Oak Park’s village board hit a solid and respectful compromise Monday night as, by a narrow 4-3 vote, it earmarked $14 million of the initial $19 million in federal COVID relief funds to replenish village coffers where the pandemic impacted local revenues over the past year.
There is another $19 million still promised to Oak Park under the American Rescue Plan Act.
In passing the budget amendment segmenting the $14 million for village coffers, the board also agreed it would refrain from allocating any of the remaining money until an open community discussion allows residents to share thoughts on setting priorities for the funds.
There is rightly tension between voices who want to see the village government made whole (maybe somewhat better than whole) as a result of this federal funding and those who see this cash infusion as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in large projects such as replacing lead water pipes across the village.
There are ways to accomplish both these goals with thoughtful planning, bold thinking and compromise. But the village board is right in agreeing it needs to hear from citizens before these choices are settled. While there was some urgency in allocating the $14 million ahead of the village’s upcoming annual budget process, beyond that there is time built into the federal government’s spending requirements to slow down and listen.
We were largely impressed by the tenor of the board’s discussion Monday. A serious topic with legitimate disagreement. But the conversation was mainly civil and mainly focused. Village President Vicki Scaman’s leadership was plain. And the outcome was solid.
Looking forward to more of this.