BLOOMINGTON — Despite being told a $750,000 state grant is off the table, the Bloomington City Council moved ahead with prioritizing park and trail projects with the expectation the city could get the money.
The council on Monday discussed possible alternative projects to replace the proposal it rejected last month to add land to McGraw Park and lease it Central Catholic School for football practice.
The council approved using $300,000 to improve and expand Constitution Trail, $250,000 for Miller Park pavilion infrastructure repairs and upgrades, and $200,000 to renovate Sunnyside Park.
Another staff recommendation to spend $250,000 at the city-owned Prairie Vista golf course was replaced with the Miller Park project after Ward 2 Alderman David Sage and others said they did not want to see that money spent to resurface golf cart paths.
The measure passed by an 8-0 vote, with Ward 4 Alderman Judy Stearns voting "present."
"I disagreed on voting on a wish; something that is so theoretical," Stearns explained after the meeting. "I just think it's not a proper thing to be voting on because we don't have the money."
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, sponsored the original earmark when it was budgeted five years ago.
The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which administers the funding, has been told to essentially kill the grant at the request of the Senate Republican Caucus because the council had rejected the grant for McGraw Park, said DCEO spokesman Dave Roeder.
The council initially approved the plan Nov. 10, but it later reversed that after it came to light that Ward 9 Alderman Jim Fruin had a possible conflict of interest as a CCHS trustee.
The grant money "will just remain on hold and unspent until we get further notice of what to do here," Roeder said Friday, adding he expected that notice would be from the Senate Republican Caucus.
Mayor Tari Renner says that by law the designated use for the grant is Bloomington parks and trails.
"We have had conflicting reports about how this may or may not be allocated," Renner said. Even if Bloomington rejected it, "it's not unfortunately going to go back into the treasury of the state of Illinois."
Brady, a CCHS alum, said last week he is forming a committee that will decide what to do with the grant.
Both Stearns and Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Lower said they want to meet with Brady and include him in the city's process of selecting an alternative use for the grant.
"The funds came from him. I think we should sit down with him and make it a collaborative process," Stearns said.
"My patience has worn very thin on this whole situation," Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black said. "Who knows if we even have this money? I think this is a pretty clear understanding as to where we're at. I hope Senator Brady listens and goes with that."
Fruin said he supported the motion but questioned whether the funds should be split among three projects.
"I said I prefer a single project. I think it would have more impact than diluting it," Fruin said. "If I was going to do a one-project approach it would be Miller Park (at) $750,000 ... but that's not on the table right now."
Lower said he voted in favor of the measure because "those are nice things to do, but I would like to know what areas we could actually spend the money on."
In discussions Lower had with Brady last week, the senator indicated the money would probably be spent on a "brick-and-mortar-type, significant needs" project and not on a golf course, Lower said.
Renner said the alternative projects approved by the council will be submitted to both DCEO and to Brady's committee.