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'Fixing' Oak Forest: What Would You Do?

Recent developments in city government have left our readers reeling—and wondering how to solve the city's problems. Each week, we'll open up the floor for suggestions on a specific topic.

Everyone has a grand plan of how to solve 's problems.

As news breaks about a  and , many people offer up their take on how to take on the city's problems—and solve them. It's often a reactive gesture; residents speak up only when something big goes down. 

But, why wait?

Oak Forest Patch would like to offer readers and residents a chance to interact on a specific topic each week. We'll feature this post on a recurring basis, and change out the topic each time. Before this, we've previously talked ,  and . 

The idea is to keep this civil, constructive and positive. Remember you're all in it for the same reasons—you want the best for Oak Forest. Just add your opinion by commenting below the story. You can reply directly to other users, or ask each other questions. Consider it a forum, and you have the floor.

We've come up with a few simple guidelines to keep in mind as you contribute. 

  1. Talk to each other; don't yell. This is meant to foster healthy conversation about life in Oak Forest. This is a place open to brainstorming and collaborating. Be respectful of each other and your opinions.
  2. Keep it civil. (Ties right in with number 1.) 
  3. Keep it constructive. We know the problems. Let's talk solutions. Want a say in the future of your community? We're handing it to you on a silver platter.
  4. Do your homework. Before you jump into the conversation, read around a bit on the site. We'll only suggest topics that we've done the legwork on. So check out all the "related stories" before throwing your opinion into the mix. You'll learn something and get something off your chest, all at once.
  5. Don't make me suspend you. Follow our Terms of Use, and no one gets suspended. Piece of cake, right? 

AND NOW THAT WE'VE GOTTEN THE RULES OUT OF THE WAY ...

This week's question: What would you suggest to help the city recover from a $4.2 million shortfall in tax revenue? How would you bring business back to Oak Forest?

It's all yours, folks. Looking forward to what you have to say. 

Darryl Kowalewski March 29, 2012 at 04:45 AM
I like a lot of the things Ruth has mentioned above. The main thing that stuck out to me as I read those suggestions is that those things are going to cost money, which is OK, as long as they produce savings for the residents and business' in the long run. So lets go one by one: 1. Sounds good, I believe we currently have a code enforcement officer, and they have a city car. This is the best time to do this type of investigation regarding signage, since there is not much if any construction going on. Maybe start on Cicero, Then 159th, then Central, etc... A heads up to he business' would be nice so they can research first to see if they are in compliance or not. 2. http://chicagoheights.patch.com/articles/fbi-releases-2010-crime-stats-for-south-suburbs Want more done? It'll probably cost more. 3. Not sure what you mean. More specific? 4. That sounds awesome, and may produce a HUGE ROI for the city, but plan on paying well into six figures, just saying. 5. Absolutely, it benefits us all.
ruth ensing March 29, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Part of the sales tax money is supposed to be used for additional police since that department is understaffed. Next, our economic development department hasln't had any successes beyond fast food businesses. Finally, without a qualified city administrator we are like a business without a CEO. Our elected officials are.part time. Not having an administrator could be costing us money. Again the emphasis is on "qualified" and apart from city politics or cronyism.
LBoakforest March 29, 2012 at 06:15 PM
i think we should be doing MORE for our current businesses in town so they stay. Taxing them is not the answer. Our businesses need more foot traffic to patronize them. Now a lot of our residents are so disgusted with this 1% added tax that they are vowing to go elsewhere with their spending habits - our village has made it even harder on the "mom & pop" shops to remain open. Why doesnt our village meet REGULARLY with the current businesses and hold monthly "town hall meetings" to see how we can help them prosper. Also we need to find out why bsns leave our town and set up their bsn in a nearby town. Why cant the village run a "shop local" campaign - "Live in Oak Forest - Shop Oak Forest." Not sure why we cant lure a "big box" store to the 159th & Cicero corner or 167th Cicero land. 1) Shop Local Campaign to Oak Forest residents 2) Monthly town hall meetings with current bsns to help them prosper 3) Lure a "big box" store to Oak Forest 4) Reverse that 1% home sales tax
Frank DeVries April 02, 2012 at 11:41 AM
contact your local boy scout troops they are always looking for service hours.But before that is done contact sheriffs dept to send 6 - 8 people to do this courtesy of our tax payer funded jail birds
Frank DeVries April 02, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Shop local campaign is dead in the water. We lost the vision care next to mcdonalds because of taxes. they moved to 159 th and harlem and pay half of what they did in taxes and rent here in of. The corner of 159 th and cicero needs to be reconfigured like 159 th and harlem. The extra land needed should be taken through eminate domain , like they do to businesses. both railroad tracks need to be redone so there is extra room to handle the traffic going through there.Then worry about putting businesses in that corner that no one can hardly get in or out of.LOWER THE TAXES. WE DIDNT GET THE BIG BOX STORES BECAUSE OF HIGH TAXES.Have each apartment building pay the same in taxes per unit as we home owners have to do.Get rid of problem apartment complexes they need an expressway just to go to each of the complexes because of the number of calls.I live down the street from several and between police and fire dept going down the street 40 mph Im realy surprised some one hasnt been killed (kids).
NANCY GRACE April 02, 2012 at 01:19 PM
I agree with all of the above. @ Rick T-you are so accurate!! These folks don't care about OF as homeowners do, they lounge/lurk around our parks and curse like it's ok in front of children. I can't tell you how they bring down the park next to 4 fields/batting cages at times.
Lauren Traut (Editor) April 02, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Thought I'd offer this up (as I am still addicted to OF Patch and all the fine people who care about the community and are commenting here. ... There's something amazing going on in Homewood-Flossmoor. It's called a Cash Mob. Ever heard of it? Check this out: http://homewood-flossmoor.patch.com/articles/the-mob-is-coming-homewood The gist: A group of people is organized through social and traditional media. They commit to congregating at a specific small, local business on a certain date at a certain time. All agree to spend a predetermined minimum amount of money at said specific business. The idea is to boost the local economy, foster community spirit and to simply have fun. I, for one, love this. There might not be a ton of options in Oak Forest, but there are some. And maybe people need to be reminded of that. By no means does this "fix" anything, but encouraging people to shop local (I know, the sales tax has people fired up. And I don't blame you) maybe we can show investors that there's a lively local economy here. Which comes first? Robust business? Or big businesses? They won't want to come, if Oak Forest doesn't appear to be a stable financial business base. And OF won't look like a stable financial business base if people are shopping elsewhere. ... Which came first? The chicken, or the egg?
Roger Norkus April 02, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I agree with Rick T. Section 8 is the worst thing for any community it helps landlords rent units but brings in people who have no vested interest in Oak Forest. We need a box store or new car dealer to bring in more taxes. Can we tear down all the empty places on Cicero to make room? How about a toll booth on Cicero and 159th...
Beth Kiley April 02, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Rick you are right ...Our town looks more dishelved than ever, the businesses are struggling, my property taxes are ridiculous. Our officials need to make it ATTRACTIVE to shop in Oak Forest. Clean up the corridor between Cicero and Central, Get rid of the crime ladened trailer park and section eight apartments on the east and west side of 159th. Who would want to locate a business next to them??!!. Does anyone know what reason nothing has been (or can be done) about high crime - Trailer Park and Section 8 eyesores? Have the existing business "spruce up" their appearances by having uniform signage requirements for businesses. Perhaps, require all business have to have similar awnings (Think downtown Tinley, Geneva, Naperville, etc..) Make them responsible for keeping up their grounds. Grass, garbage, etc.. Keep the parking lots fixed and pot hole free. Do you have tax incentives for opening a business in Oak Forest? Gentrify the corridor with potted plants, street lights etc.. It looks like you are entering the ghetto when you come in off Cicero on 159th going west. What am I paying for with my taxes? I know you need money to do all of these things here are some ideas: No pay increases for our elected officals for a few years, Apply for grants like the Tinley Park Mayor did and get rid of the Alderman we don’t need, and save some money. Thanks Beth
Business Minded April 06, 2012 at 03:13 PM
We have had the current economic development team in place for about 5 years now, can anybody give me a list of the accomplishments they have made. I fear it is near to none. There are no incentives for business to locate here other towns provide these. When we started our business the city said there was one incentive available, when we went to recieve it they said it never went through, costing us thousands of dollars. A healthy business community is vital to a healthy city I don't think our officials get it. Lets get an economic development team that LIVES in Oak forest, and gets the job done. About signs, the only way we can let potential customers known were here is by signage, why don't we have the businesses get together and decide what kind of signage is cosmetically appealing but also works, How many people at city hall are on the heavy end of a cook county commercial tax bill?
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I posted this on the Patch Facebook this morning, but it was Beth's post here that sparked it: Patch, I have an idea regarding beautification on Cicero Ave. Maybe someone with some photoshop skills could do a before and after for us, that would really get the point across. If an ordinance was passed disallowing pole signs, and mandated that any signage be awning or window based only, that would be the biggest improvement possible. Start at 159th, and drive north to at least 151st, and picture it without the pole signs, you will understand immediately.... Even if we had to provide an offset for the change, it would be worth it. Oak Forest Patch: Interesting idea. Have you mentioned it to your alderman? Darryl Kowalewski: Not yet, just saw it as I was driving Cicero the other day, but I will. I may just have to go take the pictures and do it myself, I think it would be quite dramatic. Oak Forest Patch: Every good change starts with a good idea. :) Darryl Kowalewski: Yep. Someone had mentioned something similar in regards to this idea in one of the posts on what to do to improve Oak Forest, I believe they cited something similar that Tinley had done in this regard, but when I pictured it while driving down Cicero, it really hit home that it truly would be a dramatic improvement.
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 03:58 PM
(Business Minded) "About signs, the only way we can let potential customers known were here is by signage, why don't we have the businesses get together and decide what kind of signage is cosmetically appealing but also works," That actually sounds like a fantastic way to work together to solve the problem. I have to say I think the business' on Cicero may actually get more business without the pole signs, as you would actually have to look at the buildings while driving down Cicero to know whats there. Many of the pole signs are ineffective in my opinion as the advertising spots on many are so small you can't read them anyway, and the plethora of them almost leads to ignoring them. I still suggest that anyone that reads this does the test for themselves. Drive down Cicero and consciously observe how many pole signs there are, and then picture it without them.... Business Minded, do you thing Oak Forest could support it's own business consortium? Would make dealing with these issues a lot easier.....
Business Minded April 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Darryl, a consortium sounds good. I just think the people we keep electing are not business friendly they say this is a bedroom community, I think that is far from the truth. We have customers daily saying they can't understand why the city can't attract more business, you would problably have to have a business to understand. A healthy business environment is essential to keep residential taxes down, I don't think they get it. Enough with baseball park dreams, get serious with projects that can benefit the residents year round. Look at your utility bills at the portion O.F. gets, now multiply that by hundreds and that is what the businesses are paying, along with sales tax, crazy high property tax, and don't forget about the family's that benefit from the local jobs. We need an economic development director that has run a business to see what it takes, this one just isn't doing it. The new sales tax may be the final nail in the coffin, why would shoppers that are already in neighboring cities shopping come back to O.F. to pay more in tax?
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Well, I think a consortium would really be beneficial, because it is painfully obvious that the business community will have to solve this problem itself, with aid from the government, not the other way around. The business' in town will need to rally their voices, and come up with a plan to present to the city. We as consumers need to then partner with the business to prove that we will support them should they decide to step up to the plate and do something worthy of attracting more customers. We the customers, and they the business' are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of this town. I think we need to communicate better, and stop looking at government to solve our problem, they may be able to ease it, but they are not the solution. That's why I feel a consortium is necessary, so a single point of contact can be established in order to do proper planning and have all voices of the business community involved. If we had one, and for example they did decide to propose a signage change in exchange for a tax break, it would have more teeth. Building owners would have to get involved, but I'm sure it could get done given the right credits. All our city government really cares about is balancing their own books, while continuing to be able to provide the services demanded of them, anything over and above that, we will have to do ourselves.
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I would like to prepare a letter proposing this, that we could distribute to every business in Oak Forest, especially those along Cicero & 159th streets, calling for a meeting to discuss the idea of a consotium, formal or informal on a date certain, say June 23rd at, I don't know, the Don Gorman Field House? http://sites.google.com/site/oakforestparkdistrict/rentals I will try to put a letter together. If we could get the city to donate the field house, and if we could get volunteers to help distribute the letter to the business' by June 1st, say each person takes one block (151st to152nd or Long to Lorel) I think we could get this going. Thoughts?
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Those are just dates I picked out of thin air, if it takes longer to prepare, so be it as long as it gets done.... Who's in?
Hamish April 06, 2012 at 07:14 PM
The Animal Control doesnt even handle wild animals anymore and a P.O. could handle a barking complaint
Hamish April 06, 2012 at 07:17 PM
absolutely!
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 08:00 PM
First draft, feel free to make suggestions for improvement: Dear Oak Forest Business Owner, Please make time if possible on June 23rd to join with other Oak Forest business owners for an informal discussion on the state of doing business in Oak Forest, and provide your input on what changes you think should be made as a community to improve the business climate in the city. One opportunity for discussion at this event is the possibility of forming an informal or formal consortium for the business' of Oak Forest to ensure easier communication with each other on issues relavant to all business'. When the business community pulls together to formulate plans and ideas on how to grow and expand there is a higher chance that something of benefit will be accomplished, rather that leaving it to the government to figure out for you. Some talking points for the meeting could be: Plans for landscape improvements, changes in modes of signage, coordinated sidewalk sales, advertising stategies, as well as any other ideas to help business' of Oak Forest thrive and grow. This meeting is targeted to business' located on either 159th street or Cicero Ave., but feel free to spread the word to any other Oak Forest business owners you think may benefit from the discussion. Best Regards, Citizens of Oak Forest
Michael M. April 06, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I believe we already have a Chamber of Commerce. Wouldn't this be redundant?
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 08:41 PM
An informal consortium, or even just a contact list would be a more direct, personal, and informal way for business' to communicate with each other on matters specifically relating to their business' in Oak Forest. The easiest way I could see to accomplish it would be to have a private Facebook page only for Oak Forest Business Owners. That is a simple enough formula for a virtual meeting place for ideas & discussions. Chambers have dues, Oak Forest actually has a joint Chamber with Crestwood and charges $195 a year. Chambers seem to deal with a multitude of other issues, and are a more centralized structure. While $195 may not seem like a lot, I can see how some of the smaller business' would forgo it, and because they do, that does not mean that they should not be able to easily communicate with other business owners in the city on matters that affect them.
Darryl Kowalewski April 06, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Or maybe make it more fun and bypass the meeting hall and have an informal BYOBarbecue/Picnic @ St. Mihiel Forest Preserve (NW Corner of Cicero Avenue and 167th Street in Oak Forest) around noon...?
Sue1 April 12, 2012 at 03:30 AM
The only thing with your proposal is, I believe it would be unconstitutional.
Sue1 April 12, 2012 at 03:34 AM
I have a different opinion on privatizing some services. Guess it depends on the service. I think a study would need to be done to determine if this would be more cost efficient. Part of the problem with that is availability. Asking for volunteers is a good idea, but would be a huge liability. The City would have to insure all of these people. If anyone was injured, the City would be liable.
Sue1 April 12, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Again, good idea with the volunteering, for budget manager, etc, but these people are required to be bonded I believe.
Sue1 April 12, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Very good point! We do need qualified people!
Michael M. April 12, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Sue1, what portion or Article of the Constitution would that violate?
Michael M. April 12, 2012 at 03:45 AM
What does the bonding have to do with it? Privatize Animal Control service, they would get their own bond and the city would hold the bond. Problem solved.
Michael M. April 12, 2012 at 03:46 AM
The city would not be required to insure anyone, they didn't insure anyone when they had clean up day and people volunteered to pick up garbage.
Dan H. May 25, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Top 2 ways to make Oak Forest better: 1. Get rid of anybody that works for the city that cannot show how their job is necessary and needed by the people of Oak Forest. This goes for anybody that is paid by the city, from the Mayor on down. 2. Set a budget and live with it. No spending money that isn't there. It seems to me that most of the problems start with the people in charge, so they are the ones that need to sacrifice some of their salaries and perks. If the folks that seem to have no problem overspending our tax dollars could learn to live on a budget, like everyone else, we would not have these problems.

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