First posted 1/28/2009 2:30 p.m.

As passage of an almost $900 billion federal economic stimulus plan nears, the Village of Oak Park is figuring out how it can get its slice of the pie. “Shovel-ready” projects such as planned upgrades to North Avenue might be eligible said village officials.

The U.S. House voted last week on President Barack Obama’s massive plan to attempt to inject life into a sagging economy that saw an announced 55,000 job cuts on Jan. 26 alone. The U.S. Senate started debate on the bill Monday and talks could stretch into next week, according to media reports.

It’s too early to say exactly how much of the $800 billion, plus, might go to Oak Park for improving public streets and other projects. But local officials met at village hall Jan. 26 to discuss how Oak Park would use its share of the money, if the bill is passed.

Village President David Pope, who attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago, met with Sen. Dick Durbin and the staff of Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) to lobby for Oak Park’s funding needs.

“We will be working aggressively at both the staff and elected levels to … pursue infrastructure investments here in Oak Park that will have both a positive short and long term impact to our community and the entire region,” Pope said in an interview last week.

Pope says an early version of the bill, which could be ready to sign into law as early as Feb. 14, has funds in five different categories, including $102.6 billion for public infrastructure improvements, $4.7 billion for arts and tourism and $4 billion for crime and safety prevention, all of which the village would like to tap.

It’s unclear how much Oak Park might be eligible for, Pope said, as infrastructure dollars will be directed to states and smaller portions will be sub-allocated to local areas.

About $22.3 billion of the stimulus bill will go to the state of Illinois in the form of tax cuts and spending, according to an analysis by Federal Funds Information for States, a non-profit based in Washington.

Pope anticipates the funds will be referred to states by early spring and doled out to communities three to four months after that.

The village has projects which could be “shovel ready” by then, such as plans for street and infrastructure improvements on North Avenue, Roosevelt Road and Harrison Street. Village officials’ understanding of the bill is that those jobs would get top priority for funding.

Long-term projects, such as capping the Ike, would not be eligible for funds from the stimulus bill, Pope said.

“These are the kinds of projects that the government wants to see move forward,” said Village Engineer Jim Budrick. “They don’t want to have to wait long periods of time for designs to be developed.”

Other projects, such as Oak Park’s bicycle plan and viaduct improvements at Marion and Oak Park Avenue, may also be eligible for stimulus money.

Pope went to the Conference of Mayors from Jan. 17 to 19. Since it is considered village business, Oak Park paid for his airfare and hotel stay. He remained in Washington for one extra day for the presidential inauguration, which he says he paid for out of his own pocket.

Village Trustee Ray Johnson also attended the inauguration and says he did not use taxpayer money to pay for his trip.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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