Gifford, township get state money
GIFFORD — Already getting back on its feet after a destructive tornado nearly eight months ago, the village of Gifford got more good news Monday when Gov. Pat Quinn and a host of state officials came to town.
Quinn announced that the village was in line for $379,295 from the state to help with its recovery effort. Compromise Township got another $185,130 from the state, the governor said. The state aid came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down the state's request to help municipalities recover some their costs after the Nov. 17 tornadoes.
"We decided we would invest state money in helping communities like Gifford recover, and pay for some of the municipal costs," Quinn said in a brief appearance in the northeast Champaign County community of 900.
The governor also signed legislation, sponsored by two area lawmakers, that phases in property tax increases for businesses that have to rebuild after tornadoes.
Effective immediately, the law adjusts property tax bills so that businesses that rebuild after suffering tornado damage won't see increases of more than 4 percent a year over a 15-year period.
Quinn signed the bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and in the House by Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, at the Rademacher Building Center on Gifford's Main Street. He gave the ceremonial pens used in the bill-signing to members of the Rademacher family, and to local officials including Gifford Mayor Derald Ackerman.
"We want those businesses to rebuild and repair, and we don't want them to suffer a very high property tax increase because of those repairs," Quinn said. "I want to thank the Rademacher family for their commitment to the community and for their small business. Small business means big business in Illinois and by signing this law I think were not only helping businesses in Gifford but also in Washington and some other communities (damaged by tornadoes last November)."
Eric Rademacher, owner of the family business, had said that without the legislation he would have faced property tax bills up to four times the amount he had been paying.
"Our assessed value will hold at what we had prior to the tornado so we won't have a jump in the assessed value if we rebuild some buildings or fix the buildings. It just kind of gives us a little time to get back on our feet and get recovered so we're not getting hit with a big tax bill right away," Rademacher said Monday.
He said a number of other Gifford businesses would benefit from the legislation and would be able to stay in the community. That might not have been the case without the measure, he said.
"They may have rebuilt but they would have gotten a surprise in a year or so when the tax bill came," he said. "That's one thing we were looking ahead at and saying, wait a minute, before we rebuild what's going to be the consequences from a tax standpoint?"
Gifford and its residents got a lot of praise from the assembled officials Monday.
"The attitude of the people then and now is 'we shall rebuild and we'll make it even better,'" said Quinn. "I'm so impressed by the tremendous, can-do attitude of the people and the businesses."
Hays said, "I made the comment (on the day of the tornado) that at the end of the day this is going to be a triumph of the human spirit, and I don't think there is any question that that has taken place here."
Added Frerichs, who grew up in Gifford, "Those of us who grew up in small towns, we weren't that surprised to see neighbors come out to help neighbors. I guess what surprised me most was the definition of neighbors in this state. There were people from Gifford out helping and people from Rantoul and Danville, but there were also people who came from greater miles away.
"They showed up with a pair of work gloves and said, 'Put me to work. I want to help out because even though it's not my town, it's not my immediate neighbor, people wanted to be part of this rebuilding process.'"
Ackerman said the $379,295 state grant would pay for some of the expenses the village incurred in cleaning up and rebuilding after the tornado which damaged about 65 homes but claimed no lives. The expenses include hauling away debris, replacing street signs, repairing streets, sidewalks and culverts, and overtime expenses.
"It didn't cover all of our costs, no, but it did help a bunch," the mayor said. "It will be close, I hope."
Meanwhile, he said, the village is making progress on rebuilding its water treatment plant — expected to be completed in the next two months — and work then will start on a new water tower on the east side of the village.
"That thing has to be treated on the inside and the out once it's assembled," he said. "We may have to wait until next spring to do that. But we've made repairs to our old one so we can continue to use that until the new one is ready."
Also Monday, Quinn commented briefly on the federal grand jury investigation of the former Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a onetime anti-violence program in Chicago that was ripped in an audit this spring by the state auditor general and now is being reviewed by a legislative commission as well as the grand jury,
The governor said he was "not at all worried" about the grand jury probe, first reported on Friday by the Chicago Tribune.
"I think it's always important to provide any and all information about any state program. That's what I ordered all of our state agencies to do, that's what I believe in.
The moment I learned of trouble in that program we ended the program, defunded it, abolished the agency and then we moved forward. I think that's what we've got to do," the governor said before he was hustled into a waiting car.