Oak Park may bid for 5th round of federal TIGER grants

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The last round of federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants didn't fall in favor of Oak Park.

But local officials will soon be discussing if there's a project that can help set Oak Park apart for the highly competitive opportunity to snag federal funds.

The program, commonly referred to as TIGER grants, provided through the U.S. Department of Transportation is "seeking transportation projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a region, a metropolitan area and projects." The DOT recently announced a fifth round availability of $474 million.

This includes funding for items that improve existing transportation facilities and systems; contribute to American competitiveness; create American economic competitiveness; create and preserve jobs; increase transportation choice and access to transportation services for people in communities across the U.S.; improve efficiency, reduce dependency on oil, and reduce greenhouse emissions and projects that improve safety.

Oak Park has taken a bite at the past few rounds of TIGER grants but wasn't chosen. The failure to be selected in the fourth round yielded some criticism from trustees, especially Ray Johnson who said former village President David Pope gave Oak Parkers and the board strong reason to believe the village was in prime position to receive funds. Johnson said in an interview with Wednesday Journal last summer that regardless of federal funding, village projects, like its 100-year-old waterlines, needs upgrading. Grant money always streamlines processes, but Johnson emphasized that necessary projects need to be pushed forward.

Johnson was critical of the process last time because the board wasn't strongly engaged until the application was submitted. But it appears that won't happen again.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said in a conversation Monday that staff is discussing options of how to present certain projects that could be eligible to be proposed for possible TIGER grant funds.

"We'll do what we have to at staff level and push it forward to the village board," Pavlicek said.

She said it hasn't been determined what format that would be, but said staff is currently developing a strategy. One way, Pavlicek said, could be to ask the board to pass a resolution approving an application prepared by staff.

Pavlicek said no specific projects have been named yet, but said the issue will come to the board very soon because the grant application deadline is June 3.

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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dystOPia  

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 8:15 PM

@JBM ... I agree that the staff response there was not enough time to get the application completed for board review and approval was pure blarney. This is the 4th year in a row the staff has submitted a TIGER grant application, so all they had to do was refer to last year's application for scope of work and committed local funds. It appears more and more there was major post-election behind-the-scenes dealmaking, allowing previous bad ideas to persist. Where is the application, Anan?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 1:32 PM

I will leave it to a board member to answer you question on why the Tiger Grant went forward without a thorough review of the Tiger Project or a financial estimate. More than one board member did question if they could get out of an approved grant; if the village can't find the needed funds. The VM was unhappy about that thought. There was some holy water Tiger endorsement thrown around at the board meeting a couple of week's ago but no final signoff. I am pretty sure I know why there was no signoff. There was not enough time to complete the filing to meet the deadline. Does the Fed have a very short timeline? No, but some politicians did not want the Tiger issue to come up during the presidential campaign or post-election ordinance challenge. So it was not on the agenda until it was too late to get a final board approval Politics over process -- really not that unusual in OP.

dystOPia  

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 11:04 AM

Today, the village is submitting an application for a USDoT TIGER grant, without village board or public knowledge of scope of work or committed local funds. Last year's TIGER grant application was for $43M, which included $17M commitment of local funds (based on 20% required local funds + $8.5M to demonstrate commitment). This is in addition to the $108K already paid for a planning consultant. Why is this year's application being submitted without public knowledge of committed local funds?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:36 PM

Bridgett ?" The Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) was in the RED by $1M in 2012. The 2013 budget is nearly 900,000 in the RED. The budget report says that they hope to get the CIB by the end of 2013. The lack of CIB funds is why the board wanted a Tiger escape clause if it could not raise the $9M buy-in for the $43M Tiger project. There are five reasons why I think the Tiger Application is a bad move. 1) The board has no idea where they will find $9M; 2) the likelihood of getting the Tiger Grant is very low. The OPV Grant amount requested would be 7% ($43m minus OPV $9m) of all the money in this year's grant for 50 states. That type money requires a dynamic project. Redoing the main street and installing new sewers in one of the richest villages in the country is hardly dynamic. 3) There is no evidence that Lake Street is in need of sewer replacement over every other street in OP. 4) There is no ROI forecast for the project. How much return does the village receive from a streetscape and sewers? 5) When will the board consider a project that is not in Downtown Oak Park? Regarding the Clark Street LLC project, the financing route (through D200 and D97) is clever, but really just an investment technique. I would like to know how much building the street and building a parking garage for Clark will cost and what lawyers the three taxing bodies are hiring to write a contract. We really don't need more lawsuits or remediation. Bridgett, my argument above are all pieces of my disappointment with the 2013 board picking up Pope originated proposals and trying to run with them. After listening to hours of debates and reading campaign literature, I thought the new board would have done some village-wide "planning" before jumping into a fire.

Adam Smith  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 9:59 PM

@ Bridgett - Mismanagement is NEEDING grants to perform a basic function that should be paid out of the regular budget. Streets and sewers are in that category. The Board has screamed like Chicken Little on this issue and it's a smokescreen.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 6:08 PM

No one has ever proved to my satisfaction that 1) Lake Street is the street in Oak Park that has the highest possibility of sewer rupture, 2) that the driver of the Tiger Project wasn't more cosmetic necessity than sewer emergency potential,,

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 6:06 PM

@John, I am really not understanding what the problem is. This money is going to be spent anyway. It's part of the capital improvments budget. So why wouldn't the Village seek a grant that would multiply its money by 5? If one has a problem with the capital budget, then that's a different issue than applying for a grant.

dystOPia  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 5:08 PM

Why is the village replacing Lake Street from Harlem to Euclid that is rated in 'good' condition, while 60% of overall village streets are rated 'very poor' to 'fair'? Of the 101 miles (1350 blocks) of water / sewer in OP, why is downtown OP deemed the most in need of replacement? Why wasn't the 2012 $108K Lakota Group downtown streetscaping design part of last night's discussion. Why wasn't last year's TIGER application that committed $17M in village matching funds mentioned?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 3:54 PM

Bridgett - The board has implied, given an indication, etc. that the highest priority is to continue the goals of the previous board. Without explanation the board has endorsed going to D200 to get monies for the Clark Construction (when they endorsed it I don't know, but told they were in agreement.), and are seeking a flawed grant that barely passed on a 4-3 vote for the last Tiger application. Is its first two actions are Downtown Oak Park projects and indicator of its future actions? I don't know! I do know that a lot of voters are disappointed with the startup of the 2013 board's direction.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 3:09 PM

@Adam, I don't know if accepting grants is a sign of "total mismanagement" of money. Grants are given all the time to taxing bodies. Scoville Park was made possible with grant money. Some programs and some materials at the Library are possible because of grant money. Look outside OP to other towns for examples of taxing entities who receive grant money. Or non-profits who receive grant money. Grant money is not an evil thing. The issue has to do with the matching funds. PS. John, sorry. JBM. :)

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 2:57 PM

@JMB, Yes you cited facts that are important in the decision-making process--of allocating money. And you also cited something as fact, that isn't a fact. The Board has not allocated any money at this point.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 2:49 PM

@dystOPia, If OP is granted X number of dollars, do they need to accept the entire amount?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 2:46 PM

@Violet, The money for parks and the money for streets come from two different taxing bodies.

Adam Smith  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 1:45 PM

The original justification for this grant application rubs me the wrong way. The Board insists we need the money to repair the crumbling infrastructure. Total BS - it's more bricks under the guise of the master plan. The master plan calls for streetscape, not necessarily bricks and heated sidewalks. Furthermore, if we can't afford to repair our infrastructure without a grant, that is total mismanagement.

dystOPia  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 1:34 PM

@Bridgett ... Cara Pavlicek made it clear at the board meeting, that while any applicant has the right to reject the award, it is the intent of the village to accept an award, if offered. To do otherwise, is a huge waste of village staff and board time, as well as unprofessional.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 12:45 PM

What entity is responsible for OP STREETS?! The 700 N. Harvey block is riddled with potholes. Same with Erie from Kennilworth to OP Ave. Don't residents demand that these things get taken care of? The village can spend all that money on Scoville Park (for what?) and yet some of the side streets are pathetically in need of repair!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:45 AM

Bridgett - Freak Out? I cited facts that are important to the decisions. I raised an issue that was discussed at length throughout the recent election. I am reminding people that we still have not addressed OPV's inability to deal with residents in a transparent manner. If that's freakin, so be it.

If only   

Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:33 AM

If this process were being directed at residential street reconstruction or alley work, we'd all give it a big "heck yeah." The money's gotta come from somewhere for that eventually. Oh, we're still on about Lake St? That sucks. Nevermind.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:23 AM

"The point is that the board passed a large, questionable expenditure without having funds and did so without letting the public know where the money is coming from." No, they didn't. I understand your point about backing out. But let's not say that the Board did something that they didn't do. IF the grant is given, and until the amount of the grant (if given) is known, and until the matching amount (if the grant is given) is known, then it's too early to freak out.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 11:11 AM

The 2012 Budget ended with a fund balance deficit of (-$1,040,602) and is projected to have a ($893,821) for 2013. Perhaps they can get a transfer of funds from the The Building Improvement Fund. Woops! ?" that won't work. The Building Improvement Fund has a (-$232,580) fund balance for 2013. The point is that the board passed a large, questionable expenditure without having funds and did so without letting the public know where the money is coming from. Being able to back out of Tiger if approved is not a professional rationale. It is far from ethical. Remember our tax dollars pay for the preparation of the Tiger Grant by village personnel and the review by the Federal Tiger team staff. The first step the new board should be taking is finding out whether we can afford the Tiger and Clark projects before spending "ghost" money.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 10:29 AM

Well...one thing to note is that if OP were granted money, it doesn't have to accept it. That was part of a discussion that did take place before the vote. And I think this point played a factor in the Board voting unanimously to move forward w/ the app. w/o seeing it. The app. won't be finished until the 29th, and there's not a formal Board meeting before the app. deadline, in order to review it. Since we have a Village Manager structure, this process doesn't seem that unusual to me.

dystOPia  

Posted: May 21st, 2013 7:16 AM

The board unanimously voted to support the TIGER Grant application, which if awarded, commits the village to an estimated matching funds of $4.25-8.5M+ matching funds. Incredibly, the board voted without reviewing the application, as it won't completed until submittal on June 3. There was no discussion on the scope of work relative to previously submitted applications. Matching funds will come from capital budget, w/o any discussion to amount and extent. Nothing has changed with new board.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 20th, 2013 5:26 PM

CRITICAL MASS - The village is already pursuing the Clark construction in DTOP, is voting tonight to go ahead with a Tiger grant request to redo Lake Ave., is still committed to Sertus and Madison Highlands projects. The election issues were taxes, fiscal management, debt, and where economic development funds were going to come from, and creating greater efficiency though taxing bodies cooperation to save money. The new board has not discussed any of issues above, in public, and have offered little in terms of a vision much less a plan The public is unlikely to buy that Clark and Tiger are old business . Following the ways of the last president and board is a dangerous step.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: May 20th, 2013 2:56 PM

The TIGER grant application is on tonight's board agenda. Being awarded the grant requires 20% matching local funds. As per the agenda, the max. grant the Village would pursue is for an est. $42M, which carries a min. match of about $8.5 million, though a higher local match could be proposed to strengthen the application. Will be interesting whether the new board is truly past the spending spree days of Pope with regard to downtown brick streetscaping.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 11:00 PM

The Great Night is behind us, the seats at Village Hall have been changed, and the Tiger is still alive. I have lived in Oak Park for a dozen years now. It has been twelve years of waiting. First the TIF's, then Sertus and Madison Hlghlands, followed by the Tiger. It is time to ask why we wait so long, and have so little to show for it. Part of the problem is the constant change of direction. Let's do Madison, wait let's do Marion first, etc. etc. etc. Is it time for the board and the staff to take the temperature of development in the last twenty years and decide whether the patient needs more than another dose of optimism. Can we ask ourselves if the big retail solution really can increase village revenues and lower taxes? Can we define what potential really is? Can we consider whether a smaller development dream and a bigger enhancement of the value of the neighborhood will add value to the village? Do we gain anything by basing our visions on the faltering federal and state funding support? Can we pause for a moment and concentrate on where the village stands now, before launching into another round of where we want to go? The village needs to learn how to think faster and with less maddening discussion? Can we take time learn how to do things fast before we begin racing off into dream land ---again? Can we try to grasp what the 21st Century really is about, rather than continuing to fear the risks its created and being hesitant about the opportunities it offers?

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