into several funds to pay the city’s bills.
“We have never taken a ‘pension holiday,’ which means that (some municipalities) don’t pay into their pensions,” Bennett said. “We have always paid into our pension fund.”
Bennett said the city pays about $1.2 million annually for pensions. The mayor said it would be better if Springfield could agree on consolidating pension funding. If this occurs, an account could be set up for consolidated pension funding that would allow the city to get a better return on their finances, the mayor added.
Bennett thanked Kristin Violante, commissioner of the city’s Resource and Recreation Department, for organizing a trick-or treat party for kids at the Community Center. The event was well received especially in light of the unusual snowfall that occurred on Halloween.
“It wouldn’t have worked it weren’t for people who volunteered to pass out candy,” Violante said. “It was cold out and they didn’t have to come but they did. It was amazing.”
O’Connell, who is the head of the Economic Development Committee, mentioned that Karam Al Sham has submitted all his necessary paper work and was issued a business license to operate a Mediterranean restaurant at 7215-7217 W. 103 rd St.