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Dissent caused by city’s new approach to funding organizations
Posted By Staff On June 9, 2010 @ 6:00 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
By Stuart R. Wahlin
As Rockford aldermen make a concerted effort to change the way the City Council funds various groups throughout the community as fiscal hardships continue, new problems are arising.
After Rockford Finance Director Andres Sammul recommended aldermen pull back from committing tax increment financing (TIF) funds for groups and projects (see “Rockford’s TIF report card: Negative balances will drain public funds” in the May 19-25 issue), council members have been trying to get creative with how to fund the organizations the city has historically supported.
For instance, the downtown-oriented River District Association has been receiving $40,000 in city support per year, split evenly between the East Side and West Side TIF districts. This year, however, aldermen were advised to allocate $20,000 in recaptured loan funds from the state’s Community Services Block Grant program, rather than increasing the strain on the West Side TIF District.
Other groups, like the Midtown District Association—which touts one of the city’s few successful TIF districts—are being left out in the cold, however.
Despite the success of Midtown’s Seventh Street TIF District, the increment it has generated is instead going to be used to pay down the debt of failing TIF districts, rather than be reinvested in Midtown. Midtown President Jim Phelps has been trying since February to get his volunteer group’s $30,000 funding request before the council’s Planning and Development Committee for consideration, but he said he’s hit a brick wall.
“It is a sad day for democracy when we are told that we need to contact City Legal in order to speak in front of our elected representatives on the P&D Committee regarding a vital civil matter,” Phelps said in a written statement. “My conversation with Jovita Donahue [a city development specialist] today confirms my suspicion that all the delay leading up to getting our request in front of the P&D Committee has been for the net benefit of the city. In purposefully ignoring a time-honored partnership between the City of Rockford and the Midtown District, they have created the conditions that will invariably lead to the deteriorating relationships between the City of Rockford and the businesses, property owners and residences of the Seventh Street TIF District.”
He added: “No blight can be removed, no permanent, long-term progress in urban renewal and entrepreneurial reinvestment, without the vested interests and cooperation of the Midtown District stakeholders at the table talking with the Planning & Development Committee. No long-term commitments can be made with a municipal entity that places roadblocks to conversation with us at every opportunity.”
Phelps told The Rock River Times he was advised city leaders are looking into block grants, as with the River District Association, as a potential funding source for Midtown, “but there are no guarantees,” he said.
Another area group, the Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC), was before the City Council June 7 with a $100,000 funding request. Much of the city’s previous support for the group had come from the Redevelopment Fund, which was restructured last year in the wake of a $3.7 million deficit.
The $100,000 now on the table for RAEDC would instead come from Community Service Block Grants (CSBG) made possible through the federal stimulus program, but some say that’s bending the rules.
Victory Bell, a former Democratic alderman who retired last year after serving the Fifth Ward for four decades, said he feels the city may be on the verge of abusing what the CSBG program is intended for.
“When I read the Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting’s minutes from two weeks ago and saw the committee report recommending $100,000 to be taken from the CSBG stimulus funds and given to the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, I was disturbed about that action,” responded Bell. “It is my opinion that these stimulus funds were allocated to the community action agencies for poverty programs for Winnebago and Boone counties. I question if the RAEDC is an appropriate organization for awarding $100,000 from the poverty funds.”
Bell noted he’d always supported the RAEDC as an alderman, but added: “I do feel, however, that poverty is not the top priority of the RAEDC. …Congress made it very clear that the stimulus funds should be used to assist poor people and those that have lost their job.”
He stated six wards account for 75 percent of Rockford’s poverty.
“[Aldermen] have a responsibility to ensure that 75 percent of the poverty money goes in those wards,” he argued. “If you represent those areas, you have a major problem, so when we have an opportunity to do something to change the system in terms of making it positive…you need to vote that one down.”
For the second week in a row, Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) requested that the measure be laid over. During the June 1 meeting, only a second to her motion was required for an automatic one-week layover. During the June 7 meeting, however, another layover would require majority approval.
With aldermen John Beck (R-12), Pat Curran (R-2), Nancy Johnson (D-8), Bill Timm (R-9) and Carl Wasco (D-4) voting against the one-week delay, the council was locked in a 5-5 tie. Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) cast the tie-breaker, approving the motion for a layover.
When the report comes back to the floor June 14, it is possible a motion will be made to send the funding proposal back to committee for review. Bell said he’d like to see the matter go back to the drawing board.
→ Approving CSBG sub-grants to Rockford Urban Ministries in the amount of $35,000, to Diversity, Inc. for $10,000, to the West Side Weed and Seed program for $15,000, and to Alignment Rockford in the amount of $25,000.
→ Rescinding a mowing and grounds maintenance contract previously awarded to Elgin-based O.C. Landscape. The contract was instead awarded to the next-lowest bidders, Silver Hills Landscaping, to mow two areas at rates of $360 and $115 per cut, and to Tri-Me Lawn Care for $422 per mowing.
→ Awarding Campos Construction an $18,432 contract for street repairs.
→ Approving a $30,000 funding request from the Regional Access Mobilization Project, payable from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
→ Objecting to a zoning petition coming before the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) June 14. The petition requests that approximately 10 acres of land at 56XX N. Main Road in Owen Township be rezoned from agricultural to commercial. The area is not served by sanitary sewer. (See “2030 plan faces second test, but does it matter now?” in this issue).
RMTD appointment, reappointments
Pastor Herbert Johnson was appointed to a four-year term on the Rockford Mass Transit District Board, expiring June 2014. Gary Marzorati was reappointed to a two-year term with the RMTD Board. Michael Wilcop was reappointed to a three-year term.
Aldermen convened in closed session to discuss litigation and collective bargaining negotiations. Presumably, some of the discussion was related to a grievance filed by the firefighters’ union in response to a proposal to eliminate two fire-suppression crews from the Fire Department’s workforce.
Prophet Yusef argued the community should not give up on educating disadvantaged youth.
“Your students are the product of your leadership,” Yusef asserted. “You are the teacher.”
Alignment Rockford Executive Director Laurie Preece thanked council members for financial support of the nonprofit group’s efforts to maximize the potential of Rockford’s public schools.
Outlining a number of strategies to that end, Preece indicated the organization welcomes suggestions and volunteers.
Rockford Sharefest Executive Director Craig Day also said he welcomes volunteers and donors for his group’s annual event. This year’s effort, June 18-26, will focus on improvements to two area schools. Day is hoping for 8,000 volunteers to work any of three daily shifts during the project. Although the work is performed by volunteers, the group does face a substantial cost when it comes to materials. To meet that demand, Day is calling on 10,000 residents to donate $20 each.
June 12 was proclaimed Bike Jam Day. The week of June 7 was proclaimed Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Week.
Aldermen Doug Mark (R-3), Lenny Jacobson (D-6), Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) and Karen Elyea (D-11) were absent.
From the June 9-15, 2010 issue
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