Kane County wants COVID-19 business grant program, but competing interests abound

Updated 7/28/2020 6:15 PM

Struggling Kane County businesses will be in line to receive federal COVID-19 relief money, but only if board members can pare down $63 million in government requests vying to spend most of the available cash.

A board committee charged with making recommendations on how to spend $93 million in federal CARES Act money began this week slogging through 81 requests to spend the money from county departments. The list of expenses represents a tug-of-war that pits the county's wish list and budget needs against mounting pressure from outside municipalities, businesses and not-for-profit groups also seeking relief.


The requests total $63 million and include everything from $1.7 million to get election polling stations ready to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to $1.2 million to add cameras at the jail to assist with contact tracing efforts. The committee overseeing the funds signaled a wary eye for big-ticket county requests to spend the cash.

County board Chairman Chris Lauzen lobbied to use $8 million from the pool to expand and monetize the county's fiber optic network. Members of the committee indicated they still weren't interested in that idea this week, particularly when weighed against other requests.

Committee members repeatedly pressed for the quick development of a business grant program to help the local economy. Lake County, for instance, set aside $10 million of the $122 million it received to help businesses.

"A healthy business in Sugar Grove matters as much to our tax rolls as a healthy business in Aurora or anywhere else," said county board member Matt Hanson. "That money should come out of the county's share. The not-for-profit piece should also come out of the county share. That's a regional problem, a countywide problem."

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Hanson was referring to a request for help by Hesed House officials. The county's largest homeless shelter needs $10 million to upgrade its main living space. But businesses and not-for-profits aren't the only interests competing for the money.

Local municipalities have seen some cross-boundary bickering about what population figures the county should use for a per-capita distribution of the money. Some communities wanted to use 2010 full Census population figures. But

Aurora officials objected to those numbers, citing a significant influx of new residents in the last decade. They prefer 2019 estimated population figures compiled by the Census Bureau. However, Elgin officials believe those numbers short their city by about 5,000 residents.

A group representing the combined interests of Kane County municipalities (including Aurora and Elgin) is pushing the county to use the 2019 numbers. If Elgin has major beef with the numbers, the group, known as the Metro West Council of Governments, says Elgin can lobby its own case. Any change in the population figures for one community means less money for all the communities.


Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon also endorsed the 2019 numbers. They are the same figures used by the federal government in divvying up the CARES Act money.

"We were never going to be able to pick a dataset that was going to be able to satisfy everybody," McMahon said.

The full county board must still sign off on the plan. So far, the full board has followed the recommendations of the committee. All funds must be spent by the end of the year or returned to the federal government.

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