While admitting that pension payments still has to be reckoned with, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said she is confident in the village’s future and points to increasing revenue sources as a reason for optimism.
Bury mentioned during her “State of the Village” address Tuesday afternoon at the Hilton Oak Lawn that the sale tax had increased in the village.
“Oak Lawn is 19 out of 1,299 Illinois municipalities in Illinois in revenue,” Bury told a crowd of about a 100 who attended the luncheon. “That is something to celebrate.”
The sales tax is up 7.8 percent in Oak Lawn this year and has increased by 12 percent since 2011, said Bury. Business licenses are at record high in the village and the mayor believes that trend will continue.
She mentioned many new businesses that have opened up in the last year, including Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Massage Envy, Meatheads, Mooyah Burgers and Oak Lawn Bank and Trust, to name a few.
She joked that Cooper’s Hawk, which along with Mariano’s serve as anchors for the Stony Creek Promenade at 111th and Cicero Avenue, “did not cut any ribbons for the opening but uncorked a few wine bottles instead.”
But the Oak Lawn mayor said that the pension crisis that affects all municipalities in the state, and is not being dealt with during the current budget impasse in Springfield, has to be addressed.
“We have lowered our pension debt the past couple of years,” said Bury. “But in 2019, we have to double the amount of the funding. It’s very challenging. The way that you do that is to lower the village debt. We have to come up with ways to meet our pension obligations.”
An encouraging sign is that the municipal tax levy has decreased by 5.6 percent. Bury added that the village has lowered property taxes for the third year in a row.
“Lower taxes drive businesses to a community,” said Bury. “High taxes drive businesses away from a community.”
Bury said that all the taxing bodies that serve Oak Lawn should try to keep taxes low. The Oak Lawn mayor added that 72 percent of every dollar from the village is spent on employees. Providing employment is a top priority, the mayor said.
“We don’t want to diminish our services,” said Bury. “We want to enhance services.”
On the issue of crime, Bury stated what Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray had told her. The figures fluctuate over the years. The mayor said crime statistics did spike over the past year but overall have been decreasing since 2011. She pointed to 84 violent crimes reported in 2011 and 82 in 2012. But compare that to 2015, in which 70 cases of violent crime was reported, Bury said.
Bury said that Oak Lawn has more police officers and less firefighters today on the basis of statistics. The 911 dispatch service company Norcomm handled 191,967 calls in 2015, according to Bury.
Bury had high marks for the village’s Public Works Department, which for the 19th straight year has received the “Tree City Designation” for planting and caring for trees. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has made available rain barrels for residents. Bury said that 4,190 residents have received the rain barrels.
Work continues on the Harker Water Plant, which will bring water to 325,000 homes. The project is scheduled to be completed this December. The Reich Plant is 20 percent completed and is scheduled to done in July 2017, said Bury.
The mayor said that the number of part-time employees, which is at 81, is the same amount as it was in 2010. The mayor admitted that full-time jobs have decreased due to budget constraints. But Bury mentioned that Steve Radice, who heads Oak Lawn’s Economic Development department, said that the Stony Creek Promenade TIF District had resulted in 870 new jobs in 2015.
Bury applauded the efforts of Radice, who she said has worked hard to secure jobs for the majority of Oak Lawn residents. Bury also said that the old Pappa Joe’s restaurant location will become a Culver’s this fall.
The Oak Lawn mayor reminds seniors that the village is still looking for new site for the center. Bury did applaud the efforts of Genesis, which provides services and conducts programs for seniors. She said talks continue with the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post about moving senior services there. The mayor also said that Trustee William “Bud “Stalker (5th) is also looking into ideas for a new senior facility.
Bury also hailed the efforts of the Oak Lawn Library, Oak Lawn Park District and Oak Lawn Children’s Museum. The new tower at Advocate Medical Center and the efforts of Advocate’s Children’s Hospital drew raves from the mayor. Bury said the children’s hospital is in the top five percent in cardiovascular surgeries for youths in the U.S and Canada.
“Oak Lawn is doing awesome,” said Bury. “We have a lot of things to be proud of.”