Promises Made - Promises Kept
When I ran for Mayor in 2009, I realized that this City lacked the funding to address deficiencies in many areas. There was a lack of attention given to an aging infrastructure of storm sewers and water mains. There were also many deficiencies in road projects that needed to be addressed. In 2009, our Police Department was staffed by 24 full-time officers which was understaffed by 6 officers. I realized that in order to accomplish all of these tasks, a steady source of revenue needed to be found.
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Sales Tax Referendum and Property Tax Rebate Checks
My vision and plan when I ran for Mayor in 2009 was to raise the sales tax by 1% through referendum and use the additional monies to fund these deficiencies. By increasing our sales tax from 7% to 8%, we are still equal to or less than our neighbors. A majority of our sales tax is generated by visitors who show their patronage to many of our local businesses and they assist us in funding many of the needed projects and deficiencies in our city. Since we are a non-home rule community, the increasing of sales tax needed be passed through a referendum. On March 20, 2012, our residents overwhelmingly supported the non-home rule sales tax referendum which has improved the quality of life in the City of Crest Hill. The additional revenue has funded us in the hiring of 6 additional Police Officers, going from 24 in 2009 to 30 in 2016. These additional Police Officers have improved public safety in our community. We have also addressed and funded many storm water projects, road projects, and water main projects alleviating flooding which has been a problem for many years. Also, as a direct result of the passage of the non-home rule sales tax referendum, all property owners began receiving a 25% property tax rebate check on the municipal portion of their property tax bills, in the spring of 2014. Since then, our residents have received a property tax rebate check every year. It was and still is my promise that the property tax rebate check will continue as long as I am Mayor. This steady source of revenue has been a tremendous asset to the Cityís progress well into the future. I would like to now go more in depth in regards to projects that have been completed and look forward to projects that still need to be completed in the future with the use of the additional sales tax revenue.
Hiring of Additional Police Officers
In planning for the future, all department heads were required to develop 5 year plans for better efficiency in our city. The Police Departmentís 5 year plan showed the city was understaffed by 6 officers based on our needs of service. The hiring of additional police officers will secure the public safety and improve services to all of our residents. In 2012, the Chief of Police was directed to begin the hiring process for 2 additional police officers. In 2014, our Police Department transitioned into 12-hour shifts. This successful transition has placed more officers on the street and further improving public safety in our community. In 2016, City Council approved the hiring of three additional police officers which increased our staffing level to 30 officers. Current recommendations say that our Police Department should be staffed with 31 full-time officers. The hiring of the 31st officer will be discussed during our budget discussions for fiscal year 17/18 and is one of my top priorities. This goal could not have been achieved without the steady source of revenue and without the successful passage of the 2012 non-home rule sales tax referendum. It is my intention to continue to look to the future in the hiring of additional police officers as funds are available.
Police Pension Fund
I feel it is fiscally responsible to make sure a steady source of revenue is available in order to adequately fund payrolls, health insurance, and pensions for all of our past, present, and future Police Department employees. Our Police Pension Fund is currently funded at 62%. State law requires Police Pension Funds to be 90% funded by 2040. In 2016, working with our Police Pension Board, our financial consultants, our investment consultants, and our auditors, the City of Crest Hill committed to a plan for a fully funded Police Pension by 2038. This long range vision shows a commitment to our Police Officers which will be accomplished by adding $150,000 to that fund each year for the next 10 years in addition to the required annual amount. This bold move by the City Council shows its commitment to our Police retirees, our current officers and our future hirees.
The city has experienced flooding during heavy rain falls for many years. The city has been proactive over the past 8 years in reducing the amount of infiltration and inflow of rainwater into the sanitary sewer system during heavy rain falls resulting in a cost savings of both electricity and treatment of rainwater at our treatment plants. Robinson Engineering was contracted to conduct a study in regards to our storm water drainage system. As a result of that study, they identified 13 problem areas throughout the city regarding storm sewers. The lack of storm sewers in many of these areas is a major part of the problem. The areas of concern come at a cost of 11.2 million dollars, and as with any project of this magnitude, funding is the most crucial issue. The city has already begun with the use of sales tax revenue to address some of the storm water infrastructure needs throughout the city, including the Burry Court Storm Water Project in 2012, along with a grant that the City secured from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. One of the priorities according to the study was the lack of storm sewers in the Richland area. In 2013, we completed the installation of a 36-inch storm sewer underneath Leness Lane to help eliminate much of the above ground flooding from the surrounding area. In addition, storm sewer was added to Eldorado Avenue in 2014. All of these projects have been assisted in funding by the additional revenues generated from the passage of the non-home rule sales tax referendum.
In 2013, the city completed the reconstruction of Leness Lane and Donmaur Drive to address pavement deterioration caused by the lack of adequate drainage. This project included the installation of new pavement, storm sewers and water main. Many other road projects have been completed in the past 8 years. All of the projects included new roadway pavement, new water main installation and storm sewer installation, including:
- Hickory Street
- Dearborn Street
- Nicholson Street
- Highland Avenue
- Clement Street
- Cowing Lane
- Waverly Court
- Durness Court
- Wilcox Street (Scheduled for Summer of 2017)
In addition, new roadway pavement has been completed for:
- Barthelone Avenue
- Pleasant Drive
- Sycamore Street
- Parkrose Avenue
- Lincoln Avenue
- Lynwood Street (1700 & 1800 blocks)
Also, portions of Theodore Street and Cedarwood Drive were reconstructed along with many minor road improvements throughout the city.
Gaylord Road/Division Street Intersection
Finally, with the recent acquisitions of all easements, the intersection of Gaylord Road and Division Street is scheduled to be improved in the summer of 2017. This 1.5 million dollar improvement at this intersection will include realignment, turning lanes with wider radius, and traffic signalization. This improvement is long overdue, but we have secured 80% Federal funding of this project, meaning that the city will only be responsible for 20% of the cost of this project. Non-home rule sales tax money will assist in the cost of this project. In addition, two new roads in the Crest Hill Business Park along Division Street have recently been completed and dedicated to improve traffic flow and safety, not only to the business park but to the Division Street Corridor. Churnovic Lane is the new north-south road that connects with Division Street from the south and is located about halfway between Advantage Avenue and Enterprise Boulevard. The traffic signal that once existed at Division Street and Enterprise Boulevard has been relocated to Division Street and Churnovic Lane. Enterprise Boulevard now operates as a northbound one-way road for traffic to exit the business park for eastbound traffic only and the old signal at Buckner Pond Way has been removed. Construction on the project started in June 2016 and the cost for the new roads and signal was 1.372 million dollars. The project was funded by a 50% match grant from the Economic Development Program/Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program as well as motor fuel tax and non-home rule sales tax monies. All of the above improvements to the Division Street Corridor will certainly improve traffic flow and safety and will hopefully spur economic development along the Weber Road corridor.