City Council: Graduates pay to park?

Attendees of Rockford Public School District 205 graduation ceremonies may not be getting a free ride for downtown parking after this year.

Although aldermen voted May 14 to once again grant the parking waiver for District 205 commencements, the policy is likely to come under review over the next year.

Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11), who cast the sole “no” vote, has expressed reservations about the issue for some time.

“During the budget hearings, I raised the concerns,” Holt indicated, “specifically about the graduations, and why we don’t charge for events when we have so many users using our structure downtown.”

Holt cited between $12,000 and $15,000 in parking revenues will be lost as a result of the freebies.

Despite a 13-1 vote to grant the free parking this time, Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) said Holt’s concern is valid.

“If we have free parking for an event like a school graduation ceremony, there’s no such thing as it really being free,” Morrissey noted. “There’s costs to our city in terms of traffic control and public safety associated with an event like that.”

District 205 high schools will hold commencement ceremonies at the Coronado Theatre and MetroCentre May 30-June 1.

In the future, Morrissey would like for the city to at least be compensated for costs related to operating those facilities and the parking garage.

“Maybe at this late stage in the game, it’s something that’s not appropriate to spring on the district, but I think it’s something we need to address,” Morrissey acknowledged, “if not this year, then for next year.”

Other items of note from the May 14 Rockford City Council meeting include:

Mayor Morrissey expressed optimism on the eve of the May 15 Springfield Fly-In to lobby state legislators on behalf of the City of Rockford. A priority, Morrissey said, would be securing the early collection of the 1 percentage point sales tax increase approved by voters April 17. If successful, the city would be allowed to begin levying the increase in July rather than waiting until Jan. 1, 2008. The bill is waiting for the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Even if the collection date is moved up, the tax increase will not expire until Dec. 31, 2012. This would essentially provide for a five-and-a-half-year tax increase, rather than honoring the five-year sunset clause voters were promised. “Ultimately, that’s something for a future Council to take up…It’s gonna be an issue for them,” Morrissey responded when asked if the increase will be limited to five years as was suggested during the referendum campaign. “We put an end date in the referendum that passed. That end date is the end of 2012.” Morrissey is confident the people of Rockford will be pleased with the results of the referendum’s passage. “Our hope,” Morrissey added, “would be that we earn enough trust with this community that we’d be able to extend that way of funding our roads.”

Also eagerly anticipating the May 15 lobbying trip to the state legislature, Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) explained, “I think that bodes well for the City of Rockford; that we’re getting known down there on a personal level.” The mayor and the city’s recently-created Legislative Lobbying Committee have been making frequent trips to Springfield in hopes of increasing Rockford’s influence at the capital.

Mayor Morrissey touted the success of the new truancy court program. “If you have any doubts or questions as to the importance of this truancy effort, take a look at the hearings,” Morrissey urged. The mayor indicated a new state law will take effect in July that will allow the State of Illinois to suspend driving privileges for chronic truants. “If you’re a 14-year old, and you know that, as a result of your conduct, you won’t be able to get your license when you turn 16—or if you’re a 16-year-old, know that you could get your license suspended or revoked based on your attendance in school—hopefully, that’ll help get the message across as to the importance of our truancy court.”

Aldermen Victory Bell (D-5) and Linda McNeely (D-13) called for more aggressive efforts in curtailing Rockford’s growing graffiti problem. Bell asked the courts to issue more than just a slap on the wrist to offenders. McNeely suggested regulating the sale of cans of spray paint and said at least two of her constituents are considering moving because of the problem. She argued the police need the community’s help and urged the public to report graffiti and other criminal activity.

Mayor Morrissey proclaimed the week of May 13-19 to be National Police Week in Rockford and urged the community to honor the work of law enforcement officers. One way suggested for showing support for police is participation in the Blue Ribbon Campaign by tying a blue ribbon onto your car antenna. Local events associated with National Police Week include a 7 p.m. Police Memorial Service on May 17 at the First Church of the Nazarene, 4503 Charles St. Area law enforcement agencies will also be manning displays and police equipment at CherryVale Mall between May 18 and May 20.

The week was also proclaimed National Transportation Week in Rockford. Mayor Morrissey asked citizens to recognize the important role transportation plays in our lives. Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), who is employed by trucking company USF Holland, noted the transportation industry is a large employer locally. “We have a great group of people that are in transportation,” Mark said, “and it’s a large percentage of the workers here in this area.”

Mayor Morrissey proclaimed the week of May 14 to be Salvation Army Week in Rockford. Morrissey asked the community to recognize and show appreciation for the dedication and commitment the Salvation Army has to our community.

The week of May 13-19 was also proclaimed National Nursing Home Week to honor not only nursing home staff and volunteers, but also the homes’ residents who are a rich part of Rockford’s history.

Ald. Mark invited the public to attend the River District’s Commercial Renovation Tour on May 19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. The self-guided tour consists of 10 renovated commercial buildings and homes in addition to unfinished ready-to-occupy sites. For more information, call the River District Association at 1-815-964-6221.

Aldermen passed a committee report recommending a three-year contract be awarded to Environmental, Inc., with an estimated annual cost of $47,000 for radiological testing services on city water.

A committee report recommending approval of an auctioneering services contract with Action Auctioneering of Rockford was passed. Action Auctioneering will receive 6 percent of proceeds from the sale of titled equipment and 12 percent for non-titled surplus goods.

The Council passed a report advising approval of $229,500 in task orders for McMahon Associates, Inc., of Machesney Park, for Water System Rehabilitation Project engineering. Aldermen agreed to another committee report recommending approval of task orders in the amount of $612,600 for Strand Associates, Inc. for other engineering services related to the same project. Strand is based in Madison, Wis.

An ordinance to approve an agreement between the Human Services Department and Rockford Township in the amount of $10,000 for emergency housing assistance was passed.

All 14 aldermen were present for the meeting.

from the May 16-22, 2007, issue

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