You can excuse Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms if he doesn’t feel like his city won a small lottery.
Thoms prefers to look at it differently. And city manager Randy Tweet says the city knew for some time the extra money was likely coming.
Regardless, Thoms is thrilled to get the chance to use nearly $1.3 million in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block grant money. It had not been completely used by the previous city administration for several years.
Typically, Tweet said, the city is allowed to hold over about $1.5 million of Community Development Block grant money from HUD. It normally receives just under $1 million per year from the grant.
Thoms was careful not to point a finger too strongly in his predecessor’s direction. But he did compare the process of working with HUD, taking the scolding and receiving the money to turning lemons into lemonade.
The end result is Rock Island will get to use nearly $1.3 million for several projects that meet the HUD Community Development Block grant criteria.
Among the projects are:
• $100,000 for Douglas Park concession stand and parking lot, along with ADA improvements.
• $575,000 for Renaissance Loft renovation for apartments already in use in downtown Rock Island.
• $300,000 for public facility improvements such as the Longfellow School sidewalks.
• $19,000 for Rock Island County School Health Link for equipment updates0
• $5,000 for Quad-City Botanical Center for its MLK Gardens Program.
• $263,043 for public safety camera installations in Rock Island at various locations.
Claiming the unused funds was not easy. First, HUD scolded the city for not using the money previously. The scolding was somewhat easy to take since Thoms believes his administration had nothing to do with the funds not being used.
“Unfortunately, some of the past regime did not spend the $900,000-plus a year we get,” Thoms said. “You are supposed to spend it that year. They allow some carryover.”
But not the amount Rock Island had not spent, he said.
There were some gap times during the transition, Tweet and Thoms said. Additionally, some planned projects may simply have been scrapped, they said. Money is given when the city submits bills for reimbursement, Tweet said.
But after taking the HUD scolding, Rock Island officials were told if they had a plan, they would get to use the money.
“So we put a plan together and let them know how we would use it,” Thoms said.
“Typically, this would happen a lot earlier in the year,” Tweet said. “We have sort of had this in the back of our mind, probably in December. Until we knew that (Rock Island would get the money on just this one-time basis), we really couldn’t do anything.
“If we don’t spend all of this but are still under our carryover, we can carry over some,” Tweet said. “Our goal is to spend it all. You use it or lose it, that’s how it works.”
One person happy to see the money is John Gripp, director of Rock Island Parks and Recreation Department, who’s expected to receive about $100,000 for Douglas Park to help renovate its parking lot and concession stand and make everything Americans with Disabilities Act accessible. Gripp is seeking bids on the work and would like to see the new parking lot improvements and concession stand completed by this fall, even though he knows it likely will cost more than $100,000.
He was very pleased to learn the Douglas project would be receiving some of the money. “It’s critical in what we do,” he said. “With the amount of traffic that’s going on at Douglas Park with the renovations that have been done, it is just as important that we make the facility accessible and safe for everyone to enjoy.”
Kevin Corrigan, who heads up the Friends of Douglas Park group, said he was thrilled. His organization raised about $400,000 and redid the park’s main field and has additional field improvements planned, including a playground and a batting cage. “It’s going to go a long way to making the rest of the place look nice,” he said.