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Momence residents turn out to support city leaders

MOMENCE — Protesters were out in full force Monday outside Momence City Hall before and during the evening’s city council meeting, but so were Momence residents.

Approximately 40 residents showed their support for their community as a Black Lives Matter rally drew about 25 to 30 people who were chanting and holding signs.

Momence resident Steve Gross said he was hoping to get inside the city council meeting to talk about this weekend’s upcoming community garage sales. The meeting space had reached capacity limits and members of the public were admitted in turns.

“People need to be responsible and stuff, but I couldn’t even get in to address anything with all this,” Gross said. “Actually, I had somebody engage me and be aggressive toward me. ... It’s super unfortunate.”

The protesters were on the sidewalk just east of the City Hall entrance, while the town supporters remained on the west side of the entrance. There were a couple skirmishes.

At 8 p.m. police squad cars from St. Anne, Grant Park, two from Manteno and one from Kankakee County Sheriff’s department arrived and parked on West Washington Street. Those officers joined four officers from the Momence Police department who were there for crowd control and to keep peace.

“You’ve got some people who are being hotheads, and some people are reasonable,” Gross said.

Mayor Chuck Steele was in attendance and presided over the council after missing the previous two meetings due to his wife’s illness.

The protesters have voiced their displeasure of Steele regarding statements he made about a June 9 BLM march in Momence and his calling for Alderwoman Rebekah Cope-Evers’ resignation because she attended the event.

The protesters were chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “Momma, I can’t breathe” and holding signs that read “No justice, No Peace,” and “Make Racism Wrong Again.”

A couple of the residents who showed up in support of their community were holding signs that read “We Support Our Mayor & Police,” and others were carrying the American flag and “Back the Blue” signs.

“We love our mayor,” one resident said.

“I’m here to just support my town,” Momence resident Michael Quirk said. “I think just like everyone else, everyone is fed up with all the protests and stuff, and I think the mayor took offense when that happened. I think he took it to heart because he knows that this isn’t a racist town. There’s no bigotry or anything, and it just got spun out and everyone took their opportunity.”

Several people spoke during the citizen forum portion of the meeting, including Julia McDonald, of Kankakee, who asked the mayor for a public apology.

“We ask that you let go of your defensiveness and instead open your eyes and your ears,” she said in part. “Listen to people when they have something to say on these streets, whether you agree with them or not.”

Normon Davis, a Black Momence resident, spoke during the forum in support of Steele, who he has known for 24 years. Davis said he grew up in the housing projects in Chicago.

“In no way does he deserve the title of racist,” Davis said. “... He’s shown a lot of generosity throughout the community. Over the 24 years he’s shown without words his compassion and his love for the community.

“Being reared in the housing projects, I know firsthand what true racism is, and Mayor Chuck Steele does not fit the bill.”

After he addressed the council, Davis said residents support Steele.

“Momence is one of the most peaceful towns that you’ll encounter in the United States,” Davis said. “We’re a small community. ... The bottom line is this right here — get to know someone before you pass judgment.”

During the mayor’s report during the council meeting, Steele said he and Police Chief Brian Brucato attended the NAACP law enforcement meeting in July in Kankakee .

“Brian has already signed the 10 Shared Principles, and we will be getting posters of that made up,” Steele said. “We will be bringing that to the council next meeting to have the council approve it also.”

The 10 Shared Principles are measures designed to build trust between law enforcement and communities of color. The Momence Police will also adopt the #8cantwait de-escalation initiatives for police.

“For the most part we already do most of everything that’s on there, and I support our police department 100 percent,” said Steele, who declined to comment any further after the meeting.

Firehouse Subs helps secure funding for local fire departments

BRADLEY — Sandwiches purchased at Bradley’s Firehouse Subs, owned by Johnny and Kim Jones of Manteno, are doing more than just filling stomachs.

The purchase of sandwiches and the change donated by many customers from each purchase also goes toward requested equipment for area fire and police departments.

The Bradley store, located at 1609 Illinois Route 50 in the frontage property of the shopping center, which houses Target, just donated more than $85,000 to four area fire departments for sought-after equipment.

The business recently donated funds to the Bradley, Bourbonnais, Manteno and Peotone departments through its Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.

The four area departments receiving money are the first in this area to have their requests OK’d by the Firehouse foundation.

The foundation within the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company has been in place since 2005, established by the franchise founders/firefighting brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To date, more than $51 million has been donated to fire and police needs.

It would be fair to say that Kim may have been more excited about the successful grant applications than the fire departments who will receive the funding.

She noted these were their first successful grant applications since they took over ownership. She and husband Johnny, a lieutenant with the Hazelcrest Fire Department in Cook County, purchased the restaurant in November 2018.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said when she was first notified of the approved grants. “Then we learned we were successful on another.”

Then two more came through.

“This means so much,” she said. “My husband has been working for fire departments I think since he was 19. So many departments just do without updated equipment and they just do without the equipment. But one piece of equipment can help so much within a community.”

The Bradley restaurant serves public safety departments within a 25-mile radius of the restaurant.

The four area grants were among a group of 67 grant applications which shared in $1.2 million of funding.

That is a lot of spare change.

“A little change can have a ripple effect,” Kim said.

A part of a firefighting family, Kim hears firsthand about the need of equipment. She also knows firsthand about the price tag associated with so much of the equipment.

“I know how important it is and I know what a huge difference it can make,” she said.

Manteno Fire Chief Scott O’Brien said the automated stair chairs his department will receive will not only aid patients, but will go a long way toward eliminating back injuries within his department.

“For us, this will be such an enormous help,” he said.

The automated chair will replace manual lifting as crew members transport patients down flights of stairs.

A previous grant request by O’Brien had been rejected. While he was always dejected when he learned of his unsuccessful application, Kim continued to encourage him to try again.

In today’s world of growing governmental demands, but with shrinking resources, O’Brien noted help from the private sector is like a gift under the Christmas tree.

“These are certainly good partners to have in our community,” he said.

In addition to Kim and Johnny at the restaurant, their three children, Brittney, 20, Brandon, 18, and Brooke, 12, also work at the restaurant. The restaurant employs about a dozen workers.

But family time at the restaurant could be drawing to a close. Brittney has applied to attend school to study sleep disorder and Brandon is currently testing to join the U.S. Marines. Brooke has a while to go and will continue operating the store’s cash register.

Brittney said it is her mom who keeps the local public safety agencies engaged in seeking funds.

“Whenever a firefighter or police officer comes in, she asks if they are in need of equipment. When they say they are, she gets the chief’s name and then it begins.”

Kim said have been on in Manteno for 11 years, she and her husband are still learning the towns and all the public safety departments within them. She knows firsthand that there is a need and many grant requests to be filled out.

Village eyes financial agreement with OAK Orthopedics on surgical center

BOURBONNAIS — Village trustees heard the first reading of an ordinance during their meeting Monday for a redevelopment agreement with OAK Orthopedics on the company’s proposed $15.5 million surgical facility.

The two-story, 43,700-square-foot medical campus would be located on U.S. Route 45/52, a half mile north of the Bourbonnais Parkway (East 6000N Road).

OAK Orthopedic Chief Executive Officer Paige Cripe said the project is expected to begin this fall with occupancy slated for January 2022.

“The building will be comprised of OAK Orthopedic’s medical clinic, physical therapy and occupational therapy, and a radiology suite including a 1.5T MRI and X-ray on the first floor,” Cripe said in an email. “The second floor will house our new ambulatory surgery center with 3 oversized operating rooms to accommodate the growing trend of outpatient total joints. We will still perform traditional outpatient orthopedic surgery and pain management but we’ll be the first in the region to tailor outpatient space for same-day total joints.”

According to the proposed agreement, the village would contribute $750,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds to the site development.

Of that total, $400,000 will be for property acquisition costs within 30 days of issuing a building permit and $350,000 for infrastructure improvements within 30 days of the issuing an occupancy permit.

OAK would pay back the money through its annual property taxes, Mayor Paul Schore said.

“They have owned that property for many, many years. They are getting to move forward with their plans,” Schore said.

Cripe said of the project, “We hope to be the start of future healthcare growth for that area.”

The second reading of the ordinance will be at the board’s Aug. 17 meeting.

OAK Orthopedics is a division of the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, which purchased OAK Orthopedics earlier this year.

IBJI has locations throughout the Chicagoland region including the communities Chicago, Gurnee, Des Plaines, Libertyville, Buffalo Grove, Wilmette, Crystal Lake, Barrington, Palatine, Grayslake, Highland Park and Schaumburg.

Bourbonnais takes next steps in services rate increase and district creation

BOURBONNAIS — During its meeting Monday, Bourbonnais village trustees took the first step forward on a proposed services rate increase and a next step on a proposed business district plan.

The board heard the first reading of an ordinance proposing a $2 monthly rate increase for garbage and sewer services for single, residential property within the village.

If the ordinance is adopted on its second reading at the board’s Aug. 17 meeting, the new monthly rate would be $68, up from the current monthly bill of $66. It would go into effect beginning Sept. 1.

The last rate increase was implemented in August 2019.

At the village’s July 1 utility committee meeting, trustees approved moving forward with a vote on the increase as a means to help cover the growing expenses of the two services.

The proposed monthly 75-cent sewer rate increase would alter the village residential rate to $42 from $41.25 monthly. This is a result of a billing increase from Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency in the amount of $11,500 per month. The village currently pays $212,000 per month to KRMA, an increase from the fiscal year 2020 cost of $200,500 per month.

The proposed monthly $1.25 refuse rate increase would alter the village residential rate to $26 from $24.75. This is a result of increased fees and contractual rates from refuse contractor, Republic Services, in the amount of $6,250 per month, or $75,000 for the year. The current village contract with Republic Services ends in April 2021.

Business district plan

Trustees adopted an ordinance going forward with a preliminary study on a possible business district that encompasses South Main Street from North Street and Main Street Northwest to Career Center Road.

Mayor Paul Schore said the board is doing its due diligence to see if there are ways to develop and improve the area which is considered part of the village’s downtown.

State law allows for municipalities to create such business zones.

According to state guidelines, a study must find the current area is blighted by such things as inadequate or antiquated infrastructure, inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, impedes the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability, an economic under-utilization of the area, or a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.

The village currently has one business district. The Bourbonnais Business District encompasses an area north of Larry Power Road to the Bourbonnais Parkway and around 318 exit of Interstate 57. The ordinance creating the district was adopted in July 2018.

The district is funded by a 1 percent sales tax, making it 7.25 percent. The tax only applies to businesses in the district and has accumulated $151,000.

In July trustees discussed creation of this second business district.

The proposed district would be along North Convent Street (U.S. 45/52), running from William Latham Sr. Drive north to Hilltop Drive. The district would encompass 93 parcels on 146 acres. In that area are 75 buildings, including residential and commercial properties.