The Forest Park Village Council voted unanimously on July 24 to approve a resolution that creates a plan for spending the rest of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal stimulus funds.
While Village Administrator Moses Amidei has developed ARPA budgets before, he always took pains to emphasize that they were tentative, and the council had to approve each individual expense on a case-by-case basis. He said the newest ARPA budget will give the staff more long-term direction. Amidei added that the budget can still be amended, and he fully expects some changes to be made in the future.
The new ARPA budget notably includes $120,000 to help the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce market the village over the next three years and another $40,000 to allow the chamber to provide business grants. It also includes funding for mental health assistance and developing a village-wide strategic plan.
But perhaps the biggest expense of them all — and most uncertain — is the funding to replace the Mohr Community Center playground. Amidei explained to the Review that the inspection of the reservoir underneath the playground revealed signs of deterioration, and the project has been paused until the village can figure out the full extent of the damage and what it would take to fix it.
The previous budget was approved during a Jan. 23 special meeting, and by April, it was already clear that the plan would have to change. While the budget proposed spending $150,000 on the playground redo, the lowest bid came in at $218,285. While the council approved using ARPA to make up the difference, that raised the question of what other expenses would need to be reduced, or cut altogether. The council decided to hold off on approving another expense — paying the Chamber $40,000 a year for three years to market Forest Park.
During the May 23 meeting, the village council agreed to spend $21,340 in ARPA funding to pay for the evaluation of village-owned buildings — less than the $25,000 set in the January budget.
The commissioners discussed the budget as part of the July 10 special budget meeting, and the results of those discussions were turned into the document that went before the council on July 24.
The new budget kept the marketing assistance item the same as the January budget but changed several others. Mental health assistance went down from $30,000 to $20,000. The business incentive grants dropped by nearly half, but Amidei said that the drop wasn’t as drastic as it looked. The village would spend Tax Increment Financing district funds on businesses located within a TIF, while using ARPA funds to provide incentives in other parts of the village.
“If we have TIF funding, we will use TIFs to help business should the need arise,” Amidei said. “Aside from TIFs, we don’t have a lot of wiggle room in our General Fund.”
Some expenses either weren’t part of the previous budget or didn’t have a concrete number attached. The new budget set aside $300,000 to help retain staff — a figure that, Amidei said, Finance Director Letitia Olmsted recommended. And $21,000 was set aside for the four-year strategic plan.
The budget includes several increases, allocating $114,000 to replace and add security cameras on village property — most notably at the community center — up from $100,000 in the January budget. And it allocates $230,000 toward playground improvements. Amidei said he wanted to keep it in the budget because the commissioners already approved the funding, and he wanted to have it ready to go.
Commissioner Jessica Voogd, who has been pushing for the ARPA budget meeting for the past few months, asked Amidei to elaborate on how the budget can be changed. He described the document as “guidelines and parameters” for the staff.
“If changes are needed at a later time, depending on how the pricing is and whether it comes to fruition, I would come to the council to amend the budget,” Amidei said.
Mayor Rory Hoskins said he was fine with changes further down the road.
“This is a road map, but it can be adjusted,” he said.