Thursday, August 25, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 8/26/16
Nearly $2 million in government funding has been re-released to the Maywood Park District after it had been held up by Gov. Bruce Rauner shortly after he took office. Last year, the governor issued an executive order suspending a range of “nonessential” state spending.
The suspended included two grants worth $1.62 million and $260,000 that the park district had planned on putting toward renovating its long-abandoned 809 W. Madison building and other facilities improvements, respectively.
The grants, the result of three years of legislative legwork by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), are designed to go to park districts in communities that typically struggle to compete for state funding against wealthier communities. Park districts in nearby Bellwood, Broadview, Forest Park and Hillside, among other area suburbs, also received funding.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn personally delivered a $1.62 million dummy check to the Maywood Park District headquarters during his unsuccessful bid for reelection in October 2014.
“Park districts all over the state are rejoicing and praising their representatives,” said Maywood Park District Commissioner Terrance Jones, who personally thanked state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Lightford for their efforts.
Jones said that after Rauner froze the grant money, park district officials from across Illinois lobbied Springfield — writing, calling and visiting with their elected officials to pressure the state to reverse the governor’s decision.
Last month, the governor signed into law a stopgap budget that freed up $26 million in grant funding for 75 projects across the state. The money is part of the state’s Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.
“Governor Rauner stopped all payments on grants after taking office in January of 2015, and then the state went 18 months without a budget,” noted Welch in an Aug. 25 statement.
“However, I am extremely happy that we were able to get this funding into the temporary stopgap budget passed and signed into law,” he said, “because our parks are all depending on this funding. Our parks are safe havens for our children.”
The $1.62 million grant requires the park district to raise 10 percent, or $162,000, on its own in order to receive the total grant. The $262,000 grant requires the district to raise half of the funds on its own before the full amount can be disbursed. In addition to the matching fund requirement, the park district is also required to spend all of the money within two years of receiving it.
After the $1.62 million grant was announced, the park district launched a campaign in order to raise the matching funds, but hadn’t met much of its goal by the time Rauner suspended the grants.
Welch noted that a new law that he and Lightford pushed would allow park districts to receive half of the funding up-front in order to jumpstart projects.
“That really made it easier for us,” Jones said. “That made (our plans) much more realistic, because (Welch and Lightford) understand our (constraints).”
Since the grant was announced, two new commissioners, one of whom was recently named board president, and a new executive director, have been installed at the park district.
Jones said he’s reacquainting himself with the grant requirements and new board members are just learning the details of the funds. He added that commissioners will “sit down and reconfigure” their original plans and timeline for renovations.
“We’re planning to sit and work out a plan (soon),” Jones said, “so probably within the next 30 to 60 days, we’ll be doing a press release (announcing those reconfigured plans).” VFP