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Joliet mayor gives update on city to AABA

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk provided an update on the city Tuesday to members of the African American Business Association.

Under the guidance of O’Dekirk, the city has grown in different ways over the last year.

He spoke of the City of Joliet and other institutions within the community striving to be more inclusive and thanked them for their interest in wanting to be involved.

“It’s certainly one of the things I ran on when I was running for mayor,” O’Dekirk said. “I saw it as a city councilman.”

The mayor hopes everyone is starting to see the result of their efforts in the types of shows brought to the Rialto Square Theatre, in the contracts awarded for public projects and in the festivals that are organized for people to enjoy.

“I think it’s a breath of fresh air for Joliet,” he said. “I certainly give the Joliet City Council credit.”

Speaking of Joliet’s finances, O’Dekirk said though the city last year ended up not having enough revenue to meet its operating expenses, the good news is that $53 million remained in the reserve fund. That amount represents 107 days of operating costs for the city to continue running.

Typically, it is best practice for municipalities to have two months worth of monies.

“That’s not something that was done overnight,” O’Dekirk said. “That money was built up over the years. I certainly have to give credit to past mayors, past city councils, and past city managers.”

O’Dekirk said sometimes the work of the city council gets tugged into areas outside of its main responsibilities, and elected officials have to make decisions.

The city is primarily responsible for providing police and fire protection services, clean water and street maintenance.

The mayor gave a rundown of Joliet’s efforts to serve the community in these areas.

Joliet Police Department added seven new officers this year and is fully staffed.

O’Dekirk noted what happened circa 2008 when money became tight and the effect it had on police protection services.

Around that time, the neighborhood policing program was cut.

O’Dekirk said about five or six years ago, the city council brought it back.

A couple weeks ago, the mayor floated an idea past Chief of Police Brian Benton at a public meeting for re-instituting the Safe Schools Program, an initiative that allows for school resource officers to be staffed at schools all across Joliet. Currently, the elementary schools do not come equipped with them.

O’Dekirk said it is imperative that local government and schools get together and do what they can to ensure safety.

As for the fire department, it handled 21,000 calls for service last year.

O’Dekirk said about 87 percent of those calls were handled by ambulances, which is significant because Joliet collected $52,000 in ambulance billing fees.

The fire department also flushed and checked about 7,600 hydrants throughout the city last year.

As for street maintenance, the city invested about $13 million into its infrastructure last year.

“I think it was good investment in our city,” O’Dekirk said. “It was much needed. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”

When it comes to water, the city is working to ensure that it does not run out.

The aquifer the city utilizes is set to run dry in the next 10-30 years, and Joliet is one of the biggest communities that continues to rely on it.

O’Dekirk said it’s a regional issue.

“This is a problem that had not been talked about once the first four years I was on the city council,” he said.

Recently, a committee set up to provide recommendations on the matter to the Joliet City Council issued a request for proposal to different engineers to breakdown available options.

“I think it’s imperative that we get this right,” O’Dekirk said, noting that the city needs a sustainable solution within the next year.

Update on search for new grocery stores

“We were actively looking to have two [proposals,] and we thought we had a deal,” O’Dekirk said. “It fell through at the last second. One of reasons why apparently is that they looked at the books for Certified [Warehouse Foods] the last couple years, and they pulled out. They don’t want to make the investment.”

O’Dekirk said a few issues to note may exist and said another reason could be the existence of the smaller, Hispanic stores serving groceries on the city’s east side.

“I think they may have undercut what once was Certified’s market, so we’re going to continue to move forward,” he said.

Joliet would like to market the former Silver Cross Hospital property to host a grocery store.

“Silver Cross is not our property,” O’Dekirk said. “We can’t control what they do with it, but when they came to us asking, ‘what’s the city’s wish list? What do you want to see?’ [A grocery store,] that was no. one on our list.”

O’Dekirk said the city is continuing its search for grocery stores.