Oswego OKs pizza pub's funding request : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego OKs pizza pub's funding request |
|Village board votes 4-1 to help pay for water line and retaining wall |
|by John Etheredge|
In two separate split ballots last week, the Oswego Village Board approved payment of $24,376.82 to help cover the cost for a waterline and the construction of a section of retaining wall at the Firehouse Pizza and Pub in the village's downtown.
Board member Gail Johnson cast the lone negative ballot on the two motions to approve the funding request submitted by the pub owners.
The pub, which opened late last year, is located at 65 Washington Street (U.S. Route 34) at South Adams Street.
In a unanimous ballot in September of 2011 the board passed an ordinance approving a lease agreement and a resolution authorizing a $130,000 economic development loan to the pub owners to help pay for an extensive renovation of the building.
The agreement requires the pub owners to repay the loan with three percent interest over the next ten years.
Prior to approving the agreement, the board had previously taken out bids to demolish the 40 year-old building which once housed a plumbing contractor's business. The village purchased the building in the late 1990s.
Under terms of the lease agreement, the pub is leasing the property from the village for $1 annually while making payments on the $130,000 economic development loan. The Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity previously awarded funds for the loan to the village.
Prior to voting, Johnson engaged in a spirited discussion with her board colleagues over the payment request.
When questioned by board member Tony Giles, Village Administrator Steve Jones told the board that the pub owners have paid all building-related penalties imposed by the village under terms of the lease agreement.
As she did at a prior board committee meeting, Johnson said she remains concerned over what she considers the restaurant owners' repeated disregard for the village's plan review and building regulations.
"My concern is we are not holding a business accountable," Johnson said, adding, "We have rules and procedures in place. My vote on both of these (motions) will be 'no' for the hundreds of businesses who follow our rules and procedures and for the residents who count on us to make fair and balanced decisions based on those policies."
Johnson also noted that other businesses in the village have sought financial assistance from the village and have been asked to open their financial books.
"I haven't heard that (request) here," she said, adding, "I've heard that growth should pay for growth and I haven't heard that here. I've heard all kinds of comments about business taking care of itself...I guess I have grave concerns over the accountability issue. We cut slack for them time and time again and we did not follow our own procedures and I feel like that now we are doing it again."
"I'm concerned you have this concern," board member Scott Volpe told Johnson.
Volpe added he has "never been given a report" detailing any issues with the pub project.
"We got it every week in our weekly report. There was a list of 28 items. Two pages. We got it every week, Scott," Johnson told Volpe.
"What I'm trying to say is these are small Oswego businessmen who are putting sweat equity into a business venture, trying to move forward. It's a win, win, win," Volpe said, adding, "It's a win for us because we didn't have to demo(lish) the building. We didn't have to pay to fix the retaining wall behind the building, which if we had demolished (the building) it would have been our responsibility. It's a win for our residents because that's the main thing they asked for: more development downtown, more restaurants in Oswego and more restaurants downtown."
Volpe added the village hasn't used any local taxpayer dollars on the project.
"This money that we've loaned out has come from an economic development grant from the state. It can only be used on businesses like this," he said, adding, "I think we all would have preferred for a large company with deep pockets to come in and every time another obstacle came up they would say, 'Hey, this is fantastic, I can afford to shell out another $40,000 or $50,000,'" Volpe said.
Referring to the pub owners, Volpe continued, "I think these poor guys ran into a whole bunch of issues as they were trying to move through the process. They made mistakes. They were reprimanded for their mistakes. They've got their mistakes fixed and I'm having a problem trying to take that out on some small Oswego businessmen that are chasing the American dream who are trying to do what we've asked them to do. What they've asked us to do."
Volpe said residents indicated to village officials as work proceeded on the village's strategic plan that they want businesses that will bring tax dollars and property tax dollars into the community.
"And we have done that with this project," Volpe said. "We have sales tax dollars coming in...but let's look at the bigger picture. We are starting to develop a corridor of restaurants/establishments that we can build on. We are trying to work with the park district and other entities to try and make something happen across the street at (the former) Alexander Lumber (yard)."
He added, "We have people coming downtown to eat again. We've got more people going downtown than we ever had before and that's the best thing about it. And the best thing is we haven't risked any of the sales tax dollars we're going to get from it. We haven't risked any property tax dollars."
Johnson told Volpe, "I don't disagree and I wish you success and I wish you luck. The problem I have is with the disregard for our policies and procedures."
"Which policies, which procedures?" Volpe asked.
"You have to have your plans approved before the work is done," Johnson said. "Consistently, week after week, work was done and then 'Whoops, we'll bring the plans in.'"
"I can't believe we let this happen and we didn't do anything about it," Volpe said.
Jones reminded the board that he did not begin work as village administrator until last June and was not present for the early phase of the restaurant project. However, he said, "Some of the frustrations of work beginning without plans and having to hound them for plans, certainly did occur. It was resolved. It was rectified."
Volpe said he could recall a residential development that started work without a permit.
"It happens. It sounds like we are trying to pick on certain people. In development these kinds of things happen. People start early. People start things at home without getting permits. When we find out about them we go in and rectify the situation," he said.
Board member Jeff Lawson noted the pub project is not costing the village or its taxpayers any money.
"The loan itself is not taxpayer money. It comes from a revolving account granted by the State of Illinois," Lawson said, adding, "It's not our money-some of the state's grant money is at risk, but not ours."
Board member Judy Sollinger said she was "really disappointed" that the restaurant owners had oversized a water line "without notifying the village."
"I certainly would have liked to have known about the increased cost since we have to share the expense," Sollinger said.
She added that she believes the pub owners should have used a local contractor for the project and sought competitive bids.
Board member Terry Michels was absent from the meeting.