Naperville events grants OK'd, but questions about reassigning unused funds arise
A Fourth of July celebration, an LGBTQ+ pride festival and a new memorial honoring the families of fallen military personnel are among dozens of Naperville initiatives set to receive funding this year through the Special Events Cultural Amenities program.
The city council's allocation of $879,009 to various cultural, social and artistic entities Tuesday largely follows the guidance of the advisory SECA Commission. The panel's recommendation, however, included awards for two St. Patrick's Day-themed events recently canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, prompting council members to redistribute those funds and sparking a conversation about how future "underspending" should be handled.
While reviewing the 56 applicants for the 2021 SECA grant program, which is supported by a 1% citywide food and beverage tax, commissioners knew full well that the pandemic would affect many of the events and amenities seeking funding, Chairman Melvin Kim said. But with no way of knowing which would be affected, and to what extent, the panel considered each application on the supposition that it would move forward as proposed.
"We didn't feel it was our place to make that call of, 'We think this event will occur, but this one won't,'" Kim said. "We looked and said, 'Let's assume everything's going to happen.'"
This year's largest awards include $115,080 for a new Naper Pride Fest in September; $128,820 for The Salute, a new Fourth of July event honoring veterans, active military personnel and first responders; and $157,546 for Naperville Jaycees Last Fling in September.
Last month, $27,329 in recommended SECA funds were freed up when West Suburban Irish canceled its St. Patrick's Day parade and the Rotary Club of Naperville Sunrise announced its St. Paddy's Day 5K would be going virtual due to safety concerns.
Using that money, the council on Tuesday decided to put an extra $6,529 toward an inaugural Irish Fest planned by West Suburban Irish this August at Frontier Park. With that additional funding, the organizer's request for $24,664 is now fulfilled, documents show.
The remaining $20,800 of the "underspend" was designated to help fund the 52nd piece of public art sponsored by Century Walk Corp.: a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument slated for Veterans Park. That brings the project's total SECA award to $39,620.
With a price tag of about $78,000, the 6-foot-tall, 16-foot-long memorial would be the first of its kind in Illinois, with 76 others in progress nationwide and 78 already installed through the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
The two-sided monument aims to honor local families whose loved ones died while serving in the military, said Naperville resident Jennifer Slown, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve who spearheaded the efforts to bring the project to her community.
Such an installation at Veterans Park is "long overdue for our city," Councilman Paul Hinterlong said. Given the likelihood that more events will be canceled or modified this year due to COVID-19, he and others on the council said they would be open to putting additional SECA dollars toward the monument.
But Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan, who serves as liaison to the SECA Commission, said she believes the city first needs to develop a "transparent and equitable process" for determining how to spend any unused funding. She suggested holding off on redistributing the St. Patrick's Day event money until such a plan was in place, though her motion was overruled.
Typically, money treated as "underspend" is carried over to the next grant cycle, Kim said. Some council members suggested ideas for reallocating the funds sooner, a process for which staff members are in the early stages of exploring, City Clerk Pam Gallahue said.
Elected officials have the final say over how the money is spent, Mayor Steve Chirico said. "I don't know how we can be any more transparent than how we are conducting ourselves right now," he said.