Archive for October 8th, 2014

Winnetka looking to mandate sprinklers for commercial spaces

The Chicago Tribune has an article about a sprinkler initiative in Winnetka:

A proposed ordinance that would require commercial buildings in Winnetka to have fire sprinklers in the coming years is getting mixed reviews from local business leaders. Those in support of the plan say it’s a life safety issue, but opponents call it an unfunded mandate.

Winnetka Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said officials mailed surveys over the summer to roughly 500 local business owners and landlords to gauge opinions of the proposed ordinance, which is slated to be discussed at the Nov. 11 village council meeting.

“The village’s downtown business district is in a rather unique situation because there is little or no separation between buildings,” Berkowsky said. “With no separation, the potential for the fire spreading is great,” Berkowsky added, noting a fire in February at a storefront restaurant in a historic building in downtown Mount Prospect, which quickly spread to adjacent businesses.

Some members of the village’s Business Community Development Commission also recently expressed their support for the proposed fire sprinkler ordinance.

Berkowsky said since the 1977 ordinance went into effect, many businesses have already installed fire sprinklers, including roughly 64 percent of those located in the village’s West Elm business district.

But landlord Glenn Weaver, who owns a 3,600 square-foot building in downtown Winnetka in the 500 block of Lincoln Avenue, said the change of use prompting the installation of fire sprinklers has already made it prohibitive for him to find tenants. “Because of the change of use ordinance requiring the installation of fire sprinklers, I’ve had space that has remained vacant for five years,” said Weaver, who said because a previous tenant’s business was considered a professional use, prospective retail businesses would have to install fire sprinklers. “These are scare tactics by the fire chief, who is suggesting that without fire sprinklers, the whole North Shore will blow up in a big fire,” said Weaver, who estimates he has already paid nearly $40,000 to install fire alarms and smoke detectors in his building.

Weaver also said he never received the fire department’s recent survey and questioned the distribution methods.

Berkowsky said officials attempted to mail the fire sprinkler ordinance survey to all the commercial businesses in town, and Winnetka business owners as well as landlords like Weaver also had the opportunity to express their opinions by taking an online survey.

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North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more) has an article about a motion filed in court to terminate the contract with firefighters in North Riverside:

The village of North Riverside filed a motion in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday, asking Judge Diane J. Larsen to rule that it has the authority to summarily terminate its contract with North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 and allow it to privatize the department on Dec. 5.

The motion comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the village on Sept. 12 asking for the same right to terminate its union contract with firefighters, which expired April 30.

“At issue here is the simple reality that contracts do not exist in perpetuity,” said North Riverside’s attorney, Burt Odelson, in a press release issued Monday morning. “They have a finite start and end date, unless extended by mutual agreement of the parties.”

Both sides will appear in court Wednesday for a status hearing. At that hearing, Odelson said he will ask Larsen to seek a quick response from the union to the village’s motion. The judge may or may not honor that request. The firefighters union still has not filed its answer to the original lawsuit. J. Dale Berry, the attorney for Firefighters Local 2714, must file that response by Oct. 17.

The village contends that the two sides are at an impasse after several rounds of contract negotiations, including ones in the presence of a federal mediator. Those bargaining sessions, says the village, were held in good faith.

The Sept. 12 lawsuit doesn’t ask the judge to consider anything but the village’s argument that, after bargaining in good faith and reaching an impasse, the village ought to be allowed to summarily terminate its contract with the union. The village notes in its motion for summary judgment that even though it has given firefighters 60 days’ notice, it will not move to terminate the contract on Dec. 5 without a judge’s order.

But the firefighters union argues that the village did not bargain in good faith. On Sept. 19, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board against North Riverside, charging that the village had no interest in negotiating a new agreement and engaged merely in “surface bargaining.”

The complaint states that the village never intended to bargain in good faith, as evidenced by a letter sent to residents by Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. on June 18, outlining the village’s plan to privatize the fire department. The first negotiating session between the village and firefighters was held June 24.

In addition, on Sept. 19, the union filed a demand for compulsory interest arbitration with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, demanding an arbitrator be chosen to settle the contract dispute.

However, on Monday, Odelson told the Landmark that the village will not participate in the arbitration process. “There’s nothing to arbitrate. The contract has expired,” Odelson said. If interest arbitration moves forward anyway, said Odelson, the village would seek to stay that action in court.

If the court rules in favor of the village, it could send shock waves through the state’s public employee unions. Such a ruling would seemingly make it possible for a municipality to terminate its union contracts when they expire with 60-days’ written notice.

Meanwhile on Oct. 2, the Illinois Department of Insurance delivered its findings regarding a meeting with village officials on June 26. At that meeting, the Department of Insurance ordered the village to show cause as to why it had not made required contributions to the police and fire pension funds in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. During that time, the village had underfunded its pension contributions by $5.2 million. In its ruling, the Department of Insurance ruled that the village failed to provide a sufficient reason for not making the contributions and ordered the village to submit “evidence of compliance” to the department within 30 days.

Since North Riverside does not have $5.2 to contribute to the funds, it likely will have to pay a $2,000 fine. More importantly, if the village fails to come into compliance by 2016, the state can begin to deduct up to one-third of its sales tax revenues from the village’s general fund to bring the village into compliance.

“The state is putting enormous pressure on municipalities to fully fund their public pension obligations. North Riverside is not the only community that does not and will not have the millions of dollars that will be required,” Odelson said in the press release. “Elected municipal leaders must have the ability to make legal and rational decisions that maintain vital services without being forced to declare bankruptcy.”

thanks Dan

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Antioch ballot initiative to fund EMS

The Daily Herald has an article about a referendum in Antioch:

Antioch fire officials have said publicly since May that a new funding method is needed for ambulance and rescue services in Antioch and Antioch Township.

The Antioch Fire Department and the First Fire Protection District of Antioch are losing money under the current system of spending cash reserves to pay for those services for the area’s 27,000 residents, said Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon. The solution, Nixon said, is to create a new property tax rate dedicated to ambulance and emergency medical services that mirrors the amount collected annually to pay for fire services.

“If we do not come up with a way to collect for EMS service, we would either have to find alternative ways to fund it or scale back response,” he said, adding the fire department fields about 2,000 rescue calls a year at its three fire stations.

Antioch-area voters will make that decision through targeted referendum questions on the Nov. 4 ballot — one for village residents and one for those outside of the village in Antioch Township. The referendums will ask voters to create a new property tax rate of 25 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to pay for ambulance and rescue services. The tax would cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 about $83 in the first year.

If approved, Nixon said, the new tax rate would generate about $1.5 million in the first year. The new revenue would mostly fund personnel and equipment maintenance, he said, but some money would be put aside for a capital replacement program.

The need for the referendum surfaced in May after the Antioch Rescue Squad was not offered a contract to continue serving township residents after 75 years of operations. The volunteer rescue squad operated without a tax rate and received most of its operating funds from donations.

Fire district officials decided to place all rescue and ambulance calls in the village and township under one, unified command of the Antioch Fire Department.

Two-thirds of the fire district’s cash reserves have been spent to cover the cost for ambulance and EMS since taking over district rescue calls, Nixon said. Reports show it costs about $35,000 a month to fund those operations.

Minor adjustments could be noticed in the current service if voters approve both ballot measures, Nixon said. More significant changes would be needed if voters in the village or the township reject the measure.

If village residents reject the question, Antioch Trustee Dennis Crosby said, leaders will have to cut back on other village services to pay for ambulance and EMS. The money would have to come from the village’s general fund, and trustees would have to weigh options against the cost of “keeping village residents safe,” Crosby said.

If the question fails at the township level, it would most likely result in cuts to the ambulance and rescue services, officials said. “You can’t run an ambulance (and rescue) service if there isn’t any money,” Antioch Township Supervisor Steve Smouse said. “So, if it doesn’t pass, they’ll just have to find away to run it for less money.”

Nixon said township residents would most likely see fewer paramedics at fire district stations, resulting in longer wait times for ambulances. It could also mean the fire district would have to hire a more costly outside private agency to handle ambulance calls, he said.

“We would still send paramedics to all calls, but it means that they may need to use a private ambulance service for transport to a hospital,” he said. “That cost would need to be picked up by the user.”

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