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updated: 1/21/2014 11:46 PM

Des Plaines lowers bill for Guadalupe event to $7,000

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Des Plaines police department officials have agreed to lower their bill from $30,000 to $7,000 for providing traffic control last December during the Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day celebration.

Police Chief William Kushner said an agreement was reached during a meeting Tuesday with organizers of the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration, which is held annually Dec. 11 and 12 on the campus of Maryville Academy.

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The staff at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe say they were surprised when they received an invoice last month for $30,000, since the previous year's bill was only about $2,500. They called for a meeting with Kushner and Deputy Police Chief Nick Treantafeles to provide clarification on the bill.

Kushner said the $7,000 figure was arrived at through negotiations with the Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of the Our Lady shrine; the Rev. John Smyth, the former Maryville executive director who started the shrine in the late 1980s; and the shrine's finance committee chairman.

The police chief said the lower number was much more palatable for organizers of the festival and they said they would be able to pay it. The remaining $23,000 balance will be paid through the police department's budget.

"We clarified all miscommunications," Kushner said. "We have a resolution and will work together in the future to make sure our resources are not taxed completely for the feast."

Kushner proposed billing organizers a different way for police traffic control in 2013 to better manage overtime costs resulting from officers working longer shifts during the two-day festival. Officers were asked to "volunteer" to work the event and received time and a half pay for it.

Under previous practices, the city charged only for the staffing costs of extra "reserve" officers who were brought in specifically for the event. That usually meant bills ranging from as little as $2,500 in 2012 to $9,000 in 2009, Mercado said in an earlier Daily Herald interview.

City officials said the way the city decided to bill organizers of the Our Lady of Guadalupe event is similar to how other entities, including the Des Plaines Park District and St. Zachary Parish, are billed for their festivals.

Meanwhile, during Tuesday's city council meeting, 6th Ward Alderman Mark Walsten proposed that the city talk to the Archdiocese of Chicago about potentially moving the location of the feast day celebration due to safety issues.

Walsten said he has "deep concerns" about the safety of the pilgrims -- by some estimates as many as 100,000 -- who walk to the shrine on the streets in the dark.

"God bless the event and everything, but I really have concerns about the safety of this area," Walsten said. "I think there's a possibility this event has outgrown where it is in Des Plaines."

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman said that opinion is "not where I'm coming from" but believes the full council should have a discussion before directing the city staff to contact the archdiocese.

Police officials will meet again with organizers of the festival in July to begin discussing plans for next December's feast day celebration.

Kushner said those discussions would include ways in which the police department would be able to lower its staffing and costs.

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