Eligible senior citizens in River Forest will receive assistance with snow removal this winter through a program unveiled at the Oct. 14 village board meeting.
Village Administrator Eric Palm explained that eligibility for the Senior Snow Removal Program will be based on the senior freeze program of the Cook County Assessor's Office and compared the program to the senior citizen backflow sewer prevention subsidy program the village offered previously.
"Most municipalities do this," village President Cathy Adduci said. "We're behind the eight ball."
In a memo to board members, Sara Phyfer, management analyst, said program costs will be paid with $10,000 appropriated from the proceeds of the 516 Park settlement agreement reached in June.
Palm explained that the village will use independent snow removal contractors to remove snow from the public sidewalks, walks to the front steps and front steps of residences of eligible residents.
Trustee Tom Cargie called the program "a great idea" but suggested removing snow from the walk between the house and garage.
Trustee Bob O'Connell expressed concern about having sufficient funding if the Chicago area receives an excessive amount of snow but Palm pointed out that only 12 people are on the senior freeze list, which he termed "a manageable number."
He said staff members would allow hardship appeals from residents not meeting the senior freeze criteria to "cast a wider net." He also agreed with Trustee Erika Bachner's suggestion that the program name be expanded to reflect the inclusion of citizens with disabilities.
In her memo, Phyfer said village staff members will reach out to qualifying senior citizens and provide flyers to the River Forest Township Senior Services Center. Applications also will be available at village hall, 400 Park Avenue.
Adduci noted that many senior citizen residents are living alone with no relatives living nearby who can assist with timely snow removal although she acknowledged that neighbors often assist.
"Our seniors are looking for a helping hand not a handout," she said. "We're doing this because it's the right thing to do."
Village officials had accepted a $100,000 settlement from a couple who owned a house at 516 Park Ave., the scene of a 2017 fire that killed a tenant living in their illegally converted two-flat. In return, the village dropped a lawsuit that sought to recoup millions of dollars from years of village fines. The settlement agreement is not an admission of guilt by either party.
According to the Cook County Assessor's Office, applicants for the senior freeze exemption must be senior citizens with an annual household income of $65,000 or less who have owned and occupied their homes for the previous tax year and who have been responsible for paying the property taxes on the property for the two previous tax years.
Eligible senior citizens automatically receive a reduction of at least $2,000 in the equalized assessed value of their homes. Over time, this program may result in taxes changing minimally or sometimes decreasing as surrounding properties continue to rise in assessed value.
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