BURNHAM, Ill. (CBS) — By now, you’ve heard the term CARES Act – the federal COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress almost a year ago.
Cook County received a sizeable chunk of change and has doled out nearly $50 million to suburban governments in recent months. But residents in one town say they’re not getting a straight answer about how the village spent its CARES cash.READ MORE: Woman In Critical Condition After Being Shot In Car In Park Manor
So they called the CBS 2 Morning Insiders.
As CBS 2’s Lauren Victory reported, you will find wind chimes ringing peacefully in south suburban Burnham. But not everything ringing there is so calm.
“We feel that we are being discriminated against,” said Carol Dills, who explained that her alarm bells went off when a COVID-19 credit for water bills was announced by village officials.
The money came from the CARES Act – short for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.
“One hundred seventy-five dollars was given only to people who got a meter,” said Dills.
The problem is the trailers at Riverpointe Mobile Home Community don’t have meters, so Dills’ neighbors miss out on the relief.
“To me, it’s not fair,” Dills said. “We pay a water bill like anybody else.”
John Hajduch is one of lucky ones with a water meter. He shared his bill with CBS 2, and it shows a yellow COVID-relief stamp. He’s appreciative of the $175, but suspicious of the math.
Records show Burnham received almost $625,000 in CARES funding.
“We have 1,152 active meters. Multiply that by $175 credit,” said Hajduch, a Burnham resident for 58 years. “That’s about 201 grand.”
CBS 2 confirmed those numbers through an open records request asking for the number of active water meters.
It leaves us with the same question as Hajduch – where’s the other 400-something thousand dollars?READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Warmer Sunday, But April Snow Possible Tuesday
We emailed, called, and visited Mayor Robert E. Polk to ask.
Earlier in the week, Dills was cut off when she brought up the CARES money at a public meeting. You can hear the heated exchange around 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the recording.
“You can’t talk to [the Village Board]. They just don’t answer our questions. They ignore us,” said Hajduch.
Both he and Dills say they want transparency during this difficult time.
Mayor Polk was in a meeting that he couldn’t step out of when CBS 2 stopped by Village Hall. Our heads-up did allow him to prepare a written statement that was handed to us:
“The Village applied and was granted funds from the CARES Act. At the January 26, 2021 Board meeting, a $175 credit to active Utility accounts was approved. The remainder of the funds will be used to maintain Village services, Public Safety, Police and Fire Departments. Information for residents’ assistance from Cook County, State or Thornton Township is announced regularly at Board meetings. In summary, we are always working to improve the welfare, and safety of our residents.”
His answer is similar to other municipalities.
For example, Schaumburg, Evanston, and Oak Lawn tell CBS2 their CARES Act money was also used for public safety purposes – including payroll and PPE for first responders.
A spokesperson for Cook County said the CARES Act money allocated to Burnham, per an intergovernmental agreement, is to be used for public safety payroll.
He said there may be instances within the CARES Act that allows for water bill credits.3 Killed, 2 Wounded In Kenosha Bar Shooting; Shooter At Large
At a Feb. 9 public meeting, Polk explained to residents that a credit made to water bills was chosen over a credit for light bills or groceries because the village is directly involved in water billing.