By Bob Uphues
North Riverside's village board plans to give the owners of single-family homes and business owners a Christmas gift this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put financial pressure on residents and businesses alike.
Trustees at its meeting in December are poised to issue a $400 water credit to every one of the roughly 2,100 owner-occupied single-family properties in the village. The waiver will cost the village, which is already using cash reserves to balance its budget, an estimated $840,000.
The credit will be absorbed by the village's water and sewer fund with all capital projects related to those systems being put off until the 2021-22 fiscal year.
"If there was a rainbow down the road I wouldn't be doing this," said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., whose proposal at a Nov. 9 meeting of the village board's administrative committee was met with unanimous support.
"This is not getting better, it's going to get worse," Hermanek added, referring to the pandemic. "And it's going to get worse faster than people think."
Meanwhile, the village plans to waive 2021 liquor license fees for all bars and restaurants, including the Riverside Golf Club and the North Riverside VFW hall, but excluding standalone video gambling establishments.
"They are hurting more than anybody," Hermanek said of restaurant and bar owners whose establishments have had to close their doors to indoor service due to the virus' resurgence. "They're asking for help, and I think it's not a bad idea."
In addition, North Riverside will give business owners a 25-percent discount on their 2021 business licenses, including bars and restaurants already receiving the liquor license fee waiver.
The only business not eligible for the reduced business license fee in 2021 is Zeigler Ford, said Hermanek, pointing to the generous sales tax rebate deal the village gave the car dealership this summer.
In all, the business-related relief will cost the village about $100,000 in revenue.
"Government is here for when they need us," Hermanek said. "There's nothing that's affected residents and businesses as much, since I've been here, as COVID."
North Riverside Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti said the money for the business fee reductions will be paid out of the village's general operating fund, which recently received a boost via a $186,000 CARES Act reimbursement check from Cook County for COVID-related expenses.
The village expects to receive another $12,000 reimbursement from the county's CARES program. North Riverside is still working on its application for federal CARES Act reimbursement through FEMA.
Trustees are expected to vote to approve the water credit and business fee reductions at their meeting scheduled for Dec. 14. The water credit should be in place shortly afterward.
Elected officials attending the Nov. 9 administrative committee meeting all agreed to support the COVID relief measures, although Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos said it was unfair to exclude businesses from the water credit.
Hermanek said his goal was to provide some sort of relief to most people and that offering a water credit to homeowners and license-related relief to businesses accomplished that.
"I'm trying to do the fairest thing possible, under the circumstances, that gives everybody something," Hermanek said.
In the end Demopoulos, who owns a business at North Riverside Park Mall, said he'd support the plan.
Scarpiniti said that looking down the road, it would be important for the village to find a way to help jumpstart commerce once the pandemic had passed. She said plans were in the works for some sort of promotional program that would be brought to the village board early in 2021 for discussion.