Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reading the Highland Park “News”

If you think the Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers is dead, not so. It's alive and kicking, still in the hands of all the same people who didn't care about how it would affect you or your finances in the first place.

On December 18, 2008, the Highland Park News finally did a little reporting on the "Sewer Project." Where was the Highland Park News at the December 3 meeting when City Hall was so anxious about the complaints from irate residents that it called the Highland Park Police for crowd control? Where was the Highland Park News the next night when David Limardi and Mayor Belsky couldn't answer simple questions asked by the Ravinia neighbors about the Master Plan? It seems that unless City Hall provides the HP News with a written report, it just isn't news to them. Don't you think the HP News should take an interest in this community and get out once in a while and actually attend a meeting and talk with people other than the City Manager and the Mayor?

The HP News report stated that "the project would have required residents to chip in as much as $4000 to replace leaking sanitary laterals…" We've got news for the HP News: $4,000 was the minimum, and $10,000 is rapidly becoming the new minimum (a price increase most likely courtesy of the City Manager having a "single source provider" who just to happened to be the only contractor who could meet the bidding requirements), and most of the sanitary laterals aren't the problem. The sanitary laterals aren't the cause of a problem, the City's storm sewers are invading the resident's sanitary sewers and they have not yet been upgraded. Does HP News seems to print only the pap spoon fed to them by City Hall?

The HP News did get one thing right. City Hall has only deferred its plan to spend your savings. They may well circle back to the remaining residents who haven't paid up yet. The plan is on the shelf but City Hall is only waiting to go back and create a report to justify their sewer folly. The City remains interested in coercing you to follow their plan, even if that results in placing a lien on your home, a "financing alternative" proudly offered by Mayor Belsky at the December 4 meeting. The HP News reported that the City "plans to collect more information on the effectiveness of the project and look for another bidder." They should just focus on collecting the essential information that should have been there prior to foisting the Master Plan on all of us.

The Mayor is quoted as saying ""We decided to take a step back from the project because of economic times and explore alternatives that might reduce costs." Mr. Mayor and City Council, and Mr. Limardi, those hard economic times were there when you started to implement the Master Plan – and even if the economy were on the right keel, all of this should have been done before three neighborhoods were forced to pay up for unnecessary repairs. Is rudimentary investigation done only when residents complain in volume?

It was surprising to read that the Mayor told that the HP News that the "program has been already implemented in three other neighborhoods in the city and has proven successful." One may ask the Mayor to tell us exactly, what is your definition of a successful program? Residents being coerced into paying thousands of dollars for repairs they did not want or need? What technical data is there that supports the assertion that this has been successful in any material way? Certainly none has been offered to any of those neighborhoods who have already shouldered an unnecessary and inappropriate economic burden, nor to the more recent Ravinia neighborhood complaints. And, even if it were technically successful, the issue remains that this is an economic burden to be paid by the community as a whole.

Those of us at the December 4 meeting know that neither City Manager Limardi or Mayor Belsky was able to sufficiently answer even basic questions raised by the Ravinia neighbors. This is exactly why the City told us they would go back to Earth-Tech. They needed to seek the answers that were missing from Earth-Tech's initial report. And, as reported previously in the blog, .it is just plain silly for City Hall to have proposed to go back to Earth-Tech which now has a vested interest in bolstering its previous work. If the City needs another opinion, it shouldn't be one where the consultant is told to support the previous consultant. An independent consultant, one chosen on the basis of expertise and from among several bidders, is required.

The HP News quotes Mayor Belsky: "We're not going to approach any individual household until we have exact cost. We're looking for any funding sources to help this neighborhood and help other neighborhoods as well." Good to hear, Mr. Mayor. Yet, for all the residents who have already been coerced to pay for the sanitary lateral lining, none of them were given an exact cost before they were required to sign the legal documents giving the City the authority to proceed – and they were threatened with a lien to gain compliance with the City's demand to sign a "Temporary License" that required them to waive basic legal rights for any harm caused to their property. And, as for alternative funding sources, why didn't Mr. Limardi seek them earlier? Why did City Council rubber stamp Mr. Limardi's plan? And, why didn't they all know that City infrastructure improvements are their responsibility and upgrades need to be planned and budgeting for payment from our taxes?

So, it's time we start looking at the real history of the Master Plan. For many HP residents, the Master Plan already tapped their financial resources. They have written the big check from savings or with a second or third mortgage. For the next few weeks, this blog will share with the readers the saga of the Master Plan and a representative home in Sunset Park. It's a modest home on a modest lot (approx. 55' x 160'). It just so happens to be my brother's home and I've deleted his name and contact info from the documents for his privacy, but the documents are accurate and complete otherwise.

While Mayor Belsky and the City Manager asserted on December 4 that they were surprised by the Ravinia neighborhood response, the fact is that these questions and complaints are not new. My brother began to complain about 1 ½ years ago and, on the basis of some of the correspondence, it seems he was not the only person to raise important issues, concerns and constructive criticism that landed on largely deaf ears.

Tomorrow, we will start to share the correspondence between the City of HP and the representative house in Sunset Park, the home where my brother and I were raised.

1 comment:

Michael said...

As you are aware we are re evaluating the sewer program. However the perspective above is a bit off base. Legally the lateral lines to your house are owned by the homeowner. In most cities if these are not functioning the homeowner gets fined. We took a different approach. 1) Cash grants to offset repair cost 2) arranging for repairs through a joint contract thereby receiving economies of scale that can be passed on to homeowners 3)arranging for low interest loans through linked deposits(city investment to receive a lower rate in exchange for low interest loans to home owners4)allow for no interest payout at the time of the sale of the home.
This is all in contrast to fines and liens which is the law in Illinois.
Engineers report indicates that our own storm and sanitary flood mitigation program will only be 60% effective until we fix laterals.
We have seen decreased flooding in areas where the program has been implemented. We recognize that in this economy it may be hard for homwowners to partner with the city on this program. As such we have put it on hold and are looking at ways we can seek grants etc. to further defray or eliminate the homeowner's contribution. Having said this I think this program is very creative and seeks to eliminate property damage associated with flooded basements(stromwater and sewage).
Finally, we also have established a consortium of governments with the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission to seek regional solutions to flood mitigastion. As you may be aware HP is the downstream point for the County.
We need to site and fund regional detention basins or develop some sort of deep tunnel. We also need to keep the Skokie Drainage Ditch clean and clear of debris.
Anyway- just wanted to give your readers my two cents.
On another note nice site and blog.
Best Regards,
Mike Belsky