Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The huge financial burden unfairly placed on Highland Park's older residents...

This blog isn't just about the Master Plan for Storm and Sanitary Sewers. We're talking about real people here -- the residents of Highland Park, adversely impacted by it.  It's about our neighbors, friends, parents, our greater family.  It is about about doing the right thing, and making changes in Highland Park that are good for everyone -- fair for everyone. It's about achieving equitable solutions for the community.  So, let's look at the 46-50 families targeted by the City as the first victims of the Sewer Program (merely on “hiatus”).  If you're new to this blog, this is an inequitable program that put the economic burden on individual residents to pay for improvements to the City of Highland Park's infrastructure -- while other communities, like Downers Grove and Naperville paid for similar programs from their city's coffers (see the AECOM report).

As you may recall, the City of Highland Park (in response to a FOIA request) provided us with an Invoice List of all the residents who were charged and paid HP for “repairs” to their sanitary lateral line in 2008 (the only year that the City actively implemented the Sewer Program). In trying to contact these people and confirm their addresses, we turned to www.whitepages.com.  This site delivers more information than most of us would like – it provided an age range for each search.  So, some informal demographics were gathered in this process, based on limited available information.

Approximately 50% of the people who have paid to date are or were 60 years of age or older.  Indeed, nearly 25% of them were over 70, and, we're sad to report at least two of them, aged 85+ years of age, have died since, leaving widows. 81% of them are older than 50 years of age.  So, let's just say that the targeted residents are in, or are rapidly approaching, their retirement years.  Everyone really needs the money they were forced to part with...and it remains insensitive for Mayor Belsky to claim that the program was put "on hiatus" because the economy took a bad turn.  Talk to any of the people who paid in 2008 and they will tell you the economy was bad when when they paid -- and nobody at City Hall cared.

It further appears that more than 15% of the people moved since paying the City, with two of them formal foreclosures, perhaps precipitated by being forced to pay the City of HP for “repairs” on their private property that they did not need. 

Several people called to thank me for my efforts, the stories they told painted a sad portrait of residents dealing with an unresponsive City Hall that refused to listen to the residents and demanded payments, claiming that the City Code required them to pay for this.  As reported in this blog previously, one of the residents told me distinctly, “They had my back up against a wall, what could I do, but pay?  But I didn’t think it was right.” 
A woman called and said she was a "late-in-life" mother, sending two children to college.  The $5000+ she paid is much needed.

Of course, there is the one individual (and you have to read through all the comments on the linked page to identify him) who believes the program is good, thinks he should have paid, thinks you should pay in the future, but (oh, by the way) wants his money back if the City agrees to reimbursement.  To him, we say, if you like paying for repairs to City infrastructure in the thousands of dollars, as opposed to paying a few dollars a year on your taxes, we should just let you remain happy! 
For the everyone else, the face of HP’s City Hall is that of a bully pushing around senior citizen residents, forcing them to pay for something they don’t need, and with money they do need in their retirement years.  The Code requires you pay, or we will file an enforceable lien against your property.” What can the average resident do when City Hall is telling them this?

I've news for Ctiy Hall.   “The Code” does not require that residents use proprietary technology.  “The Code” does not require residents to use the contractor you select (and we’ll probably never know how Mr. Limardi’s office selected a single source provider, Performance Pipelining, over every other plumbing company in Highland Park, nor why this very same contractor ceased to do the work...).  Further, “the Code” does not require residents to sign an indemnification to protect the City's contractor or the City for the work done at your direction, or your neighbor for the work done by the City's contractor, and it doesn’t require you to fix a sanitary lateral line that isn’t broken and is functioning.  Of course, if City Hall would care to post on this blog "The Code" that requires this, go right ahead...go on record and try to justify the poor decisions of the past.

These residents were bullied and pushed around by City Hall.  City Hall needs to pays them back now, and if they don’t do it soon, with interest.   And, for those of you who haven’t faced this treatment yet, don't assume it isn't your problem. It’s in your personal interest to ensure that the program is taken off of “hiatus” immediately and put down.  If revived, don’t think they passed you by, just because you weren’t in the first wave.  Every house in HP has its sanitary lateral lines rodded from time to time.  They will be waiving “the Code” at you soon enough…

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