Zion has been in decline for a long time and I don’t think that we can point to just one or two causes like the closing of the Zion Nuclear Power Plant or the Fielders. There are multiple factors– sluggish housing market, higher than average unemployment rate, high tax rate for both property tax and corporate taxes, and Illinois’ pension crisis–that have contributed to the downturn we have experienced. Just like there is not just one cause to our situation there will need to be multiple and varied solutions. One thing I’m convinced of: we are the solution. That is, all of us who live here, work here and call Zion home. If we truly want things to be better, they can be. Let’s work together in making Zion a place we all want to live.
Here is a more detailed look at some of the ways I have worked with others in our community to address some of the problems we face in the City.
Joint Taxing Body Meetings
Mayor Al Hill, former Commissioner Frank Flammini and I were instrumental in forming a group of leaders from all our taxing bodies to discuss ways we might work together to reduce taxes in Zion. Our committee addressed issues of resource sharing and possible bulk purchases to reduce cost to each of our taxing bodies. We also discussed ways we might together influence legislation in Springfield and Washington to address local issues. These discussions were valuable but became eclipsed by what we ultimately thought would bring the greatest tax relief to our community by addressing issues surrounding the decommissioning of the Zion Nuclear Power Plant. We decided to jointly address the storage of 2.2 million pounds of nuclear waste within our City. Once we have completed this task I am looking forward to continuing our joint meetings with representatives from each of our taxing bodies. I am convinced that we must work together to address the high tax rate in Zion.
Decommissioning of the Zion Nuclear Power Plant
It has been my privilege to be a part of the team that has been working with our other taxing bodies and our State and Federal elected officials in addressing the issue of the 2.2 million pounds of nuclear waste in our City. This has been an exciting and frustrating process. Exciting in the sense of having a role to play in drafting a piece of legislation that is working its way through Congress. Frustrating in that it takes time for anything to happen in the Federal government. Here is the good news: With the hard work of our team along with the support and sponsorship of Rep. Brad Schneider and Senator Tammy Duckworth, President Trump has signed legislation designating Zion as an official temporary storage site for nuclear waste. This is the first step in the process of getting compensation from
the Federal government for storing the nuclear waste in our city. Legislation yet to be acted on and signed into law would provide approximately $15 million annually in revenue to our community. We are currently working with our congressman and senator to get these pieces of legislation passed.
I have the utmost respect for and appreciate the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the Zion Fire and Rescue Department and the Zion Police Department. Our community places a high demand on the services these professionals provide. Zion Fire and Rescue averages about 4,250 calls per year and Zion Police typically respond to 38,000 calls per year. For comparison Zion Fire had 4,313 calls in 2017 and 4,237 calls in 2018. Zion Police had 34,638 calls in 2017 and 42,014 calls in 2018. These call volumes come at a high cost, not just financial but also the personal costs borne by individuals in our Public Safety departments. I just want to be clear these men and women deserve our respect and appreciation for the long hours they put in serving this community.
Fire and Rescue
Since 2015 we have been meeting with the Beach Park Fire Protection District Board in an effort to pursue a functional consolidation of our fire service with theirs. This has involved two major studies that we commissioned with Illinois Fire Chiefs Association to map out the feasibility and logistics of a mutual functional consolidation agreement. I anticipate that we will have a signed agreement with Beach Park by September of 2019, if not before. A functional consolidation works through sharing of personnel and apparatus (fire trucks and equipment) from both departments. If accomplished properly, these efforts would be a means of helping facilitate a reduction in administrative costs for both Zion and Beach Park as well as a reduction in purchases for both departments through cost sharing. Sharing personnel will make a difference in overtime demands and slightly reduce the work load on each firefighter. I view a functional consolidation of services, when possible, as a good thing for our communities and I am glad to have had a role in moving Zion and Beach Park fire services together. Although the cost savings may not be apparent in the initial stages, as we progress and work through the various stages of the functional consolidation, the savings will become evident for both agencies.
There are so many factors that come into play when we want to see a reduction in the crime rate. Everything from family values and dynamics to citizen involvement, to community policing strategies to number of officers on the street, and the list goes on. The overarching solution is a societal solution, and in my opinion is related to our connection with faith and God. Our police department is not tasked with changing the morality of society; they are tasked with enforcing the laws. Crime rates rise and lower not so much as a result of good policing, although, it is a factor, but as a result in a change of the moral fabric of the people who live in our community.
One of the goals of our community policing strategy is to increase the number of contacts officers make with residents for non-enforcement reasons. Our department has partnered with groups like Bridge Builders to do neighborhood walks and the Coalition for Healthy Communities in the annual Community of Character Walk. Probably our most significant contributions to making Zion better and safer have come through the personal efforts our officers. Officer Matt Thornton and My Father’s Business is probably the most visible contribution made, but many of our officers volunteer their time in and around Zion through their involvement in churches and civic organizations. This is something that should make us proud.
We annually conduct at least one and sometimes more, joint agency enforcement operations. This consists of partnering with the several Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, the Illinois State Police and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to conduct warrant arrests or focused enforcement efforts directed towards drug and gang crime, as well as reducing the number of illegally possessed firearms.
For the last three years these operations, along with the regular efforts of our officers and detectives, have resulted in the following:
383 drug related arrests
120 illegally possessed guns taken off the street
Not every criminal is arrested and not every case is solved, but I can confidently stand behind the work of our Police Department. It is possible that you may not be aware of all the work being done by our department. This is partly due to the fact that we don’t self-publicize every arrest made and every gun taken off the street for legal and privacy reasons. What I would like to communicate here with this data is that we have a very dedicated and hard-working group of men and women in the Zion Police Department.
One way communities like ours have gotten a handle on rental properties that suffer from disinvestment is to enact ordinances allowing for the inspection of rental properties. I voted in favor of the ordinance allowing for rental inspections. By law this rental inspection program must be revenue neutral. It is true that some responsible landlords in our community felt that this ordinance was intrusive on their rights as property owners, but after the implementation of the inspections many of those have found the process manageable. The benefit of the ordinance to our community is that it allows us to fairly address properties that are managed by, for lack of a better word, irresponsible landlords. In my opinion the inspection validates and affirms responsible landlords and provides protection and a voice for renters in properties that suffer from disinvestment.
Citizens United for a Better Zion
The CUBZ commission was formed as a result of the efforts Mayor Al Hill, Police Chief Steve Dumyahn and myself in consultation with the US Department of Justice. Over the course of several months we met with the US Department of Justice and decided to form an advisory committee to address issues of communication and accountability with law enforcement. This initial purpose has since expanded to address the multifaceted communication needs in our community.
The Mission Statement of CUBZ: The Citizens United for a Better Zion is established to provide a channel of communication related to the operation of the city, and residents’ concerns affecting the health, public safety, social and economic quality of life of city residents. The CUBZ Commission, which consists of Precinct Captains, will bring forward to the Zion Council issues of community concern to all citizens of Zion. The CUBZ Commission is empowered to meet with members of the community to bridge gaps in communication, that may affect the residents in times of crisis, by clearly gathering and conveying information as deemed appropriate and necessary to ensure a positive, strong and healthy partnership exists between the city officials and the residents of Zion.
Joint Economic Development Agreement
The City Council has signed an economic development agreement with Winthrop Harbor and Beach Park to leverage the total demographic of all three communities in an effort to attract more businesses to the area. The agreement is with the development firm Retail Strategies and they will market our area to prospective businesses based on a population nearing 40,000 rather than, as was done in the past, each community standing alone. The agreement allows new businesses brought in by Retail Strategies to locate anywhere in our communities with each community benefiting from the sales tax income.
Animal Control Commission
The City Council was made aware that a group of animal health advocates were concerned with how the City was addressing the processing, handling and temporary holding of dogs and cats in the city. Arrangements were made to meet with some of the animal health advocates to better understand their concerns and begin the process of evaluating and improving our animal control services in the city. At the meeting we decided one course of action would be to involve the community in a clean-up day at the Zion kennel on August 11, 2018. The clean-up day at the kennel was a great success, with more than 80 volunteers showing up to thoroughly clean and paint the kennel facility.
Another improvement that was implemented very quickly was the creation of a Facebook page that features animals in our kennel facility. The Zion Illinois Lost and Found Pets page was created. The page profiles dogs and cats found or picked up by our Community Service Officers and also informs residents if the pets have been reunited with their owners or released to Lake County Animal Control. It is a great service to our community and much appreciated.
After weighing the various options we had to address regarding the animal control issues in our community, we decided to form an Animal Control Commission to advise the City Council in addressing these needs. The Commission is made up of knowledgeable and dedicated Zion residents. Although there may be times when animal rescue organizations may be used by the City, we will ask the Animal Control Commission to guide us in making those decisions. We also contracted some of our animal control services to Lake County Animal Control. We will continue to use our Community Service Officers to pick up animals running at large in the city and enforce our animal control ordinances. If animals cannot be immediately returned to their owners they will then be picked up by Lake County Animal Control.
Community of Character
At a meeting of our Joint Taxing Bodies we heard a presentation from the Zion District 6 schools on how they incorporated into the life of their school four words they want students to live by; respect, responsibility, safety and kindness. An idea emerged among us and we asked if the Coalition for Healthy Communities could come up with something similar for our entire community. Thus, the six Community of Character words emerged:
Respect – I treat others the way I want to be treated.
Perseverance – I stay the course to reach my goals.
Responsibility – I am accountable for my actions and attitudes.
Safety – I take action to address harm.
Integrity – I do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Kindness – I demonstrate care and concern.
It will take more than words to make a difference in Zion but these words and their application in the lives of our residents is a great start. I am a strong supporter of these words and our Community of Character Walk held every September.