I was driving home this morning – and saw a sight that may very well be the saddest sight I’ve seen in a long time – and believe me, that is saying something. Driving home from my daughter’s school (none of us are immune to our kids forgetting their homework …) I came upon a sheriff’s car parked on the street, along with about 1/2 dozen other cars in front of a house. At first, I thought – what is a sheriff doing in our town – and then I saw a family moving all their belongings into the front yard and trying to pack it into cars. Couches, beds, everything – I realized these folks were being forcibly ejected from what they’ve called their home, and as much as we would all probably like to believe that everything will work out in the end – the fact is that it’s one of the coldest days of the year, and it was a sheriff removing them. To me, that means they didn’t have a plan on what to do or where to go. The whole scene, although I only witnessed it as I was driving by, gave me a sense of sadness and somewhat anger. Our government has bailed out countless banks and brokers, and yet here in our little town those of us who are struggling the most are still being removed from their homes by a sheriff. It’s pretty clear that our government doesn’t want to or can’t help the citizens in the most need, so, who could? I would like everyone who is reading this to take a moment and remember that the next time you take your garbage down to the end of the street, 2.8 MILLION dollars is what our village pays for garbage collection for the residents (I know, we pay a portion of our water and sewer bill towards that – about $700,000.00 so it’s 2.1 million of taxpayer dollars). How many struggling families could we as a community help stay in their home with 2.1 Million dollars? Would you pay for your own garbage collection if you knew it meant that you wouldn’t have to witness the sheriff pulling up in front of your neighbor’s house or knowing that you helped to save a family from that fate? How many houses could we save from being abandoned and becoming a blight on our community?
Often times we get far too wrapped up in things that we narrow down on issues so far, that we forget to take the big picture into account. I think we also tend to want to make things look better than they are – and such is also true with the focus that our village seems to have taken. The Trustees have put in motion some arguably great projects – upgrading the park and having movie nights and events, trying to spruce up the town, etc. However, it’s too easy to get drawn into a narrowed view of the world around us – debating a bee farm, debating what to do in the event marijuana is legalized in Illinois – things that I don’t think really effect us all, and could certainly wait until our town’s growth is well on the way up. Our town has started to get into advanced issues to make our town a better place, all the while ignoring the basics that can be far more damaging to a town’s ability to attract residents and businesses alike.
So I would argue that it’s time for our Trustees to get Back to Basics and start to revive the community with programs and services that affect our daily lives.
First, and I think I’ve said this before, the point of being in a town is to have better services for cheaper. If the public safety services and public works aren’t at a level that is proper for the town you are living in – then there’s no point of being in that town. Living in an unincorporated area of the county – you are responsible for everything yourself: The police response isn’t very quick, the fire response varies widely depending on your fire district tax, you have well water and a septic system, you pay for your garbage (well, you pay for your garbage in nearly every other village in northern Illinois now anyway), you pay for someone to plow your roads – essentially, you are responsible for arranging and paying for all the services you receive. If you live in a town, you are supposed to get all the above services that are far superior, arranged for you AND at a cheaper cost to each homeowner/business owner. If your town is delivering sub-par services, then essentially you are getting what you would have if you didn’t live in a village, except you are ALSO paying for administration that you wouldn’t have to if you weren’t in a village. A reduced police response capability, reduced public works department and reduced fire department response capability, with increases in property tax and our water and sewer bill, are precisely contrary to the point of living in a town. While the Village is saying “We are doing MORE with LESS”, in actuality, we are now PAYING MORE FOR LESS! It is time for our village to start enacting policies that are responsible and responsive to the residents of our town.
It’s our responsibility to remind our Trustees, whom we elected, that providing for Public Safety and Public Works is the number one priority, because without these – we aren’t getting what we are paying for and the real reason why living in a town is better than in a county controlled area. I also wonder how much support there would be in this town to use the funds for garbage collection to go into a fund to assist struggling homeowners retain their home in the event they experience financial difficulties and need a few months assistance…
We also must have policies in place that promote business. Now, some may disagree with my position on this – but I don’t believe the sales tax being raised is going to hurt our businesses. We are a unique town, and I believe (although I have no data to back up this supposition) that for the most part our businesses in town are most often frequented by our own residents, and more than likely the sales tax increase won’t hurt the businesses in a measurable way. Reducing the Motor Fuel Tax (to entice all those travelers through our town to stop and spend money) and eliminating the Vehicle Stickers was a great step in the right direction in my view.
Making our town more beautiful doesn’t make it a better place to move a business into. A large part of that is the costs of doing business in the village – and that includes permits and fees. Just as the board had the foresight to trade/transfer some revenue sources, reducing the permit fees and eliminating the occupancy permit/fees (except for new construction) would go a long way to making it cheaper to rent/lease/buy/own and build in our town for businesses in general. The more businesses move in, the higher the income we get from sales taxes. Offering services which other towns don’t ALSO would go along way to increasing the attractiveness of our town. Dedicating part of the village’s website to free advertising for any businesses in town, providing for “networking” events for business-to-business – perhaps a monthly “donuts and coffee” at village hall where business leaders and owners could be interact with Village Officials, maintaining a listing of all open spaces, and having a marketing person on staff whose job was to bring in interesting businesses and hook them up with landlords – these could provide a far more rapid growth in the village than what we have. While enforcement of ordinances and rules is a good thing – when we rely too much on that as revenue, we lose sight on the bigger picture – that the village revenues could be significantly higher if all the vacant store fronts were filled with sales tax generating stores.
Finally, in this season of holidays, I hope I can safely say that most of us just want to believe in our Trustees and trust them. To that end, given the amount of public statements coming out in the paper and on the Village Website recently, I have submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for documentation supporting the Village’s (and Manager’s) official statements. I figure if I post my supporting documentation for the things I’ve said, the least we as citizens should expect are the documents behind our trusted leader’s statements. After all – TRUST, but VERIFY!
Now is the time to express to our elected representatives what we expect from them and the level of services that we expect to get. It’s time to take action, and be proactive. I would hope that others feel it’s time to start taking some measure of personal responsibility for our own community. The next elections will be here faster than it seems now, so, take a look at the petitions posted on the site, and contact us if you have any questions or would like to help. Thank you all for reading, and as always, feel free to comment!