A double dose of forgiveness: Village board asked to write off library loan

Rantoul Public Library originally was to have received a grant of more than $300,000 from the state of Illinois to buy the former bowling alley at Chanute Air Force Base and move the library there from its Century Boulevard location. But the state reneged on the promise, and the library received only $100,000 of that amount. The village of Rantoul agreed to loan the remainder of money to the library, but later said it would forgive the loan. But no record can be found of a formal vote on the loan forgiveness.

RANTOUL — Not so fast.

The long-held belief that a village of Rantoul loan to Rantoul Public Library had been forgiven apparently did not happen. Formally at least.

The loan was for the purchase of the former bowling alley building on Flessner Avenue to be used as a site for the library, which had formerly been located on Century Boulevard.

The village had provided the loan so work could begin on the then-new facility in the wake of the library having been notified it would receive a $360,000 Illinois FIRST grant in 2004 under Gov. George Ryan.

But Rod Blagojevich, who succeeded Ryan as governor, froze  the funds, and the village was left holding the bag. Or at least most of it. The library was finally granted $100,000 of the grant total, and the village board voted to write off the remainder.

At least that’s what the general consensus was. But no one has been able to find a formal record that the village board voted to forgive the loan.

Mayor Chuck Smith said when Illinois reneged on the majority of the grant money, “it caused a lot of dissension between our board and the state of Illinois.”

Library made payments

The library made a total of $33,250 in payments from August 2004 to February 2008. The current outstanding balance is $226,749. It was recommended to the board to forgive the remaining balance owed to the library because it doesn’t have the funds to pay it back.

Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said the issue came about after the firm that audited Rantoul’s books requested documentation that the loan was forgiven.

The board was expected to rectify that oversight at this week’s monthly meeting, which occurred Tuesday night, after press time.

Trustee Sherry Johnson said she and her husband both remember sitting in the audience at a village board meeting years ago when it was decided the loan would be forgiven. But a search through years worth of minutes turned up nothing in terms of a formal vote on the matter.

“I can distinctly remember this was voted on,” Johnson said.

Eisenhauer said a search of several years worth of board agendas was also conducted and no resolution could be found to vote on the issue.

He said the village’s auditors were “adamant a written resolution would have to be made.”

In October 2018, the village board voted 4-2 to loan $170,000 to the library to install a new roof. Trustees Chad Smith and Sam Hall voted “no.”

Johnson asked if the earlier loan could be tacked onto the roof loan.

“The problem is, it’s a receivable on our books,” Comptroller Pat Chamberlin said. “There is no record they still owe it. So there would need to be a resolution they either have to pay it back or it’s forgiven.”

Chamberlin said she doesn’t know that “the library has a lot of funding right now” and said she assumes the library wouldn’t be able to pay back the earlier loan.

Trustee Terry Workman said if the village is forgiving a loan, “could we get a copy of their budget and finances and see what they’re doing?”

Chamberlin said the library is an arm of the village, and the library budget is already included with the village budget.

Trustee Hank Gamel said he believes most small-town libraries are municipal libraries.

“It’s not easy to run a library, especially in light of technology,” Gamel said. “I think most libraries struggle financially.”

Gamel said he believes that as the village moves ahead with plans to grow as a result of the to-be-constructed sports complex and related development, “we’re amassing the resources to improve our community.”

He said one of his daughters  “raved about the Rantoul Public Library.”

“She was a Parkland and ISU student, but she still preferred to study in the (Rantoul) library,” Gamel said. “I understand we obviously have to respect the cost. One of the questions I would ask is if we are going to clean this up, are they current on their (roof) loan?”

He was told they are.

“I don’t think we can expect too much of them,” said Gamel, who added he wanted to stand up for the library. “I don’t imagine anybody at our library (is adequately paid).”

Voting districts discussed

Eisenhauer reviewed the voting district map selection process. Fifteen people attended a recent open house to allow the public to view two proposed map options that divide the village into six districts from which candidates for village board will be elected.

The maps were drawn by a panel of residents using data provided by the village of Rantoul.

People attending were asked to fill out forms indicating which map they preferred. Only four were turned in, and two people preferred one map and the other two preferred the other.

Eisenhauer told the board February and March will be left open for “discussion and debate or any type of comments you may have.”

He said the intention is to hold at least one more open house in April for public comments, after which the board would select the map it prefers. Afterward, the plan is to hold open houses in each of the six districts to explain the boundaries and the election process for anyone who might like to run for the board.

Hall said one question is whether residents will be limited to speak with only the trustee in their district on any issues. Eisenhauer said while residents will be able to vote only for the candidates in their district, they will be able to contact any of the six trustees serving on the board.  

Responding to an earlier public comment urging the board not to try to gerrymander the map to suit their re-election, Trustee Gary Wilson said he doesn’t think the board will seek to doctor the maps.

“I think we’re probably going to adopt one of the two (maps) without any changes,” Wilson said. “I think we’re all here to do a great job, not just to benefit ourselves.”

Trustee Terry Workman asked if any of the 15 who attended the open house expressed an interest in running for village board. Eisenhauer said there were some who did.

Resident Debbra Sweat reminded the board the maps are data-driven based on the 2010 census.

“They were drawn with that in mind and keeping neighborhoods together as much as possible,” Sweat said, adding she hopes “character and integrity will rise above the desire to gerrymander the maps if seeking election.”

Sweat also said disparaging comments about the lack of intelligence of, and quality of, potential candidates who live in south Rantoul needs to cease.

“It is not the level of conduct I expect,” Sweat said.

Public comment

Sweat’s statements came during the public comment section of the meeting.

She addressed two other points.

Sweat said a recent village hire had been charged with domestic battery “just months before being hired for the village.”

She said she asked five of the trustees by email if they were aware of that, and two responded.

“I could not find where family values included domestic violence,” Sweat said. “Even professional and college sports teams have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for such a crime.”

Sweat said she suspects the search and hire was a “biased and covert” one and that trustees, the mayor and village administrator “were complicit.”

“This is not a personal attack,” Sweat said. “It’s just a statement of fact that I believe that checks and balances, accountability and transparency when hiring is needed and long overdue.”

She asked the board to explore avenues to become more involved in the approval process by reviewing policies and amending procedures, duties, responsibilities and job descriptions regarding the hiring process of key and high-profile administrative staff.”

Sweat also asked why Rantoul “still refused to participate in the Champaign Community Coalition — an initiative designed to curb gun violence.

She said Eisenhauer had indicated that would happen “when the time comes.”

Sweat said Rantoul has had several recent incidents involving gun violence.