Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz announced a new lead pipe replacement grant program and updated the village on several development projects during his 2021 State of the Village Address.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the address was given later than usual, on Wednesday, April 7, and in-person attendance was limited. Echoing some of the common themes in past addresses, Schwantz emphasized that the village tried to reduce expenses, pay down bond obligations and keep property taxes flat. He also touted redevelopment of the Regency Plaza shopping center in southeastern Palatine, along with redevelopment of industrial properties at the east end of the village.
The pandemic cast a long shadow over the proceedings, with Schwantz outlining its budget impact, decrying the way Cook County allocated funds, and explaining that any redevelopment plans for the land across the tracks from the Palatine train station have been effectively put on hold until the village emerges from the pandemic and gets a better sense of how much demand there would even be for commuter parking.
As has usually been the case, the address was organized by the Palatine Chamber of Commerce and took place in the Palatine Village Hall on a Wednesday morning. Due to the pandemic capacity restrictions, only up to 20 people could attend in person — the rest attended via a Zoom link.
Schwantz began his address by saying that he and other village officials expected 2020 to be a year of balanced budget and infrastructure improvements fueled by the 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital bill. But on March 4, the Cook County Department of Public Health confirmed that the third and fourth individuals to test positive for COVID-19 in suburban Cook County lived in Palatine, which drove home the disease’s impact.
Schwantz said that, while Palatine kept the budget balanced, it required cuts, and so did the 2021 budget.
“After 2009, when we came out of the recession, that was the last of the cuts that were considered low-hanging fruit,” he said. “Everything since then has been impactful. It’s muscle, it’s bone, whatever you want to call it, we’re cutting a large portion of the operations.”
While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act reimbursed Palatine for some COVID-19 mitigation-related expenses, Schwantz reiterated the complaint he and his staff have made for months. While most Illinois municipalities received funds distributed on the state level based on population, in counties with more than one million residents, the funds were distributed at the county level. Cook County used a formula that took area income levels and their percentage of overall county population into account as well. Under the state formula, Palatine would’ve gotten around $2.8 million, but the county formula netted “a little over $500,000.”
“The manager who put together the slide that says the Cook County ‘retained $2.3 million for other needs from the CARES funding,’” Schwantz said. “I say ‘stole.’ And that’s what they did. They stole $2.3 million from us in the village of Palatine.”
According to the county data, Palatine got the 31st highest amount of all Cook County municipalities, and the fourth-highest out of all municipalities within the Journal’s coverage area, behind Wheeling, Des Plaines and Arlington Heights.
Schwantz also complained that, as the county website noted, the county kept about $378 million in CARES funding, Like the municipalities, the county could only spend it to cover COVID-19 related expenses.
“Kind of a side note — Cook County did not have an increase in their tax levy,” he said. “This is probably where all the money came from.”
Schwantz emphasized that the village did not raise property taxes in 2021. As previously reported by the Journal, the village balanced the budget by eliminating six full-time and nine part-time positions and leaving five public safety positions vacant. While Schwantz complained about the continuing increase in pension obligations, for this year’s budget, the village decided to forgo the annual 1.1% levy increase agreed on in 2021 to help pay down public safety pension obligations.
He emphasized that, even amid the pandemic, Palatine has kept the capital projects going.
“We will never, as long as I’m here, as long as [Village Manager Reid Ottesen] is here, we will never skip on capital,” he said. “I don’t need to tell you, if you own a home — the longer you leave the roof alone, it doesn’t get any better. Driveways don’t get better on their own, streets don’t get better, sidewalks don’t get better.”
He also touted the fact that, even during the pandemic, Palatine was able to reduce its bond obligations and obtain a $2.4 million grant for the renovation of the intersection of Palatine and Quentin roads.
Palatine also obtained a $570,000 Northwest Water Commission grant to provide 50/50 matching funds for village homeowners who want to replace lead service pipes.
Ottesen estimated that around 200-300 homes have lead pipes, but he couldn’t say for sure how many grants the program would be able to provide, since the costs would vary depending on where the pipes are and whether they pass under roads.
“We’ll see what the demand is, the popularity of the program, and if we need to pursue the grant funding [to fund more grants],” Ottesen said.
Schwantz also discussed the proposed redevelopment of Regency Plaza at the northeast corner of Quentin Road and Euclid Avenue. REVA Development Partners, of Chicago, is proposing tearing down most retail buildings except the Fifth Third Bank branch and building townhomes across most of the plaza, with some retail on the outlot.
On Jan. 4, Starbucks closed its Palatine train station location. Schwantz said that the village, which owns the building, went out to bid for another tenant on March 3, and only one bidder responded.
“Starbucks lease goes through June, so they would take possession in July and build-out,” Ottesen added. “So, by fall, they should be open.”
When asked about vacancies at Park Place Shopping Center at the southeast corner of Rand and Dundee roads, Ottesen said that he expects to see some movement “within the next six months” involving some potential “non-traditional retail uses.”
“[Community Consolidated] School Dist. 15 locked up a big portion of that with the contract, thinking they were going to go there,” he said. “They came out, I believe last month, [saying] they are not interested in it any longer. That freed up the owner to look at other things.”
Finally, when asked about the potential redevelopment of the former “Clu” office building at 150 W. Wilson St. and the village-owned commuter parking lots south of the Metra tracks, Ottesen said that the village decided to wait and see what happens with the demand for commuter parking once the pandemic dies down.
“If we can accommodate commuter parking within the parking deck on the other side of the tracks, that opens up a whole new world of opportunity, with probably $15-20 million cost savings,” he said. “That’s something that we’ll turn toward the end of next year [or] early 2023.”
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