State of Villages goes virtual in 2020 as officials give updates on projects, financials
Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say, and that philosophy has been paramount for local municipalities in the mitigation of COVID-19.
It was fitting then that leading officials from Kenilworth, Northfield and Winnetka gathered via Zoom Thursday afternoon for the State of the Villages presentation organized by the League of Women Voters that collectively represents the three communities.
The village managers and presidents of the three towns spent time giving updates on everything from major projects to financials to future plans. More than 20 residents tuned in to the virtual discussion.
“What we have in this area is very unique,” said Patrick Brennan, Kenilworth’s village manager. “Especially this year, for those elected and appointed officials who have made difficult and life-altering decisions, thank you. It’s been challenging, unlike anything we’ve seen before, and we’ve worked well together, done great things together to ensure our residents have the best path forward.”
Village Manager Rob Bahan celebrated his staff’s efforts in reacting to a $4 million revenue shortfall, a consequence of COVID-19.
Winnetka shed $4 million in expenditures to help offset the loss, he said, and found $7.1 in debt refinance savings for 2021. As a result, Bahan added, the Village presented a balanced operational budget with no property-tax increase, as previously reported by The Record.
Working with the local chamber of commerce and other groups, Winnetka also worked to help local businesses through the pandemic by hosting its farmers market and winter market (ongoing), expediting outdoor-dining amendments, providing sales-tax rebates, and deferring utility bills for those who needed the relief.
The Village is planning to invest about $17.6 million on capital improvements in 2021 and hopes the path clears for the development of the “One Winnetka” property at Elm and Lincoln Avenue.
Village President Chris Rintz said the property is still tied up in court, “going through the federal courts in foreclosure action” as a result of the previous owner, he said.
Rintz said the village hopes it will be clear in early 2021 and it can find new owners by midyear.
Despite the difficulties of 2020, the Village of Northfield got a couple long-term projects “over the goal line,” said Stacy Sigman, the village manager.
The Village approved a comprehensive plan and rebuilt its village code, which is set to be approved in January, she said. It also wrapped up a complicated process to connect the Skokie Valley Trail, as previously reported by The Record.
And while only one Northfield storefront has closed during the pandemic, she said, Sigman pleaded with residents to continue to shop and dine local.
“I urge, urge, urge everyone to shop local and carryout from local restaurants and businesses,” she said. “They are doing everything they can to survive. It is imperative if you still want them to be there in the spring.”
The sentiment was echoed by Village President Joan Frazier, who jokingly let viewers know of Northfield’s superiority within the North Shore.
Projects on the horizon for Northfield, including the final touches for Wintrust Bank on Willow Road, a coupon campaign for local retail, more green initiatives, further discussions on a library remodel and an expanded tree ordinance.
Kenilworth touted the early success of its first restaurant, Great Coast Commons, which opened just before the pandemic, as well as progress on a number of infrastructure projects, such as the fountain rebuild, increased fire-hydrant flow and stormwater mitigation. All three projects will continue to move forward in 2021.
Also moving forward in 2021 is Kenilworth’s priority to meet the expectations of new residents, who are looking for walkability, community events and a thriving business scene, according to Village President Ann Potter.
Kenilworth had success in 2019 with food-truck events and in 2020 with a Halloween-decoration contest and hopes to use those as templates for a more active 2021.
Adding events is important, Potter said, both to please residents and to celebrate the Village’s 125th anniversary of incorporation.
As part of the festivities, Kenilworth is planning to plant 125 trees in public and private spaces throughout the village.
During his time, Brennan made sure to address a growing concern for all North Shore communities and something he hopes can improve in 2021.
Each week, several cars that are left unlocked with the keys or key fob inside are stolen from North Shore driveways, garages and streets. He said some of those cars are then used in dangerous criminal activity, and he urged residents to remove their keys and lock their cars.
To enter the live event, the League of Women Voters asked residents to donate to local food pantries, providing the following information:
• The New Trier Twp. Angel Fund, Inc., 739 Elm St., Winnetka, IL 60093 or https://www.newtrierttownship.com/157/make-a-donation, and
• Northfield Township Food Pantry, 2550 Waukegan Road, Suite 100, Glenview, IL 60025
Make sure to visit the League of Women Voters website for details on future events.
Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319