Forest Park village commissioners want to consult with the recently hired village grant writer before fully committing to spending federal American Rescue Plan Act funding that hasn’t already been allocated.

The village received a little over $1.86 million in stimulus funds. It has until 2024 to decide exactly how to spend it, and until 2026 to actually spend it. While Village Administrator Moses Amidei originally shared a proposal for spending the stimulus money during a June 27 budget meeting, the commissioners didn’t commit to spending anything but a few items. An Oct. 24 special meeting, which was held an hour before the regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting, was the first time they discussed all of the proposed spending items.

During the meeting, commissioners advocated spending more on business development, whether it’s more marketing funds for the chamber or more business improvement grants. And there was a broad agreement that they wanted to see whether there were grants that can be used to cover some of Amidei’s suggestions, freeing up stimulus funding for other purposes. While the next meeting hasn’t been scheduled by this issue’s print deadline, the commissioners agreed that they wanted to at least figure out the spending for this fiscal year as soon as possible.

The spending is spread over three fiscal years, with $664,091 tentatively allocated for this, 2022-2023 fiscal year. 

Several items deal with the Mohr Community Center, with $32,091 allocated to replace the first of its three air conditioning units The plan also allocates money to replace the remaining two units over the next two fiscal years. $150,000 is allocated to replacing community center playground equipment and $21,000 is allocated toward reservoir cleaning and replacement. One of the two village reservoirs is located under the aforementioned playground. 

Mayor Rory Hoskins said the community center improvements were a major priority for him because “this is a [village] facility that serves the most vulnerable residents of Forest Park.”

The village fire station is another major priority. $125,000 was allocated toward replacing its leaking roof, with another $10,000 used to cover engineering consulting costs that would otherwise be covered through the village’s general fund. $45,000 will be used to replace the station’s air conditioning units, which can be done now that the roof is repaired. 

$176,000 would be used to replace two police squad cars and one police administrative vehicle. $25,000 would go toward evaluating the existing conditions of municipal buildings. $5,000 is used to help pay a portion of the recently hired grant writing consultant’s fee to cover ARPA-related consulting, with the rest of the fee coming from the village’s general fund. $30,000 is allocated toward staff retention – in other words, covering salary increases, bonuses and benefits that would encourage staff to stay on board. 

But the discussion mostly centered around economic development. Amidei proposed spending $25,000 on marketing assistance for the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce – less than the $40,000 the chamber originally requested – and $20,000 toward business incentive grants. 

Commissioner Maria Maxham argued that the chamber should get the full marketing assistance amount they requested, since the chamber serves as the village’s de facto economic development arm.

Commissioner Joe Byrnes said that, while he agreed with that, he would want the chamber to give regular reports of what that money is used for.

Commissioner Jessica Voogd argued that the village should instead increase the amount going to the business incentive grants, since local businesses “weathered the storm with us.” And she agreed with Byrnes’ suggestion about the reports.

Amidei suggested issuing the marketing funds as reimbursements, which would take care of the accountability portion.

In terms of business incentive grants, the village administrator suggested issuing them for exterior and interior refurbishments, and possibly repairing and replacing things like HVAC systems or kitchen equipment. Amidei said the grants could be 50/50 matching grants to help stretch out the money. 

The commissioners discussed the possibility of having the chamber administer the business improvement grants – which, Amidei said, would allow for more flexibility for how the grants can be used.