Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Big, Dirty, Open Secret

It's the big, dirty, and open secret in Highland Park that our City Hall has flown under the radar. Yes, the topic has been on agendas. Yes, the City's plan has been published. Yet, you just didn't know to pay attention because it was never presented to you with the most salient information. And, you can’t afford not to know about it, unless, of course, you have a spare $10,000 or more and you're eager to contribute it to the City’s infrastructure.

It's the "Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers" and if you didn't know about it until now, you'd surely find out much later -- and, unfortunately, when it may be too late to right the wrong, when you'll need to write a check, get a loan or have a lien placed against your home by the City of Highland Park. Sadly for some, they may need to sell their homes as a result of being forced out of Highland Park by the Master Plan.

Still, the issue remains under the radar, even though there was a big meeting about it on December 3, 2008, and, again, on December 4, at the Public Works Building, with about 100+ upset residents there. You haven't heard about it in the Highland Park News, dedicated to publishing all news that City Hall provides. Yet, on one day in mid-November, it made a brief appearance in the Chicago Tribune. We send our thanks to Janice McLeran for "raising a stink" about this.

Among those of us who are now in the know, we were introduced to the Master Plan scheme by opening a shocking letter from the City demanding we write a check and make undefined and unnecessary repairs to our lateral sanitary sewers. We're the people in the Highlands, Sunset Park, and Ravinia neighorhoods. Each neighborhood was hit separately at different times. Divide and conquer. You're next...

Yes, the big surprise of the “Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers” is that you get the bill – a direct invoice to your home. That’s right -- we’re not talking about your taxes paying for improvements to the City of Highland Park’s sewer system. We’re talking about you, personally. You get to open your checkbook twice -- your tax dollars will pay for 20% of the expense of repairing the lateral sanitary lines on your home. You then open the checkbook again to pay the remaining 80% from your savings, the proceeds of a loan, or the City places a lien on your home which could cause the sale of your home, along with your future. City Hall doesn't care where the payment comes from, as long as you're responsible for it.

If you’re thinking there isn't anything wrong with your lateral sanitary line, you're probably wrong. If you ever have your line rodded, the mere existence of those tree roots confirms that your sanitary lateral needs to be lined by a City of HP designated contractor. At least that is what our Public Works Department told us. Like most HP residents living in the Tree City, our home's sanitary line is rodded routinely. The result: we were coerced into paying nearly $5000 after being threatened with the placement of a lien on our home, possibly for 100% of the cost (far more than $5000) unless we agreed to sign various City documents which, at the time, included a requirement to indemnify the contractor and the City for any harm to our property arising from the construction (and we were unable at that time to get requested information about interest or possible foreclosure terms on that lien).

It seems that our City Manager, David Limardi, our Mayor and a majority of City Council came to the conclusion that the City isn’t responsible for its own infrastructure. The fact that the City has grown in density while the storm sewers haven’t been appropriately sized and improved seems to be your personal problem as a homeowner. Clearly, these expenses have not been paid by the developers who have reaped a mighty profit by replacing single family homes with extensive multiple family housing in our fair City.

These expenses fall on you even though your lateral sanitary line may be working fine. City Hall would tell you that your lateral is flooding the City's storm sewers and harming your neighbor. Yet, you know that your lateral isn't flooding anyone. It works fine and services your home. In reality, the perpetrator is the City's storm sewers and the City hasn't even made a dent on its own work in upgrading the storm sewers first.

We know there is a problem with storm sewer management. And, it may be possible that if all of our lateral sanitary lines were repaired there would be less flooding or, at least, less flooding impacted by the sanitary lines (although this assertion remains unclear and unproven by the City). The primary assertion of this blog is that the City should be paying for any infrastructure improvements through the taxes we pay, and from grants, bonds and/or other public funds -- not your checkbook. After all, this is a community-wide issue and the community as a whole needs to be responsible for it. That's why we pay taxes.

It seems that our City leadership is so removed from the realities of living on the North Shore that, not only do they mistakenly think you are supposed to pay for these infrastructure improvements, they think you have this money stashed in your checkbook and are ready to deliver it on demand. The Mayor is proud that, if you can't pay for this from your savings, he has arranged for you take another loan on your property. Consider the effect of taking out another loan on your credit ratings in this rocky or any other economy. Consider what you will not be able to buy for your family. And, for those who can't take on another loan, the Mayor offers another untenable solution -- the City can place a lien on your property. He seems to assume that your mortgage holder won’t mind, that the City won’t charge you interest, and that no foreclosure will ever take place, that you can keep that lien on your property for 50 years. Let's ask Corporation Counsel to share a copy of the City's lien and its terms.

We're working on gathering examples of letters shared between HP residents and the City with regard to the Master Plan.

This first blog entry is to provide some notice of the issues. The Master Plan deserves critical examination in a constructive manner. We hope you will share it with your neighbors. We hope the City will take advantage of the blog to present their point of you. The blog can be a place to start the dialogue. Free and open discourse is an important part of our City's values and our sense of community.

We need to remember that City's Organization Chart places the Citizens of Highland Park at the top of the chart, with Mayor and City Council reporting to us, and the City Manager reporting to the Mayor. As we know with all businesses, it is important to set the proper tone at the top.

To be continued...


Marshall said...

Hi Debra:

Keep up the good work!

I sincerely appreciate your efforts in all of our behalf. You are a credit to our community.

As citizens we need to have representatives that look out for our needs and excercise the leadership necessary for being a "public servant". Our mayor needs to become more proactive in this very important undertaking and instruct his staff to be more informed and sensitive to all of our citizens. How smart does one have to be to see that this "so called plan" is STUPID and not really well thought out. To single out select neighborhoods as being responsible for fixing this problem is punitive. We need to move away from Earth Tech, obtain serious bids (at least 3) from qualified competent and independent bidders. To go back to Earth Tech who's initial plan is so incomplete and flawed is a HUGE MISTAKE,

Anonymous said...


I want to thank you and all of my neighbors who got involved and helped organize our efforts. One issue that I don't believe has been discussed that I'm curious about, is why does the city of HP get to decide if and when we need to fix our lateral lines. If the HP city code dictates that the lateral lines are the responsibility of the residents and that legally they are our property, then why does the city get to decide when we need to fix them. In other words, how can the city force us to fix something that we own? Why do they legally get to decide which houses need fixing and which houses don't, if we have to pay for it? Is there language in the city code that dictates at what point lines need relining and what point they don't?! It seems like this determination is a subjective decision and wide open to interpretation.

Mike said...

On 3-11-09 I received a nice letter from Mr.
David Limardi,our city manager.
Apparently our city council has made some notice of the current economic situation and
"has decided to delay repairs proposed for 2009".
Uh,is there an election coming up?
The letter goes on to say that AECom(the renamed Earth Tech)will be doing additional work,including identifying contractors to assist in making the bidding process"more competitive".
Uh,since there is currently none this will be an improvement.
The city's website will have a new page where storm & sanitary information can be found.
I look forward to reading the Master Plan.
As a former Chicagoian,I am impressed at the number of people who attended the meetings,and spoke up,causing the city council to take a step back.
I hope this will continue until a consenses is reached with the residents of HP.
In the end,be it 2010 or 2011,with carrot and/or stick,I think we will probably have to do the relining.
Hope I'm wrong.