RF board cracks door for future funding of regional groups

? Board will revisit municipal contributions to social service agencies. Also may pursue federal Block Grants on a limited basis.

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By BILL DWYER

The village of River Forest did something of an about face Monday night on the issue of municipal contributions to local community groups. At Trustee Michael O'Connell's urging, the board agreed to revisit the issue via memos between trustees and discussion at a future board meeting over the summer.

Earlier this year the board appeared to close the door on further funding of community groups when it voted to deny funding to the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation and to freeze contributions to the Oak Park Area Arts Council and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center this year. The village will provide no funding to any organization in the 2005-06 budget.

"I feel we are giving short shrift to discussion of why we were ending this support," said O'Connell.

Trustee Barbara Graham stressed that she has no problems with any charitable group per se, saying, "I don't think any of us are disputing that these are great programs."

However, she expressed serious concern that the village would be in the business of underwriting non-governmental functions at a time when village fees and taxes are rising, and revenue sources appear to be diminishing. Both she and Village President Frank Paris noted that water and sewer fees had increased, as have property taxes, which rose 3 percent over last year.

"I have no problem with a specific request," said Graham of funding requests. "It concerns me when we have to raise taxes. I would much prefer to err on the side where we are more conservative."

Trustee Al Swanson, noting that he's served on the boards of several area charitable foundations, said he is not opposed to the Arts Council and other such organization. But, he said, the village board has "an obligation to look down the road and make decisions" that are in the best interest of their constituents.

Agreeing with Swanson, O'Connell said that he simply wanted the board to leave the door open to consideration of funding request on an annual basis.

That, said Rise Wendt of the Arts Council, is all her group is seeking.

"We really want your support, as much as the money," said Wendt. 

During the discussion Paris brought up the possibility that the village might apply for federal Block Grants through the Cook County board. River Forest, he said, has avoided using that funding mechanism in the past due to concerns over the strings attached to them.

Trustees seemed receptive to looking into the possible use of such grants, particularly if they were directed to funding such groups as the Arts Council and Regional Housing Center.

Paris said Tuesday that he wasn't yet clear on exactly what purpose Block Grants might be used for in the future, saying, "I'm waiting to get more info from the county on that."

In other actions the board:

? Approved a $415,704 contract with Fine Line BT Corp for work on the Lake Street East Entry Streetscape Project. The work, which is scheduled to begin June 6, is part of an over all $740,000 in approved improvements to the Lake Street corridor between Harlem and Bonnie Brae.

? Approved the sale of $490,000 in bonds for improvements to the River Forest Library. The bonds were sold earlier Monday by Kane McKenna Capital, Inc. The sale provides $457,000 for library capital improvements over the next several years. The bonds, which have a 12 year life, have a 4.12 percent interest rate.

? Unanimously approved, following an executive session, a memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with River Forest's fire lieutenants. The three year deal increases lieutenant's salaries 4.25 percent per year, increases paramedic certification pay the same rate as firefighters, from 5.25 percent to 5.85 percent.

? Unanimously approved an easement for a fence to be erected on a  sliver of village right of way at the corner of 801 Clinton Place. The property's owner, Lambert Scherr, had applied for a permit to erect a new wrought iron fence where an old fence stood on what he believed to be his property. Scherr had already set 37 iron fence posts in cement. However, the new fence, which followed the site line of a previously approved fence erected in 2000, was some 16 inches onto village property, despite being several inches in from the sidewalk. Trustees decided that the development stemmed from an honest mistake, and allowed Scherr to finish the construction.
CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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