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County Board approves rescue plan fund projects

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board has unanimously approved the first round of American Rescue Plan Act fund projects.

The board approved 19 projects, including monies for park districts, local businesses, fire protection districts and county governmental agencies.

“I keep telling people it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” board chairman Andy Wheeler said at Tuesday’s board meeting in the county administration building. “Most governments have not started doing what we’re doing. They’re still trying to figure their way out.

“Quite frankly, the Department of Treasury’s first quarterly audit just happened, so a lot of people are waiting to see what did bounce back. They’re waiting to see how they rule on some of this stuff so they can start going in a direction.”

Kankakee County received $21.3 million in ARPA funds, which will be disbursed over the next two fiscal years — $10.67 million in both FY2021 and FY2022.

Wheeler said he’s happy with how the process has gone so far. Checks for the approved funds will be going out within the next couple of weeks.

“It is really involved on the front end,” he said. “What we want to make sure is we left flexibility to say, ‘Hey, this is new. We need to tweak it a little bit’ just like we did with all the social service programs.”

The board is in the process of hiring a third party to help sort through all the social service program requests for funds. It has done a Request for Proposal to secure a partner.

“The partner has to be able to write grants, know about metrics, have some expertise in these fields,” Wheeler said. “Because outside Cook County, counties just don’t do that kind of stuff. It’s all new for us. We’re not a social service agency.”

The county has until the end of 2024 to allocate ARPA funds and then until the end of 2026 to disburse the money, Wheeler said.

The board also approved a total cap of $250,000 for ARPA fund requests by businesses and nonprofit organizations and an individual cap of $10,000 to be applied to each fund request.

Those approved at Tuesday’s meeting were:

• Bourbonnais Township Park District: $9,853 to replenish lost revenue.

• Taylor Publications in Kankakee: $10,000 for a targeted vaccination advertising program.

• Lax Mortuary in Kankakee: $7,350 for economic assistance.

• Kankakee County Coroner’s Office: Not to exceed $30,000 to purchase a morgue freezer.; and not to exceed $12,500 for mortuary racks; $6,661 for purchase of autopsy cart; $5,839 for storage tables; $4,281 for negative pressure device; $3,066 for steam sterilizer autoclave; $5,871 for payroll costs.

• Kankakee County Courts: Not to exceed $350,000 for basement remodeling space; $62,500 for architectural and engineering services to mitigate response to the pandemic; bid process for additional space in circuit clerk office.

• Limestone Fire Protection District: $3,915 to replenish lost revenue.

• Manteno Community Fire Protection District: $20,000 to replenish lost revenue.

• Bourbonnais Fire Protection District: $8,253 for purchase of Stryker Lucas Device.

• Kankakee County Probation: $300 for webcams, $500 for monitor, and $3,490 for on-site juvenile drug and alcohol program.

Approved out of the ARPA lost revenue fund was a computer and card reader (to be bid) for the County Planning Department; $27,500 for three years for 10 license plate readers, $17,697 for two drones and up to $23,000 for 25 computers for the sheriff’s department; and a to-be-determined amount for the courts for off-site juvenile-specialty court space.

“We were trying to figure out who’s hurting the most now, businesses nonprofits and some of these governmental units that had to dip last year,” Wheeler said.

Only 30 job seekers attend job fair with 1,127 openings

Lately, some leaders in Kankakee County have lamented the recent plight of employers who can’t seem to find workers.

But now, after a recent job fair, those leaders — as well as the companies and organizations looking to hire — are scratching their heads wondering what it will take to get the unemployed re-engaged into the workforce.

On Aug. 26, the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County hosted a job fair at the center court area of Northfield Square mall.

Some 29 employers armed with company brochures and job applications seeking to fill some 1,127 openings were set to woo prospective workers.

The economic alliance added a gift as well. Any job seeker who visited three job booths could submit their name for a raffle and at the end of event a 50-inch television would be given away.

“We sure thought when the day came we would have a lot of job seekers. Unemployment benefits are coming to an end. The summer is winding down. Kids are back in school,” noted Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the alliance.

The event was advertised through radio, Facebook, Twitter, Kankakee Community College, Illinois Department of Employment Securities as well as flyers at government/municipal offices.

The IDES also sent out an email blast prior to the event. It reached some 21,000 email accounts of regional people who have sought their services.

In the end, 30 people showed up to the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. event. The breakdown of job seekers to employment providers was almost exactly a 1-1 ratio. Even if every person who attended walked away with a job, it would have left 1,097 jobs on the table.

Twenty-one participates submitted their name for the television raffle.

Among the companies or organizations at the fair were Baker & Taylor Co., CSL Behring, Del Monte Foods, Fairfield Inn, Helen Wheeler Center, IKO Midwest, Kelly Services, Pactiv, Riverside Healthcare, Turk Furniture, and Urban Farmer.

So where are the employees? That’s what Nugent and the companies and organizations who took part in the job fair are wondering. Kankakee County has a 6.1 percent July unemployment rate. Prior to the pandemic, the county had a rate in the 4 percent range, a rate unseen here for decades.

The county’s unemployment numbers are actually better than those of the state, which has a July rate of 7.1 percent.

Kari Nugent, spokeswoman for Kankakee Community College, is as confused as anyone.

She noted that for the fall semester 2020, there were 2,242 students enrolled at the community college. This fall there are 2,121, a drop of 5.4 percent.

She noted through the credit hour calculations, in the fall of 2020, the school had students taking 21,523 credit hours. This fall, that number has dropped to 20,261.

Like business and industry, Kari Nugent said KCC would love to know where the people are right now. If they are not in the workforce nor at school, where are they?

“We are befuddled as well,” she said.

Kari Nugent did note there is somewhat of a silver lining. She said programs such as welding, electricity, computer-aided drafting, transportation, manufacturing have experienced an 8.9 percent hike this semester as compared to last fall.

So perhaps courses which can lead directly to a job are preferred, she said.

Whatever the reasons may be, Tim Nugent said there are a great number of jobs available and he would like to see as many filled by area residents as possible.

Ladonna Russell, director of the Workforce Board of Grundy, Kankakee and Livingston counties, said, like others, she would hope for better job fair turnouts.

Like Tim Nugent, Russell thought the event was perfectly timed for a greater response. She did note employers came from the event with applications and were scheduling interviews.

Russell noted many people are still facing issues due to COVID-19, particularly with child care or quarantine. So seeking work, she said, does remain a difficult option for some.

“We’re doing our best here,” she said regarding placing people with jobs. “Maybe we need to get more creative to connect people to jobs. But this is not just a Kankakee County issue. This is a nationwide issue.

“I wish we had the answers, but we are going to keep on trying,” she said.

Police to search area where body of victim of 1985 homicide was located

KANKAKEE — Kankakee police, along with the Missing Persons Awareness Network, will search a site in Pembroke Township on Sunday where the remains of a missing Kankakee woman were located shortly after she disappeared in August 1985.

Last month, police said remains of a woman found in eastern Kankakee County many years ago were identified in November 2020 using DNA from family members as being those of Jannette Johnson.

A 29-year-old mother of two and Kankakee resident, Johnson was reported missing on Aug. 3, 1985, by her family.

The case is now a homicide investigation, according to police.

Kankakee police and the network are asking the public to help in Sunday’s search.

The search begins at 9:30 a.m. People interested in volunteering should meet in the parking area of Bible Witness Camp, 16089 E. 2500South Road in Pembroke Township.

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Jannette Johnson may contact the Kankakee Police Department at 815-933-0401 and leave a message for Sgt. Logan Andersen. You may also contact the Missing Persons Awareness Network though missingillinois.org or call Kankakee Crime Stoppers at 815-932-7463.

County submits broadband grant application

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County has submitted an $8.3 million broadband infrastructure grant application that, if awarded, would provide a great benefit to local homes, schools and businesses in the eastern part of the county.

The grant would provide the primary infrastructure needed to access Comcast’s full package of products and services including broadband internet service, as well as voice, video and home security services, according to a news release from the county.

The project would cover 566 homes, 11 businesses, and 13 anchor locations with more than 65 miles of fiber network. Comcast is funding the local match, so neither local governments nor residents will be responsible for the initial infrastructure investment.

“The Kankakee County Board is deeply committed to improving the lives of all Kankakee County residents,” said Andy Wheeler, county board chairman. “When we were successful in getting the natural gas legislation passed, I immediately called Comcast and told them that the time is now to bring broadband to eastern Kankakee County, and to the rest of the rural areas of the county for that matter. I can tell you that Comcast stepped up, and stepped up big time.”

The county worked in partnership with Comcast to submit the grant application and would be funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an executive branch agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce.

NTIA stated focus is on expanding broadband internet access across the nation, providing service to rural areas in a cost-effective manner, and ensuring the internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. This federal grant program has more than 230 applications competing for $288 million.

“If this competitive grant application is successful, we will move on into exploring solutions for the other rural areas of the county, which would have a profound impact on crop yields and increased GDP for the county,” Wheeler said.

Fifty-one percent of residents in the proposed project area said they have no internet service, and what is available does not meet federal performance standards. If awarded the grant, the service area would focus on the greatest number of under-served households in Hopkins Park and unincorporated Pembroke Township.

“The basic idea of the partnership, which includes Kankakee County, Comcast, Hopkins Park and Pembroke Township, is for the county to be the grant applicant and fiscal agent for this and other critical infrastructure and grant programs that will serve the residents in the area,” Wheeler said.

In addition to broadband options, low-income families who qualify will also have the option to sign up for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program.

Mark Hodge, mayor of Hopkins Park, said, “The village has worked hard to bring broadband to the community for the last several years and it is our hope to see this project become reality. The service provided by Comcast will take the community to another level.

“School children will be able to do their school work at home without having to travel to a location where their laptop can receive a signal. Businesses will also be able to communicate and conduct commerce consistent with businesses in surrounding communities.”

Sam Payton, a county board member and Pembroke Township supervisor, echoed that sentiment.

“These services will strengthen communication throughout our area, and we look forward to those improvements,” he said.