Around The County

American Rescue Plan Funds: How Should They Be Spent?

As part of the American Rescue Plan that was passed in March 2021, Kane County became the recipient of $103 million more in federal assistance. The money is targeted to bring about local economic recovery and assist with issues caused by the pandemic. First, the county has to decide how much of the money to keep for the public good and how much to set aside for county use. In addition to assisting with economic recovery, government guidelines stipulate the the money can be used to make up for tax revenue that was lost because of Covid 19 and other pandemic-related costs. 

Money from the CARES Act that was given to local government last year went to assist local business owners, people who were behind on rent, and taxing bodies. As before, the county will use a task force to come up with recommendations about how to use the money from the American Rescue plan to assist people in the county while following the federal guidelines for spending. Some ideas include the following: providing local mental health services, correcting lead issues in the drinking water, extending Wi-Fi to areas where it is unavailable because of cost or low population, establishing affordable daycare so people can return to work, and improving the parks and forest preserves, which were very popular during the pandemic. County Board Chair Corinne Pierog stated that the money “belongs to our constituents,” … and “with the money, we can do an awful lot of good.” 

Reopening of the Paramount Theater in Aurora

Most of us have happy memories of concerts, dance programs, etc., that we have attended at the Paramount with our families throughout the years. Needless to say, theaters and other art-related venues were devastated by the pandemic, and the Paramount lost approximately $13 million in revenue in 2020 and had to cut 90% of its staff. In May, 2021, the Aurora City Council approved a $1.5 million grant after the Dunham Foundation offered to give the theater funds of $2 million if the city would match it with $1.5 million. The theater also applied to receive federal funding of $6.9 million from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

These much-needed funds have allowed the theater to schedule its reopening for August 2021. Tickets for the regional premiere of Kinky Boots, which will run from August 18 through October 17, are on sale now. Unfortunately, Ragtime had to be dropped as part of the the 10th Anniversary Broadway Series, so the 2021-2022 series consists of three shows. The first show will be a family attraction: The children’s favorite classic, Cinderella, will open on November 10, 2021, and be shown through January 9, 2022.  Another show that will appeal to all ages follows it: Groundhog Day opens on January 26, 2022, and runs through March 13th. The season will close out with Rock of Ages, which will be shown April 13 through May 29, 2022. 

The grants affect not only the re-opening of the Paramount but also the re-opening of the Stolp Island Social restaurant, which provides rental and other revenue to the city. As a condition of the grants, the Paramount must provide expense reports to the city of Aurora and the Dunham Foundation on a monthly basis. 

Is It Safe to Ride the Union Pacific Metra Trains Running Between Chicago and the Suburbs?

Metra has run ads promoting its safety procedures following the onset of Covid. These procedures include adding hand sanitizing stations, requiring masks (until recently), and limiting the number of people in each train car. However, there is an ongoing conflict between Metra and the Union Pacific that was recently affecting safety. The Union Pacific has a contract with Metra to operate its UP North, Northwest, and West lines, which serve much of Kane County and go into the Ogilvie Transportation Center. On some of these trains, conductors had been failing to collect fares or even walk through the cars, citing that it was a safety concern related to Covid. 

According to a January 28 article by John Greenfiled in StreetBlog Chicago, Metra said that UP’s refusal to collect fares deprived Metra of $1 million a month and was an attempt to force Metra to take over operations for the three lines, even though UP is the owner of the tracks and rolling stock. This feud began before the pandemic when UP filed a lawsuit in December 2019 to try to force Metra to make a deal. Metra sued in the summer of 2020 to move the suit from federal court to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. In October, 2020, Metra sued UP for breach of contract. 

How does all of this affect customers? Until June 1st, there were mixed reports. A rider on the UP North line that goes all the way to Kenosha said that there seemed to be people camped out on trains, sleeping there and with their feet on the seats, which the conductors never allow. He also stated that there were people going between cars yelling at each other, which would not have been tolerated by conductors in the past. The rider felt unsafe and moved several cars away from the disturbance. Other people had positive comments. One rider on the Harvard line said that people were wearing masks and observed social distancing on the train. Most people agreed that the trains were not crowded, and most comments were favorable. 

Fortunately, an agreement was reached in May, and the Union Pacific conductors began collecting fares again on June 1st. Metra does not need bad publicity right now. Refusing to collect fares was unwise and resulted in behavior that made commuters want to avoid the train. The main issue is safety for customers, which includes safety concerning Covid and physical safety, which is monitored by conductors who do not tolerate misconduct. Hopefully, Metra and Union Pacific can solve all their issues and continue to bring safe transportation to Kane County residents.