Winners, losers in this year's Kane County riverboat grants

Kane County will fulfill less than half the wish list of local schools, nonprofits and municipalities seeking financial help through riverboat gambling profits.

The county received $3.21 million from Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino this year. The total is about $129,000 more than expected. But it is far less than the $12 million a year the county received in the glory days of the riverboat.

The small uptick in gambling cash is good news for the county as it faces a $4.5 million budget deficit heading into 2017. The county keeps the bulk of the gambling proceeds to fund internal operations, mainly in the county's justice system. But county officials always set aside some riverboat cash to give to outside groups.

Last year, the money set aside for external grants dipped below $1 million to spread among about 50 applicants. This year, there were 59 applicants seeking $2.23 million total. Most applicants received only a percentage of what they requested. Some received nothing.

The county board's riverboat grant committee recommended funding for 40 of those requests at a total of $897,239.

Requests by organizations based in Aurora and Elgin account for 18 of the grants, reflecting the population hubs of the county. St. Charles-based groups will receive seven grants. Geneva-based groups will receive six grants. The remaining nine grants will spread throughout the county in places like Sugar Grove, Carpentersville and Dundee Township.

A couple of the grant recipients have some associated political intrigue.

The SciTech Museum in Aurora will receive $40,580 for a "learning science through water play" exhibit. The executive director of the museum is Arlene Hawks. She's the wife of Dick Hawks, one of Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen's major political advisers.

The Aurora-based Joseph Corporation will receive $6,964 for technology improvements. The nonprofit addresses affordable housing needs in Aurora. Its executive director is Dennis Wiggins, a former chairman of the Kane County Republican Organization who remains active in the party.

Requests receiving no funding included a $19,000 request from the Friends of the Fox River. The group runs independent nature programs out of the Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve near West Dundee, but its members oppose the county's Longmeadow Parkway project.

Overall, riverboat grant committee Chairman John Hoscheit said outside groups can expect similar funding levels in the near future.

"This year's funding is in the ballpark of what we have done," Hoscheit said. "Historically, because of the decreasing riverboat revenues, the amount of the grants has declined. It's been under $1 million the past couple years. Our plan is to try and keep it at that level."

The full county board will vote on the recommendations next Tuesday.

Top 10 riverboat grant recipients

1. University of Illinois Extension - $88,928 for education programs

2. Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity - $68,480 for construction trade experience for East Aurora students

3. City of St. Charles - $61,482 for Seventh Avenue Creek and tributary watershed plan

4. Court Appointed Special Advocates - $47,469 for volunteer training

5. Northern Illinois Food Bank - $43,830 for vehicle upgrade

6. SciTech Museum - $40,580 for learning science through water play exhibit

7. East Aurora School District 131 - $39,943 for band equipment

8. Housing Authority of Elgin - $38,143 for workforce development of Elgin training center

9. Fox River Study Group - $38,122 for Fox River critical-reaches investigation

10. Seven Generations Ahead - $34,021 for Fox Valley Sustainability Network

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