Kate Webster Diversity Commission chair

Financial support for the newly-formed Forest Park Diversity Commission might be coming from a different source than commission members expected.

Kate Webster, commission chairwoman, asked the village council in a letter to consider allowing the commission to solicit residents for donations to fund creation of a logo and a website and other upcoming commission activities by utilizing the village vehicle sticker application. But elected officials at the Jan. 9 council meeting were leaning more toward creating a line item in next year’s budget.

In previous years, village residents have been given the option on their vehicle sticker renewal form to make a contribution to a specific fund or cause benefitting the village, including the Park District of Forest Park to help fund an Independence Day fireworks display, the Historical Society, and the First Responders Memorial Fund. Village Administrator Tim Gillian said varying amounts are raised, depending on the specific cause, with an average of $2,500.

In addition to creating a logo and website, Webster said in the letter that funds collected would be used by commission members as seed money for signage, banners and literature to promote diversity at village events and various outreach, education and social programs in the planning phases.

Webster said Friday that commission members attending the group’s monthly meeting the day before were “very excited” about the alternate funding approach.

“It showed they want to support us and showed they feel we are worthwhile,” she said, calling the alternate funding approach a “win-win.”

Webster said commission members not only understand being redirected away from the vehicle sticker application contribution suggestion but also are “grateful to the village council for steering us to a line item in the budget.”

She said commission members understand that residents who donate through the vehicle sticker application contribution know the organizations they are supporting and it will “behoove us to have a greater presence in the village” before making such a request.

Commissioners Rachell Entler and Joseph Byrnes agreed with Mayor Anthony Calderone’s suggestion, Jan. 9, that the commission be funded through the village budget although Entler indicated a desire to know more details.

“I think I’d like to see what they’re looking at and see if we can fund it,” she said, noting it would be better “if we can find the money in our budget to help them out rather than rely on soliciting.”

Commissioner Tom Mannix, however, supported using the vehicle sticker checkoff option, predicting commissioners will be “very surprised” by the amount that would be donated.

“I would rather have the good folks of the village step forward,” he said, noting the village can be “the backstop” and cover any shortfall in contributions through the budget.

Mannix agreed with Entler that more details are needed.

“I really want to see what they’re thinking about doing with the money,” he said.

Webster said Friday that commission members understand the request for more details but indicated they are still pulling numbers together.

She explained there is “a general amount we will need right away” to create a presence and provide exposure for the group, adding that signage, a website and collection and distribution of resources are priorities.

She said the exact amount has yet to be determined but the commission “will not be asking for a lot of money.” 

In response to a question from Commissioner Dan Novak at the Jan. 9 council meeting, Calderone said no other organization had formally requested to be listed as a contribution option on this year’s vehicle sticker application, although informal discussion had taken place with park district officials who might be seeking funding for another Independence Day fireworks display.

Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz said vehicle sticker renewal notices are usually mailed to residents in early February, so there is not a lot of time to study the matter. Acknowledging her concern, Calderone said a decision would be made at the Jan. 23 meeting.

The seven-member diversity commission, which was created in May, is tasked with spreading awareness of diversity and promoting understanding in the village. Members are volunteers who each serve a three-year term. The commission does not have legislative power, serving in an advisory role to Calderone and the village council.

Webster said commissioner members are planning to make their debut appearance in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March.

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