Mayor Anthony Calderone provided updates on several issues that came up during the election campaign, when he sat down last week for an interview with the Forest Park Review. He also discussed video gambling, the physical state of village hall, and his relationship with the newly elected village council.
Calderone received significant community pushback after proposing a “saggy pants” ordinance in November 2014, and he subsequently announced plans to form a Diversity Committee within 90 days following the April elections. When asked about that timeline, he said, “As of today, obviously, we don’t have [the committee] in place. The creation of the committee will be something that will be an agenda item in an upcoming meeting. … Within the next 30 to 90 days, I do plan on presenting an ordinance for the creation of this committee.”
He added that diversity has not been a particularly contentious issue during his tenure as mayor, describing the proposed committee’s role as more of a “think tank” that would bring recommendations to the council and serve as a forum for community discussion.
The flood report
The mayor also gave an update on a topic that has been contentious — flooding. During the campaign, citizens asked about the timing of an upcoming flooding report compiled by the village’s engineering firm, Christopher Burke Engineering.
According to Calderone, Burke engineers will present their findings at the council’s July 27 meeting. The mayor said he has seen a draft of the report but a final copy is not yet available. The report, originally commissioned in the fall of 2014, provides recommendations for shifting the village’s predominantly combined sewer system to a separated system. Separated systems, which run distinct pipes for residential water and street runoff, can handle heavy rains more easily and help to prevent flooding.
“The plan is to come up with an attack plan after we receive [the Burke report]. … We know that we cannot [reconstruct the sewers of] the whole town at one time. It is cost-prohibitive,” Calderone said.
The village commissioned an “exhaustive” flooding study about 15 years ago. That report called for a comprehensive $60 million reconstruction of Forest Park’s entire sewer system. Unable to budget for such a significant cost, the village continued operating its combined system.
The benefits of gaming
Video gambling has also been on residents’ (and bar owners’) minds the last couple of years as it made its way into surrounding communities. In the spring of 2013, Forest Park residents voted 2 to 1 against video gambling in a non-binding referendum. Neighboring towns like Berwyn, North Riverside and Hillside allow video gambling. The mayor recently cited the Illinois Gaming Board’s May 2015 Berwyn report as an example to show the potential benefits. According to the report, gaming establishments in Berwyn collected $8,186,166.24 in wagers with the municipal government receiving $36,084.45 as its share.
That is “brand new revenue … no increase[s] in any current taxes or licensing.” the mayor said.
Asked whether public opinion has shifted on this subject since the referendum, Calderone said, “It is hard to say. … What I do think is that enough time has transpired now in Illinois since video gaming was made legal that … there should be data either already available or can be assembled that can speak to the issues that may curb some of the fears that residents may have had.”
Acknowledging that some residents “fundamentally” oppose gambling, Calderone said he hopes to revisit the issue soon. Suggesting pension contributions as a possible area to direct gambling revenues, he noted, “I personally would not support the video gaming absent earmarking that money for some specific purpose.
“If we could end up annually putting $300,000 to $500,000 a year into those pension obligations,” he added, “that would relieve an ongoing burden that we have every year. … Maybe that could be used as a selling point.”
Aging village hall and new village council
At the recent June 24 budget meeting, Calderone announced plans to schedule a strategic planning meeting regarding the “aging” municipal headquarters. Forest Park Village Hall was built in 1975.
When asked to elaborate on those comments, he said, “Over time, needs change based upon services that are delivered by municipal government. … Sometimes elected officials are reluctant to have those types of conversations because [large construction projects] are big-ticket items. These are millions of dollars. … But if you never at least have the conversation … sometime into the future you are going to wait until the place is falling apart.”
Calderone also talked about his relationship with the newly-elected council.
“I have the feeling in my gut that this [council] is going to keep the personalities out of it,” he said. “We can disagree. I have no problem with disagreeing, but we should have collegial disagreement. Because we all each have our own ideas … it should be about the issues not the person. So I have a little bit of an adjustment period myself. I am not used to this. I am always used to somebody blindsiding me because of personalities.”
When asked if he plans on running for another mayoral term, he said, “Let’s just wait. It is way too early. … Obviously I have enjoyed it. When this term is over, it is going to be 20 years as mayor. … It is a long time. You know, I will start sizing it up in 2½ or 3 years.”