The nearly $40 million America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds our village was awarded are still waiting to find out what the village wants to do with them. In the six months since the village was aware of receiving ARPA funds, neighboring municipalities and Cook County have conducted multiple sessions to engage their communities on how the funds should be used. Oak Park has not held any community engagement programs around ARPA.

It is hard to understand what has delayed getting community input for Oak Park while Chicago, Evanston, and Cook County have all been able to move ahead. Our concern should not be on the cause of the delays, however. Instead, we need to know that by not pushing for community input, our trustees get advice that may not be reflective of what Oak Parkers want or need.

In neighboring Cicero, the trustees and president decided to spend its Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funds on its police force. Based on reporting from Jesus Montero, it appears that there was no community input on the use of the CARES funds. In Oak Park, it would be a good bet that the community would not want to see ARPA funds spent on policing. 

How we spend our funds demands community input. The Oak Park village manager role is now vacant, and the budgeting process has started. The interim village manager has provided no detailed plan to the public on how they will solicit feedback. When asked during the Aug. 2 board meeting, the outgoing village manager mentioned that she would use a process like the one used for feedback on Interstate 290. Since I-290 generally affected those who lived around the interstate, re-using that process may not work for those farther from the highway.

The board needs to urgently seek community input on use of these funds. We are far behind other recipients of ARPA funds in bringing in voices across the village. There are commissions, staff, and volunteers ready to facilitate the process. So further delay is not only hard to understand, it’s inexcusable.

Stephen Morales, Oak Park

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