A Chinese proverb says, "May you live in interesting times."
Indeed, our times are interesting – and challenging – for many families, as well as municipalities, businesses, and philanthropic organizations struggling to keep up with their responsibilities for providing important goods and services for their customers and clients.
The Village of Skokie is well-known for its diversity and its tolerance of different nationalities, religions, races, and income levels. Our acceptance of one another is one of our great strengths.
The question, then, can be asked: "How are we doing?"
Over the past two years the Village of Skokie has confronted plummeting revenue sources by cutting expenses and tightening our budget, implementing a hiring freeze, while addressing pension problems and keeping taxes low. For example, over the last two years the village has experienced a reduction in revenue in six of the seven major tax revenue sources, amounting to a loss of $4.9 million (13.6%).
Despite the difficult economy, the village has continued its capital and economic redevelopment plan with construction of a new police station, which is scheduled to open to the public in October, and the new CTA Yellow Line Oakton Street station in downtown Skokie, which will take 15 months to construct. All of the 18 contracts for the Swift station have been approved by the village board. These two projects represent a $50 million investment in Skokie. This includes a total of nearly $16 million in federal and state grant funds that supplement Village funding for the projects.
In cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Skokie Boulevard, Dempster Street, Main Street, Golf Road and McCormick Boulevard have been resurfaced and the intersection of Golf and Skokie Boulevard is undergoing substantial improvements. The village continues its residential resurfacing program as well.
Also, the village has aggressively pursued the purchase of a significant amount of property on West Dempster Street and in the downtown area. Most of these properties have or soon will be demolished. As the economy continues to turn around we will be in a good position to deal with developers to improve those properties. Already we're beginning to see some progress with construction of the Jewish Funeral Home and the strip mall shopping center at Gross Point Road and Dempster Street. The Village Board has created a program of financial incentives for new business development in Downtown Skokie and continues to consider additional programs.
Westfield Old Orchard has welcomed 10 new restaurants and retail stores to the mall, including the much sought after L.L. Bean, Anthropologie, and ALDO. Village Crossing also has made improvements and in fact, many of its restaurants and stores are leaders in their national chains. The Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore/Skokie recently enhanced their operation with the grand opening of Bar Louie which promises to be a point of destination for travelers to our area. In addition, the Hampton Inn & Suites underwent a substantial rehabilitation this past year.
While undertaking these new projects, the village continues to be involved in several long-term developments. Forest City Enterprises has invested $150 million in development of the Illinois Science + Technology Park, which now has 1,200 employees and 20 companies that call the park home. The Skokie Hospital (North Shore University Health Systems) is in the midst of a $150 million renovation. The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center opened in April 2009 and welcomed over 100,000 visitors in its first year.
As a result of responsible budgeting and our strong economic position combining budget cuts, a three-year personnel freeze, and low taxes, the Village of Skokie has been awarded the much-coveted AAA bond rating by two rating services, Moody's and Fitch. These ratings will allow the Village to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments on future capital projects. We're already seeing substantial savings with the Downtown Swift station, the new police station, and various sewer projects now under construction.
Despite the economy and a tight budget, the Village has continued to provide the excellent service we're known for. We were the first (and remain only one of two) municipalities in the United States to have fully accredited Fire, Police and Public Works Departments and a state-board-certified Health Department. The Health Department, in fact, responded remarkably to the H1N1 crisis by delivering over 40,000 vaccinations in 2009-2010.
Undoubtedly, the recovery of the economy will be slow and precarious but the Village of Skokie will continue to pursue economic development aggressively and will deliver municipal services at the lowest costs possible.
So, it's always interesting – never boring!