WICKER PARK — Alds. Brian Hopkins and Joe Moreno said Tuesday they want to use $100,000 from a Wicker Park/Bucktown taxpayer fund surplus to hire security guards from private firms who can augment the local police force.
“This is a common sense measure with the goal of enhancing security for the Wicker Park and Bucktown communities within the [Shakespeare Police/14th District],” Hopkins said. “It’s unacceptable not to use available resources in addressing issues that are impacting the safety and security of our communities.”
Special Service Area districts, sometimes called Business Improvement Districts, levy a special tax on property owners for communal services such as snow removal, landscaping, sidewalk cleaning and graffiti removal.
The taxpayer district's proposed 2016 budget of just over $1 million is overseen by six volunteer commissioners, the SSA, which brands itself as WPB for "Wicker Park Bucktown." The boundaries of the district where the private patrols could be used include several main streets such as Damen, North and Ashland avenues as well as Division Street.
But $190,000 from its current budget is "untapped" and will expire if not spent by Dec. 31, 2016, according to Hopkins' research.
Hopkins and Moreno are calling for the Taxpayer Special Service Area No. 33 — one of 53 active improvement districts in Chicago — to increase their safety programs budget with available surplus funds, to be allocated for security patrols in the Wicker Park and Bucktown business districts.
Hopkins has requested that the budget be amended, and the amount of $100,000 be shifted to a safety line item budget that currently stands at $1,000, for "bicycle safety programs."
Hopkins said that the proposed increase to the safety budget can be used to "contract with private security firms that hire off-duty and/or retired Chicago Police and Cook County Sheriff officers."
On Tuesday, Moreno said he is supportive of the plan.
"We need every possible resource in our neighborhoods to commit to stopping crime. It can't rest on the police alone. We have money in the SSA in Wicker Park, let's use it for the security of our residents," Moreno said.
Citing "lengthy meetings with community members and stakeholders" that helped to drive the idea, Hopkins points to the amendment as "a necessary, creative way to address neighborhood crime given the limited resources of Chicago Police Department."
Fabian Saldana, the Shakespeare District Commander, was not immediately available for comment on the plan, though Hopkins claimed Saldana "pledged full support for the force multiplier effort."
Recently, the Shakespeare District saw its longrunning "Wicker Park Detail" of eight late-night officers disbanded, so those officers can respond to crime issues in the entire district and not just the neighborhood's bar and entertainment areas.
Jessica Wobbekind, program director for the Special Service Area No. 33, issued a statement late Tuesday on behalf of Brent Norsman, chairman of the commission.
“We are surprised to see this statement issued from Alderman Hopkins. We have frequently invited the Alderman to be involved in our planning efforts and to attend our meetings. We agree with Alderman Hopkins that safety is an important issue in our community, and we encourage him or his staff to take an active role in the community-guided supplemental services provided by WPB SSA #33 by getting involved in one of our subcommittees to assist with funding initiatives. I hope Alderman Hopkins is able to attend our meeting tomorrow and be part of this conversation," Norsman said.
A public "Special Budget Meeting" for the Special Service Area No. 33 to discuss an "amended  budget" is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Special Service Area and Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce office, 1414 N. Ashland Ave.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: