UPDATE : Although the 350+ page “Amendment to House Bill 62” on which this article was based did not include any information about Orland Park funds in the pipeline, Mayor Pekau has now been informed by state officials that an unspecified amount of road improvement funds will be forthcoming, at a date to be announced later this year.
By Dermot Connolly
Most local municipalities and a couple of social service agencies are receiving grant money included in a capital-improvements spending bill the Illinois House and Senate passed earlier this month—with only the Village of Orland Park seemingly left out in the cold.
House Bill 62, which was sent to Gov. JB Pritzker for his signature on June 7, allocates money from the Build Illinois Bond Fund to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for disbursement to various communities and agencies.
Included in the bill is a $50,000 grant for construction of a playground and sprinkler system, as well as $150,000 for street improvements for the village of Palos Park.
Palos Park Village Manager Rick Boehm said the grant for a playground and sprinkler system was requested for the village’s Centennial Park, 12216 S. Will-Cook Road, which is being expanded in phases.
Boehm said the village requested a great deal more in funding for various projects, without expecting to get very much. “But if you don’t ask, you don’t get anything,” he added.
The village manager said the details about when the money will be received and the projects completed have yet to be worked out. “It is a bit early for that. I don’t expect anything to be done this year.”
Palos Heights is slated to receive $75,000 for improvements to the Olympic-sized Palos Heights Pool, located at 7607 W. College Drive.
“There’s nothing particular it’s earmarked for, but we do have capital improvement plans, conceptual plans of things we want to do,” said Facilities Manager Joe Smith of the Palos Heights Parks & Recreation Department.
“Update the amenities, keep the place looking fresh, that money is going to help us do that. Replacing more concrete decking, the fence could use replacement soon, we need to remodel parts of the bathhouse to make it more ADA-accessible, to bring it up to the needs of families in 2019,” he said.
Lake Katherine Nature Center, also located in Palos Heights, is scheduled to receive $20,000 for costs associated with improvements to the lake’s overlook structure.
Community Services Foundation, a social service agency that provides programs and services for children and adults with developmental disabilities, was awarded a $250,000 grant for upgrades to its facility located at 18230 Orland Parkway in Orland Park.
“It was good news and we are thankful to state Sen. Michael Hastings (D-19th) for doing this for us,” said Mary Pat Ambrosino, executive director of CSF. She said the Orland Park building is not fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, and some of the money will likely be used to get new doors and otherwise make the building more accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Alsip-based Southwest Special Recreation Association, which works with numerous park districts to provide activities for the disabled, was also allocated allocated $50,000 for updating facilities to make them more ADA-compatible.
“I received a call from state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) telling us we were getting the money. But I will have to prioritize and figure out where it can be best used,” said Executive Director Lori Chesna. “Where it is used will be decided by the board of directors.”
Being left out of the money did not sit well with officials in Orland Park, especially since neighboring Orland Hills, a much smaller community, received more than $7 million for various projects.
“It is my understanding that Mayor Keith Pekau made several trips to Springfield and we ended up with a big goose egg. We got nothing,” said Trustee Jim Dodge. “The individual trustees did not go down there, but the mayor did.”
Dodge also pointed out that while Orland Park recently had to open a line of credit to pay for an extra $3.5 million in neighborhood street improvements this year, many neighboring communities are now going to receive state funding for street improvements.
Mayor Pekau was equally upset about the lack of money coming to Orland Park, but he doesn’t believe it is a reflection on him.
“We had a significant amount of requests. I don’t think it is about me. It is ultimately political payback to the voters of Orland Park,” said Pekau. “See how the village voted in the governor’s race.”
The mayor said the lack of funding coming to Orland Park is related mainly to the “gerrymandering of districts” so the village is split up among several districts, resulting in elected officials not feel obligated to serve the whole village.