Fox Lake officials said they may have mistakenly violated the village's facade improvement ordinance that limits eligible business property owners to one storefront grant each fiscal year, by awarding two grants to an owner who also is a village trustee.
The village board awarded $8,000 in grants to Trustee Ron Stochl for renovations he is making to storefronts he owns at 9 and 11 Grand Ave. in the downtown area. Stochl is renovating the two business spaces into one and said he intends to lease the property.
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Under the village's revamped facade improvement ordinance, business property owners can apply to receive one grant each fiscal year for a maximum $4,000 to reimburse a portion of the storefront work.
But the village board voted 5-0 on June 10 to award the maximum grant for the 2014-15 fiscal year to Stochl for both of his business addresses. Stochl submitted applications for both properties.
Mayor Donny Schmit said no money has exchanged hands because the facade improvement reimbursement comes after the work is completed.
"If it's a mistake and he shouldn't have received it, we can fix it," Schmit said. "We'll do what's right if he's not entitled to it."
Village attorneys are reviewing the program rules and will determine how to proceed before a facade improvement meeting Monday, he said.
Stochl and Schmit said the grant awards stem from honest mistakes and they denied any wrongdoing.
Stochl, who was elected to the board in April 2013, abstained from voting on the grants for his property.
He said he has spent about $45,000 to renovate the two storefronts on Grand Avenue and applied for the reimbursement allowed to all business property owners under the village ordinance, which was updated in September 2013.
Under the ordinance, Stochl is potentially eligible for two reimbursements through the program because the building has two addresses and two storefronts.
Stochl said he was unaware he could apply for no more than one reimbursement per year.
"I'm not trying to cinch anybody and I don't want no hassle over it," he said. "I'm going to spend the money on the building anyway. So, if a mistake was made, then a mistake was made. Let's fix it."
In 2013, village officials reintroduced and updated the decade-old facade improvement program as a way to re-energize the town after the program was scrapped in 2008 due to lack of funding.
It was brought back to encourage business and property owners to improve their storefronts, Schmit said. Five business property owners have applied for reimbursement through the program since it restarted.
One business has received a $2,600 reimbursement after the storefront improvement was completed.
"We've had round tables and town hall meetings about it, but we haven't been getting much participation in it at all," Schmit said. "Last year, we had $46,000 budgeted for it, but it went unclaimed."
He said village leaders reduced the amount of money in the program to $30,000 this fiscal year and have made only the one $2,600 payment.
Most business property owners have indicated they can't afford the improvement projects, Schmit said.
Schmit said the recent grant oversight was "definitely not" Stochl's fault. He added that if there is blame to be passed out, "put it on me."
"It wasn't anything malicious. We definitely weren't trying to give a trustee special treatment or anything like that," Schmit said. "I don't walk on water. I make mistakes. In this case, we made a mistake. We'll correct it and move on."