POLO — The main contractor for a storm sewer improvement project in Polo reached out to more than 100 companies in an effort to comply with a grant requirement, but was unable to secure the minimum level called for by the state.
The $3.1 million Colden Street Project encompasses about 10.5 blocks, both in the downtown business district and in residential neighborhoods. It is meant to help alleviate water buildup on Illinois Route 26 — named Division Avenue in Polo city limits — during torrential rain events.
“Route 26 gets absolutely dangerous when it rains,” Mayor Doug Knapp said. “The water has nowhere to go and cars hydroplane.”
Storm sewers and catch basins are planned to be added or expanded along parts of South Maple Avenue, West Buffalo Street, South Congress Avenue, Colden Street, West Mason Street and halfway into the east alley between Mason and Locus streets, Public Works Director Kendall Kyker said.
Much of the project is meant to be funded by two state grants — a $2 million Fast-Track Public Infrastructure grant from August 2020 and a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for public infrastructure from January 2019. It leaves the city directly responsible for $628,950.01, for which Polo City Council members have approved issuance of general obligation bonds.
The FTPI grant requires recipients to make a “good faith effort” to award at least 25% of a project to Business Enterprise Program certified companies.
According to the Illinois Department of Control Management Services, which oversees the BEP, certification requires a business to have at least 51% ownership by a minority, woman or person with a disability; be at least 51% controlled by one or more minority groups, women or people with disabilities; be owned by a U.S. citizen or U.S. foreign national; and have annual gross sales of less than $75 million.
“We just don’t have any companies that are in our area that conform to that,” Knapp said.
Ogle County’s population is 51,778, of which about 86% are “white alone,” according to the 2020 census. The American Community Survey’s five-year estimate cites roughly 6,551 people in the county as having a disability, only 18.5% of whom are between ages 18 and 64. The ACS is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The CMS website states that a “good faith effort” means taking “all necessary and reasonable steps to achieve the BEP Goal(s), which … could reasonably be expected to obtain sufficient BEP participation, even if those steps were not fully successful.”
Of the roughly 125 BEP certified businesses the main contractor — Martin & Company, of Oregon — contacted, only three signed on to the Colden Street Project, Alderperson Randy Schoon said. Martin & Company has records of names to whom they reached out, and dates and times they did so, he said.
Most of those approached weren’t interested because the project is too far away, or is out of their scope, Schoon said.
The three companies that joined the Colden Street Project brings Polo to abut 15% of the 25% BEP allocation required, Knapp said. The city now must hope the state agrees to waive the requirement based on their efforts, he said.
“The writer of the contract … says, if we send this [documentation of Martin & Company’s efforts to the state] and it doesn’t get waived, they probably would never waiver anything,” Knapp said.
Polo City Council members on Dec. 20 voted 5-0 to send a BEP waiver request to the state; Alderperson D.J. Sanders was absent. At the same time, they OK’d a $42,332.16 increase in the total project cost associated with hiring the three interested BEP companies.
“You’re never going to convince me this is right. Never,” Schoon said. “It’s wrong. There’s no reason it should cost us more because we gotta use minority people.”
Schoon said that, while he understands the state’s push to hire businesses with underrepresented owners, the actual practice doesn’t work in smaller communities the way it does in places like Chicago.
He also pointed out that construction has yet to begin, and it’s a virtual certainty that additional costs will pop up along the way.
Knapp and Alderpersons Jim Busser and Beth Sundman said they agree, but don’t see an option other than to accept the additional cost for a chance at having the BEP waiver approved.
If it’s not granted, the scope of the project will have to be reduced, Knapp said.
“We either have to bite the bullet and waste more money, or we don’t get anything done and we have safety issues,” Kyker said.