Dixon council OKs $700,00 for community center without mayor’s blessing

Li Arellano Jr. says he objected to city not being part of site selection, other planning

DIXON – The City Council signed off on giving $700,000 to the Dixon Park District for its new facility in the Meadows on Monday, but Mayor Li Arellano Jr. had several concerns with project planning.

A month ago, the Park District broke ground on a $3 million building meant to be the bones of a future community center.

Different groups have been trying to bring a community center or sports complex to Dixon for many years, but those efforts failed to secure tax increases to fund one.

The district decided to pursue a building that would meet basic community needs without needing a referendum or tax increase and issued $2 million in bonds to do so. It will include a gym with two courts and batting cages, a community room, and administrative offices.

In late September, the project was going to be discussed by the Plan Commission, but city officials discovered the proposed site in Meadows Park wasn’t in city limits and didn’t have to go through city channels. The Park District then received a building permit from the county.

There were a few community members who were unable to speak about the project because the Plan Commission meeting was canceled, so Arellano invited them to a council meeting in early October when two neighbors of the project had issues with it: including traffic congestion and not knowing about the project until it was too late.

Arellano echoed some of his concerns Monday that the city wasn’t involved in selecting the site, neighbors weren’t canvassed, there wasn’t a traffic or infrastructure analysis, and that the Lee County Industrial Development Association wasn’t involved.

It’s not much of a partnership if the city hasn’t done its part, he said.

“Going forward, I will much more strenuously object to the word partnership being thrown around when it’s really a donation,” he said.

He commended the Park District on finding a way to finance the project without asking for a referendum raising taxes and doesn’t blame the organization, but it’s a shortfall at the city level for not going through a detailed process.

“I don’t want to see us approaching a project of this nature again in that manner,” he said.

The four other council members were in favor of the donation, which will come from the Rita Crundwell recovery fund.

Councilman Dennis Considine said the recovery fund was meant for projects that benefit the community, and the community center will greatly benefit the youth of the community. He said he doesn’t understand the mayor’s “negativity,” and that he should have voiced such concerns earlier.

Some council members had similar concerns about finances, but the Park District was good about having conversations and opening up its books, Councilwoman Mary Oros said.

Councilman Chris Bishop said the project is a positive step in doing something the community wants, and Councilman Mike Venier said it will be great for the city.

City Manager Danny Langloss said they were unaware of the mayor’s concerns until a few weeks before the groundbreaking for the project, and they had many private meetings about financing and amenities ahead of time.

“Our team has been heavily involved with the Park District from the planning phases to community engagement to bringing this to life,” Langloss said.

In 2019, Langloss formed a group of 15 people as the #DixonStrong Leadership Team with the main goal of creating plans for a community center and helping with community engagement.

The meetings were not open to the public, and some of the group’s tasks prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were to create a needs assessment survey and then a community center interest survey for community members, as well as making a recommendation for where to build the center.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.