By Dermot Connolly
The Oak Lawn Village Board voted 4-2 on Tuesday to prohibit marijuana dispensaries from opening in the village when the drug becomes legal for recreational purposes in Illinois on Jan. 1.
The decision was not too surprising after most of the trustees made their intensions known at the last board meeting before a public hearing was held last week to give residents a chance to voice their opinions on the issue.
Even the two trustees who voted against prohibition, Bud Stalker (5 th) and Tim Desmond (1 st), said their only interest in marijuana was the needed revenue it could generate for the village since it will be legal anyway and sold in neighboring communities.
“I would just like you to know that I am opposed to (legalization). It was a tax grab made necessary by a state that was run in a fiscally irresponsible manner,” said Stalker. “But the law will lead to greater law enforcement and accidents.”
The board also approved a separation agreement for former village manager Larry Deetjen, who retired following a hit-and-run incident in October. Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2 nd) voted against the agreement that gives Deetjen three months pay and other benefits.
“I don’t think he should get anything,” said the trustee.
Sources have indicated that Jerry Hurckes, a former Oak Lawn trustee, has expressed an interest in the position of village manager. However, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said that no decision has been made on the position.
The board approved an agreement that allows Police Chief Randy Palmer to continue as interim village manager for a year or more while the search for a permanent replacement is underway.
Bury added that the “chief’s agreement approved tonight allows for a year or more of the present arrangement if indicated.”
The vote on cannabis came just after the board approved a new budget that does not raise property taxes, but Stalker said that could not be guaranteed next year.
“If we are forced to pay more for police and fire personnel, conservative estimates show that a marijuana dispensary could bring in $300,000 a year,” Stalker said. “That would go a long way toward helping Oak Lawn pay for it.”
“We just spoke about how hard it was to balance the budget. The state of Illinois in their infinite wisdom handed this to us in our laps. A new source of revenue if we allow the sale of marijuana. They are legal businesses and there is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t tax it and take that money,” Stalker said.
The board unanimously approved the 2020 budget of $60,066,819 -- up slightly from last year’s budget of $58,599,217. But the 2019 tax levy for the 2020 budget remains the same as last year, at $14,238,535.
Trustee Tom Phelan (6 th) pointed out that this is the seventh consecutive year without a property tax hike.
“We don’t say this to pat ourselves on the back. But it is not the norm,” said Phelan.
He noted that the village is “a full third leaner” since 2000, with 490 employees — down from 686 in 2000.
“At the same time, we paid down our debt from $90 million-ish to $67 million,” said Phelan, while annual retail tax revenue rose to $15 million from the average $13 million.
“I hope people realize that we do our best not to raise our property taxes, but we only account for 12 percent of the bill.” said Desmond.
“We have not cut services either,” said Olejniczak, adding that costs were cut with measures such as LED lighting.
“We are adding $4.1 million toward infrastructure improvements, and paying more of our pension debts,” said finance director Brian Hannigan.
“We are growing the local economy and that is the best path instead of raising property taxes. I think we have enhanced services,” said Bury.
She encouraged residents to spend at least $100 more in Oak Lawn this holiday season, to help make property tax hikes unnecessary.