Joliet has no plans set for $11 million in COVID relief

But officials have some ideas as they await explanation of how money can be spent

Joliet has received $11.1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding and now has to decide what to do with it.

The City Council first must find out what Joliet can do with money from American Rescue Plan funds, said Councilman Pat Mudron, chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.

Mudron said filling jobs in city government and restoring funds for organizations that saw cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic are two priorities. But he and other council members first will need to hear a report from city Finance Director James Ghedotte on how the money can be spent.

“Jim Ghedotte is supposed to make a presentation on how we can use the money, and the council will take a vote on how to use the money,” Mudron said.

According to Ghedotte, the city received $11.1 million in American Rescue Plan funds in May and is slated to receive the same amount in 2022.

Mudron said groups have been calling City Hall to see if they can have some of the funding, but the city has some priorities following COVID-related budget cuts made last year and carried over into 2021, including leaving city jobs unfilled.

“We have 26 unfunded positions that could be in line to be funded by this along with organizations that got cut back, including Bicentennial Park and the Rialto along with the museum,” he said.

Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park was closed at the start of the year, although it has been reopened. The city reduced its usual allocation to the Rialto Square Theatre and the Joliet Area Historical Museum as it braced for a drop in tax revenues related to the pandemic.

City officials, however, are looking for Will County, which is getting a total of $135 million in American Rescue Plan funding, to help those organizations as well.

City Manager James Capparelli noted the Rialto serves an audience that goes beyond the city limits.

Will County, Capparelli said, “nearly got seven times as much as we did. We would hope that they would help some of these organizations as well.”

Since the American Rescue Plan allocations were announced, Joliet officials have questioned their allocation compared to others.

The city of Evanson with about half the population of Joliet is getting twice as much funding from the American Rescue Plan. Evanston is getting $43 million.

Capparelli said the funding formula was partly based on the age of a city’s housing stock, and Joliet was “penalized” for the housing boom of the early 2000s that both expanded the population and updated the average age of housing.

“We’re the third largest city (in Illinois), and I think we wound up 13th on the list,” he said. “We got less capital than cities that are smaller than us. We were not happy with the formula.”

The rules for spending the money are complex as well, Capparelli said.

City staff still needs to nail down how the money can be spent before a presentation can be made to the council for decisions on how to spend it, he said.

But, he too said filling jobs left vacant because of the pandemic impact on tax revenues will be a priority.

“We’re certainly looking to make up for the shortfall in revenues that we had,” Capparelli said.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News