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Marquette Park residents unleash anger about tax district

Marquette Park residents unleashed their anger Tuesday about a nearly 20-year-old program that requires them to pay higher property taxes to augment normal police protection.

At the request of local Aldermen Toni Foulkes (15th), Latasha Thomas (17th) and Lona Lane (18th), the City Council’s Finance Committee put off a final vote on an ordinance that would have re-authorized the so-called “special service area.” But, not before getting an earful from local residents about security patrols they contend are not worth the increase in property taxes local residents are paying.

“They really can’t do anything. They can’t stop drug dealers. They can’t stop people hanging out on the corner. They basically don’t do anything but collect a salary as far as I can see. …I see more of the CPD presence than I do with this organization,” said Cassandra Muhammad. “This program was set up in this neighborhood — please excuse my language. I do not mean to offend anyone. [But] it was for white flight.”

Local resident Ron Kyles couldn’t agree more.

“They patrol 160 blocks for $6 million they want. That’s too much money for anybody to do nothing. They want $6 million to burn up gas. They’re not effective at all,” Kyles said. “I’ve been in the area 27 years when it was a mixed, middle-class neighborhood. We didn’t have special services then. Only when it became 99.9 percent Afro-American [did] we get a special [taxing district]. I can’t understand that either. If I’m paying taxes already for lights, camera, police, events, aldermen, precinct captains — why would I have to spend another $6 million for nothing?”

“Nothing for nothing leaves nothing. If they’re doing nothing, they should get nothing and they should be terminated.” Local resident Mack Williams added, “I haven’t seen any benefit to the service that we’re getting because of the restrictions. Their hands are tied. When you call them, they tell you to call the Police Department.”

Joe Polikaitis, executive director of Lithuanian Human Services, the non-profit that administers the program, said the special property tax levy pays for off-duty police officers in “highly-equipped security patrol cars” along with 13 “strategically-located” surveillance cameras.

Ald. Lona Lane (18th) noted that those surveillance cameras have helped 8th District Chicago Police make numerous arrests for beating an elderly woman, burglary, drug sales and loitering.

“So, the cameras do their work along with SSA 14 officers and the policemen they give the information to,” Lane said.

Marquette Park residents concerned about rising crime and declining property values agreed to pay higher property taxes in November, 1992, to augment normal police protection in the area bounded by Bell, Kedzie, 67th and 75th. Bureaucratic hang-ups delayed the start of patrols until May, 1995. In 1996, a far more ambitious plan to give the Marquette Park security teams formal police powers and academy training was killed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley because of costs, liability and because it would invade the turf of Chicago Police.