2023 President's Report
The State of Our 2.94 Square Miles
2.94 square miles. That’s it. That is all that comprises the total area of the Village of Olympia Fields. These 2.94 square miles house 1,900 homes, approximately 4,718 residents, and a growing number of commercial businesses—both home-based and storefront—which currently number roughly 200. But square mileage is not important; what we do within those square miles, however, is paramount. And I am proud to report that we have accomplished much within our small 2.94 square mile footprint.
In the time since my last President’s Report, we like many other communities, have continued to rebound from the global pandemic and the inflationary economic downturn that resulted and now stand braced for a possible recession. But unlike many communities, the Village of Olympia Fields stands at the ready to face these headwinds, armed with fiscal strength, positive economic growth, dedicated volunteers, and a highly talented professional staff with the expertise to guide the Village through the challenges that lay ahead.
As we forge ahead, it is critical that we build on the successes we have garnered, thus far. Our Three Guiding Principles are key performance indicators that will continue to function as our compass aiding us in our planning and decision making. Accordingly, the key to ensuring a bright future for our 2.94 square miles lies in preserving its beauty and charm, improving efficiencies, and protecting property values through robust economic development. To that end, it is with great pleasure that I share with you our Administration’s achievements, to date, and game plan for the future.
Principle #1: Maintain and Protect the Beauty, Charm and Nature of Olympia Fields
Olympia Fields has long been the community of choice in the south suburbs for discerning homeowners looking for a safe and quiet neighborhood to call home. Steeped in history and known for its architecturally significant housing stock, the Village of Olympia Fields has always been and will continue to be a destination place. Our reputation and brand are our greatest assets, and as residents, we all have a vested interest in protecting our 2.94 square miles and your property values. Ensuring stability and wellbeing is Principle Number One.
- Ranked #1 in the nation in 2018 for minority homeownership (98 percent) by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Olympia Fields continues to be one of three premier majority-black communities in the United States. The facts speak for themselves—our Village is one of the wealthiest and best-educated majority-Black communities in the nation, and it ranks in the top five percent in the country for median household income exceeding $100,000 and adults with post-secondary degrees. Read the full article here.
- The Village’s Homeowners Associations (HOAs) play an important role and to better support them, we have increased the Beautification Enhancement Program funding for each HOA from $1,000 to $2,000, annually. In addition to the $2,000, HOAs will receive two free trees. HOAs will be able to use these funds and the trees to further enhance the beautification of their subdivisions. We encourage all of the Village’s HOAs to take advantage of this program.
- Our Beautification Committee, led by Trustee Sandra Finley, does a yeoman’s job of keeping our 2.94 square miles beautiful through a variety of initiatives, including its environmentally-friendly 50/50 Tree Program, which incentivizes homeowners to plant new trees—safeguarding our Tree City USA status. The Village and homeowners split the cost of the new trees. In 2022, 24 new trees were purchased and planted through the program. Through its landscape awards program, landscape grants, and home improvement recognition program, the committee encourages homeowners to take pride in the curb appeal of their residences. Further, the committee oversees the installation of seasonal banners and hanging flower baskets along Kedzie Avenue and at the Village Hall as well as maintenance of planters around the Village.
- The Beautification Committee is currently working with the Village of Flossmoor and the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a Modernism Road Rally that will feature a tour of historic Midcentury Modern homes in both Flossmoor and Olympia Fields.
- Our residents and businesses are doubling down on their investment in our community. Over the course of the past 24 months, the Village granted 1,118 permits for commercial and residential building improvements, which translates to $15,122,376.00 in rehab and renovation projects.
- Developers have also seen the financial upside to investing and building in the Village. For example, the Traditions subdivision is the site of new home construction. A new two-unit townhome and one single-family home were built in 2022. There are two new single-family homes currently under construction, and the developer of these properties has 12 more single-family lots available for new builds.
- The sale-to-list price ratio in Olympia Fields is 100.2 percent and, as of January 2023, the median home selling price is $349,900. Forty percent of Village homes sell above list price. Several homes have recently sold for over $500,000; the historic Midcentury Modern “glass house” sold for $675,000 and another home sold for $1 million in 2021. Olympia Fields is a competitive market; homes in the Village, on average, sell after only 56 days on the market. Moreover, property values have increased by 4.5 percent in the last year. These trends reflect the high-quality of the Village’s housing stock and its economic stability.
- Quality of life figures prominently in homebuyers’ decisions to settle in the Village. In addition to high-quality housing, Village-sponsored events draw residents and visitors, alike, to our community. Our Community Relations Commission has done an outstanding job of attracting people from miles around with events such as OctoberFest, which boasted attendance of an estimated 200–300 guests per hour over the course of eight hours. Our police department’s National Night Out was a huge success with close to 500 in attendance. Likewise, Caroling in the Park, has become an annual holiday staple, drawing carolers and holiday revelers from all over the Southland. During the summer months, the Village is alive with the sound of music. Whether it’s weekly music in the park at the Olympia Fields Park District, Jazz on the Lawn in the Graymoor subdivision, or live music at events like OctoberFest, the Village offers a number of venues for music lovers.
- Under the leadership of Chief Derrick Blasingame and Trustee Kelvin Oliver, Public Safety Liaison, the Olympia Fields Police Department (OFPD) has been reconstituted. We have the lowest crime statistics in the Southland. A testament to the safety of our Village and the vigilance of our police department, incident calls are down and continue to decrease, particularly at Walmart, Franciscan Health Olympia Fields, and Rich Township High School. In fact, incidents at the high school have decreased dramatically by 85 percent since the promulgation of the OFPD’s new ticketing program, which assesses fines ranging from $250 for first offenses, up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses. Additionally, we have installed cameras at designated locations in the Village, which enable our police department to track vehicular-related incidents that might occur in our Village, i.e., hit and run accidents, stolen vehicles, and other potential criminal activity. Finally, I am proud to report that the Village of Olympia Fields leads the way in the hiring of female police officers, who now comprise over 30 percent of the new officers on the force.
- Communities like Olympia Fields don’t just happen. It takes the concerted efforts of Village government, police, residents, and businesses working together. Our local ordinances (laws) by which we abide, the police who enforce the laws and keep the peace, and our code enforcement program, which ensures the maintenance and curb appeal of residential and commercial property throughout the Village, provide a strong foundation that bolsters property values and enhances the charm and beauty of our community.
- Our residents, through active participation on the Trustees Board, committees, and in HOAs, attendance at public meetings, support of Village-sponsored events, patronage of the Village’s small businesses, adherence to Village ordinances, and the simple upkeep of their homes, are integral to our success. This is your community; your home is your single largest investment, and we encourage you to get involved. Graymoor resident Carl Hill is the inaugural recipient of the Presidential Citizen-Volunteer of the Year Award. He is the quintessential volunteer, selflessly giving his time and talents in his own neighborhood, as chair of the Village’s Community Relations Commission, and in his work with the Park District, local churches, and the Village’s Enhancement Organization. This award will be presented to one deserving resident, annually. To learn about our Committees and Commissions, to download the application, or to view the schedule of public meetings, please click on the links.
Principle #2: Improve the Efficiency of our Village Government
As a non-home rule community, the Village is limited in its responsibilities and taxation authority. Principle #1 is key to maintaining property values; however, streets, water, public safety, and sanitation are our primary responsibilities. As a best-in-class governmental agency, controlling expenditures and increasing efficiencies in these service areas requires us to be creative in our thinking, thoughtful in our hiring, proactive in our planning, and conservative in our spending—a delicate balancing act. We have been successful in achieving that balance. As stewards of your tax dollars, I am pleased to share with you some of the initiatives we have put into place to save money and promote efficiency.
- Maintaining the financial integrity of our Village is of utmost importance. The Village’s General Fund budget is $7.4 million. We are in the enviable position of having managed six consecutive years of a balanced budget and a surplus that enables us to finance capital projects without having to borrow. Our motto is “No New Debt.” In fact, the Village has added no new debt in the last six years. As a result of smart fiscal management, the Village of Olympia Fields has amassed cash reserves that continue to grow and provide a cushion for unanticipated emergency expenditures in the future. The Village’s fund balance policy requires that five months or 40% of expenses be held in reserve. The fiscal yearend fund balance is projected to exceed 78 percent of expenses in reserve. These total surpluses are expected to grow. Sound financial practices and fiscal discipline have enabled us to increase all of our proprietary funds despite continued pressure on revenues.
- This Administration’s overarching practice has been to limit the tax burden to our residents. The Village is only 11 percent of your annual property taxes compared to local school districts, which receive approximately 75 percent. This Administration and your Board of Trustees, at the December 2022 Board meeting, adopted a “Hold the Line” tax policy, which means there will be no tax increase from the Village of Olympia Fields. This translates to $185,000 in taxes that the Village will not be passing on to its residents. For more information about the Hold the Line tax levy view the Village's website.
- Historically, water rates have been yet another source of financial burden for area residents, but not in Olympia Fields. I am pleased to report that the Village has not raised water rates for the sixth consecutive year and has no plans to do so in the near future. In fact, in past years residents have benefited from a 10 percent reduction in water rates.
- To continue this trend of water cost reduction and improved efficiency, the Village has installed a new Sensus FlexNet Tower. The tower, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in January 2022, will facilitate real-time reading of the Village’s electronic water meters. The Department of Public Works (DPW) will no longer have to travel around the Village reading water meters by hand. The tower’s real-time capability is beneficial to the residents in that the system can immediately identify high water use issues related to leaks, equipment failure, system outages, and other anomalies. This will reduce expenses and prevent water loss—a cost and resource savings to residents. The new tower and smart water meters, recently installed in residential and commercial properties, are the foundation of the Village’s monthly water billing program, coming soon. If you are one of the handful of residents who have not had a smart meter installed, I implore you to do so at your earliest convenience. Contact DPW at 708-503-8200 to schedule an appointment.
- Our Board of Trustees recently approved Ordinance 2022-18, amending the Village’s Code of Ordinances to establish a monthly billing cycle for water and sewer payments. Beginning in April 2023, all residential and commercial users will transition to monthly water billing. There are several benefits of shifting to a monthly billing program. Water utility bills will be spread over more months, resulting in lower monthly payments, enabling users to better manage their expenses, and easing the burden of having to make large lump sum payments. Further, monthly billing will enable users to identify leaks, plumbing issues, and other problems before they result in costly water bills. Look for more information explaining the rollout of the new monthly water billing program in the mail and on our website.
- Residents can pay their bills in person, by mail, or via the Village’s online bill pay system, which includes auto pay, email reminders, pay-by-phone, and pay-by-text. Fees associated with building permits may also be paid through this system. Please take advantage of these convenient options.
- Did you know the Village offers grants? The DPW offers two grants to help residents protect their homes and save money. Every homeowner is eligible for a one-time $200 grant to have a professional plumber perform an audit of their home’s water system. Additionally, homeowners experiencing basement backflow flooding problems during heavy storms are encouraged to take advantage of a cost-sharing program instituted by our Board of Trustees in 2021. Ten grants per year for up to $5,000 are available to help offset the cost of installation of a backflow prevention system. The application packet is available online. We encourage residents to take advantage of these cost-saving opportunities.
- Communication is a key component of everything we do. Our monthly Field Notes newsletter, which is available in both hard copy and online, provides information about Village happenings and news residents need to know. The Village website undergoes a redesign on a recurring basis to make it as accessible and user friendly as possible. Stay tuned for the roll out of the Village’s new social media platform, coming soon.
- The website is a valuable and transparent resource that is available anytime, day or night. Whether you are looking for our Code of Ordinances, public meeting dates, agendas and minutes of public meetings, applications for committee membership, upcoming events, or the Village’s financial reports, the website is the most efficient way to obtain information quickly and should always be your first stop.
- Speaking of efficiency—Notify Me provides residents with notifications about updates to the website; sign up at Notify Me. Our Concerned Citizen Request Tracker System continues to ensure a 24-hour response to complaints with a 72-hour resolution, in most instances. Create an account here. Our CodeRED Emergency Notification System provides much needed information in the case of emergencies, such as road closures, weather alerts, and safety issues. We encourage residents to sign up for this invaluable communication tool on the Village's website. You will be receiving more information about CodeRED in the very near future as our Community Relations Commission rolls out a new initiative to get more residents signed up for this indispensable resource.
- Community stakeholders, Trustees, staff, and members of the Finance Committee, led by Trustee Willis Pennington, recently met to discuss the Village’s five-year capital projects plan at the annual Capital Projects Workshop. I instituted this transparent process six years ago to identify and plan for future capital projects and to better facilitate the Village’s current and future spending and operations. When available, we pursue grants that match our agreed to capital project plans. Proper planning and astute financial management have enabled the Village to be self-sufficient. This process, along with the Village’s fund balance policy, has positioned us for the next five years to implement identified capital projects without borrowing money. To date, the Village has completed the following capital improvement projects at no additional cost to residents:
- Sensus FlexNet Tower
- Post Office Lift Station (sanitation management)
- Road resurfacing and swale repair at 207th Street from Western Avenue to Promethian Way; Arcadian Drive from Parthenon Way to Attica Road; Attica Road from Arcadian Drive to Ionia from Arcadian Drive to Attica; Greenwood Drive from 207th Street north
- Land acquisition from the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority
- Phase 1 upgrades to Village Hall Board Room Media Equipment
- ADA compliance renovations at Village Hall
- Village Hall sidewalk, masonry, and handrail repair
- Governors Drive median and Village Hall parking lot landscape restoration
- As I have indicated, the Village is in stellar financial condition with substantial cash reserves on hand. However, that does not preclude us from seeking financial assistance for various projects through grant funding. It is important to note that just because a grant is available, does not mean that the Village is eligible to apply for it. Often times, grants are earmarked for communities with high poverty levels and significant financial need. The Village of Olympia Fields would not qualify for those grants. Where we are eligible and where the funding matches a need, we do apply. The Village has received grant funding for bullet proof vests for our police officers, and the recently completed Post Office Lift Station was funded 100 percent through a $750,000 grant to be paid out over two years. Effective immediately, we will inform our residents about any grants that we receive, via the website and the Field Notes newsletter.
- We are intentional in our efforts to be more environmentally friendly and to promote sustainability. One of my top priorities is to move our fleet of police vehicles in a more eco-conscious direction. I have issued a directive that any new police department vehicles that are purchased must be hybrid. As a result, the majority of the OFPD’s vehicles are hybrid. Our ultimate goal is to build a completely electric fleet. The resulting cost savings on gas has been significant; fuel expenses have been reduced from $10,000 to $3,500 per month.
- Building relationships is essential to getting things done. To that end, I am happy to report that the Village has developed strategic partnerships with several community stakeholders, including Rich Township, Franciscan Health Olympia Fields, the Olympia Fields Park District, the Park Forest Library, and neighboring municipalities. One such example is our relationship with our neighbor to the north, Flossmoor. We are working in collaboration with Flossmoor to resolve two issues related to Vollmer Road, the dividing line between our two communities—the problem of trucks getting stuck under the viaduct on Vollmer and the accumulation of garbage along Vollmer. We have met jointly with the Cook County Department of Transportation to discuss possible options regarding the viaduct, and our two communities’ public works departments have scheduled clean up days along Vollmer in the spring and fall. Whether leveraging and sharing resources, developing joint programming, brainstorming on solutions to common problems, or actively promoting the events and initiatives of other stakeholders, these relationships are critical to the overall success of not only our community but of the greater Southland area.
- Of course, none of these accomplishments would be possible without a top-notch team of knowledgeable and seasoned management professionals at the helm. The work of the Village requires serious people, whether elected, appointed, or hired. Having the right people with verifiable credentials in place makes all the difference in the quality of the services we provide. I am pleased to introduce some of the new faces on our executive leadership team:
- Drella C. Savage, Village Administrator/Chief of Staff, is a retired supervising judge with over 20 years on the bench and almost 40 years of legal experience. She is the Village’s former Village Clerk.
- Derrick Blasingame, who was promoted to Chief of Police and has been with the OFPD for 23 years, brings a wealth of law enforcement experience.
- Jessica Washington, Executive Administrative Assistant and Director of Communications, is a lawyer with over 30 years of legal writing, research, and editorial expertise.
- Lisa Fifer-Smith, Assistant Finance Director, is a CPA with over 25 years of accounting experience.
- Terry Lusby, Jr., Public Works Director, has 15 years of experience in public works management.
They join executive leadership team members Betty Zigras, Finance Director, and John McDonnell, Building Commissioner. Rounding out the management team are Terence Acquah, Assistant Public Works Director and Don Dean, Administrative Sergeant. Our Board of Trustees work diligently to steer the Village in a positive direction that ensures the wellbeing of our community. Last, but certainly not least, our highly-qualified Finance Department, Building Department, and DPW staff, as well as OFPD rank and file keep Village operations up and running on a daily basis, like a well-oiled machine. Our Village could not function without them.
Principle #3: Protect Property Values with an Economic Development Program Consistent with Future Lifestyles and New Economy Business Models
The most significant way that we can increase property values and reduce the property tax burden on our residents is through robust, carefully planned economic development. The sales taxes generated by commercial activity in our Village offsets the tax burden that would otherwise be shouldered by our residents. However, quality new commercial enterprises do not spring up overnight. It takes time to identify and vet businesses to ensure alignment with zoning requirements and the values and needs of our residents. Once this is accomplished, more time is needed for the businesses to obtain permits, finish construction/build out, complete inspections, and obtain licenses. The time frame from start to grand opening can take as long as six months to a year and a half. Nevertheless, these are exciting times with regard to economic development in Olympia Fields.
- In conjunction with the Administration and Planning and Zoning Commission, our Economic Development Commission, co-chaired by Mike Lewis and Trinette Britt-Johnson, and comprising members with banking, business, and real estate backgrounds, plays a key role in the growth of our business corridors: Butterfield Plaza, Governors Office Park, Bizios Plaza, and Olympia Place.
- Approximately 33 new commercial entities were awarded licenses to do business in the Village from 2021–2022, including storefront establishments like Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream, Lawrence’s Fish & Shrimp, and It’s Possible Learning Tutors. The Quick Run Shell Station (complete with a gourmet mini-mart), Little Caesars, VCA Animal Hospital, and the renowned Batter & Berries restaurant are slated to open soon.
- Our goal is to become a mecca for entrepreneurs and small business. To that end, we are currently in discussions with several small business owners, restauranteurs, and retailers interested in settling in Olympia Fields. The Village is also in conversations with potential investors and developers of a hotel and mixed-use residential/retail property.
- In this volatile post-pandemic market, it is imperative that we continue to grow our economic base to offset potential losses that might arise due to store closings and business liquidations. Increased economic development insulates us from the loss of sales taxes when these negative events occur. We are well on our way to generating over $1 million in sales tax and fee-related revenue on current and future projects. Our cost saving and economic development strategies have positioned the Village of Olympia Fields to remain the premier community that our residents expect and deserve.
- Finally, all eyes will be on our 2.94 square miles this summer, when the 2023 BMW Championship, sponsored by the Western Golf Association, comes to the Olympia Fields Country Club, August 15–20. The championship will feature top golfers from all over the world and is the second event in the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup. This will be a time for our Village to shine on a global stage. There will be an estimated 50-plus hours of televised coverage of the event, with 22.3 million domestic viewers, alone. More than 400 local and national media will be onsite for the event. It is estimated that the BMW will generate an infusion of over $400,000 in sales tax revenue for our area. So, it is critical that our business community, especially, be prepared to showcase their outstanding products and services.
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. There is still much work to be done to ensure the continued success and wellbeing of our beloved Village. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work capitalizing on the strong foundation that we have built, to date. It is imperative that we work together, in community, to showcase all that our Village has to offer and to ensure that the world knows that good things are happening in no place other than Olympia Fields…Of Course.
Sterling M. Burke