THUMBS UP TO… an amenable agreement. We know not everyone is in love with the concept of tax increment financing districts, and agree there are valid concerns about when, where and how governments deploy the popular economic development tool. That said, there are TIF success stories, and we understand when civic leaders use the options available to facilitate economic development. In the best such circumstances, the various taxing bodies involved make sure all parties are on the same page before locking in a long-term plan that can cause serious problems.
Those realities are why we’re optimistic about the news last week the Ottawa City Council and Ottawa Elementary School District had a “cordial” round of brainstorming and negotiations, according to OES Superintendent Cleve Threadgill, before the city moves forward on extending the downtown TIF district for another dozen years. OES was right to ask for a seat at the table, as its tax base has suffered more under recent economic struggles than those of other stakeholders like Ottawa High School and Illinois Valley Community College. Growth is good for all these governments, but it has to be pursued wisely. The cooperation furthers collegial attitudes going forward, and we hope to see these investments provide significant return.
THUMBS DOWN TO… water, water everywhere — and not a drop to drink. The recent water crisis in the Streator area was thankfully temporary, and so did not rise to the level of epic poetry, but it sure was frustrating. As July turned to August, Illinois American Water issued boil orders in Streator, Dana, Long Point, Ancona, Reading and other unincorporated areas. The situation started late on a Thursday night and continued through an entire weekend while the company found the problem in a 12-inch water main that broke near a creek north of the Vermilion River dam.
Efforts to fix the problem ran into the complication of vegetation surrounding the break, throwing a wrinkle into the company’s sound equipment used to locate breaks. Business and service providers struggled under the circumstances, as well as thousands of residential customers. Still, there were silver linings, such as the Streator Fire Department working to distribute 64,000 bottles of water Illinois American Water purchased and reports of people patronizing businesses en masse once the situation was resolved. Surely no one wants a repeat of the experience, but we salute everyone who made the best of a bad break. Stay positive, Streator.
THUMBS UP TO… shocking the system. It’s not just cliché to say seconds matter in life or death situations. That’s why it was heartwarming (perhaps literally) to share news last week of the Ottawa Fire Department’s receipt of seven automated external defibrillators to be placed strategically around the city. This represents more than $11,000 in lifesaving equipment obtained through a government surplus program. The city will only have to come up with $1,500 for batteries and pads, and while batteries are a recurring cost, it seems an excellent investment in the future of public safety.
Fire Chief Andy Borkowski said AEDs already are in squad cars and can also be found in some public places such as churches, gyms and schools. These new units could go in City Hall or be deployed for public events that draw large crowds to the Jordan Block and other large spaces. An AED at Ottawa High School has already been credited with saving one life in recent history, and with more staged throughout the city and increased training in their use, Ottawa will be that much safer going forward. We hope they’re never needed, but if such a situation arises everyone involved will be glad for the advance planning.
THUMBS DOWN TO… a half measure. Last week the office of Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton issued a release regarding a shakeup among committee leadership spots. According to Capitol News Illinois, Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, was tabbed to lead the Labor Committee, which opened a spot on Government Accountability and Pensions, filled by Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin. Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park (John’s distant cousin) moved from Labor to replace Castro as head of Veterans Affairs. In most years this kind of early-August shuffling wouldn’t garner any attention, but the spotlight shines brightly on Tom Cullerton since his Aug. 2 federal indictment on 40 counts tied to alleged embezzling money from a labor union.
Tom Cullerton, who denies the allegations, is innocent until proven guilty. He is a U.S. Army veteran and as such clearly is qualified to lead the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. And while it’s clearly logical to remove him from the head of the Labor Committee while under indictment for allegations he took more than $300,000 in Teamsters salary, benefits and bonuses for little to no work, it’s difficult to see the upside of giving him any leadership position until everything is resolved in court. Surely there is another Senate Democrat who could ably lead the VA Committee, at least on an interim basis. Simply moving chess pieces gives the impression the caucus doesn’t take these allegations seriously, and that’s just disappointing.