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Candidates debate park project

City rejected grant 6 years ago

AMBOY – Mayoral candidate Tom Nauman says the city made a bad decision 6 years ago when it rejected state money for a new park.

And the alderman has continued to bring it up in his campaign.

His opponents, Mayor Frank Mekeel and Alderwoman Deanne Hoy, disagree with his version of the story.

By Nauman’s account, the city would have had to pony up only $70,000 to get the $140,000 state Department of Natural Resources grant.

“We had a check on the mayor’s desk,” Nauman said in an interview in January. “There were a lot of disappointed people in Springfield when we turned the grant back in. A lot of work was done in Springfield. It was unheard of to reject a grant. That has lingered among the people of Amboy.”

Hoy, however, pointed to the city’s 2005 application for the grant, which showed that acquiring the land for Grommes Park would have cost $609,000.

The city, she said, would have had to come up with the difference – more than $400,000 – for the acquisition. The grant shows that the park’s development would cost an additional $250,000, not including the detention pond.

The $250,000 would have paid for a playground, a bocce ball court, a horseshoe pit, and a walking path, among other things, according to the application.

“The entire City Council was for it, but we couldn’t afford it,” Hoy said. “Any alderman can tell you we didn’t have the money. I would have loved to do the park. It was a great project.”

Nauman on Thursday stuck by the $70,000 number, saying the city could have made up the difference with materials and services donated to the project.

But Hoy said Nauman’s plan to get such in-kind donations didn’t add up.

The proposal included donations from the park board and animal tax account and the savings from an unfilled city position.

Hoy said the park board and animal tax account were a part of the city government, which was already too strapped to pay for the park. And the unfilled position was left vacant to keep the city’s “head above water” financially, she said.

“The money wasn’t there to begin with,” she said.

Mekeel agreed.

“It would have taken an extremely large amount of money,” he said. “There was no way we had the money to build it. Tom has made it a major issue at every council meeting since then.”

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