North Riverside trustees voted unanimously on Jan. 18 to pass a roughly $1 million relief package to help single-family homeowners and business owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action comes two months after it was rolled out by Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. during a meeting of the village board’s Administrative Committee on Nov. 9, 2020. The initial plan had been for the package to be passed by the village board in December, but the item was not included on that month’s village board meeting agenda.

The ordinance provides a one-time $400 water credit for the roughly 2,200 water customers who own single-family homes in North Riverside. That credit will begin showing up on the February water bills for those homeowners east of First Avenue and on the March water bills for those west of First Avenue.

Bills will show a separate $400 credit line item from which funds will be deducted as new water bills are sent out to customers. If a customer typically spends $150 per billing cycle on water, for example, it could take more than two cycles before that credit is exhausted.

Each single-family home address is eligible for the one-time credit. Anyone buying a home after the credit for that address already has been implemented will be ineligible for another.

The village has not been assessing late fees for water, nor has the village shut off service to any customer for non-payment of water bills since last June. Those policies will extend until the pandemic state of emergency is no longer in effect, said Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti

Funding for the water credit portion of the relief package, which is estimated at about $850,000, is being drawn from the surplus in the village’s water operations fund. Scarpiniti said a $1.3 million project budgeted in the 2020-21 fiscal year to refurbish the water standpipe on 26th Street has been deferred until the next fiscal year, which begins May 1.

In addition to the water standpipe project, North Riverside also deferred this year’s planned phase of the Cermak Road water main replacement.

Apart from the water credit, the village is waiving 2021 liquor license fees for bars and restaurants that possessed liquor licenses in 2020, when businesses went months without income due to state-mandated shutdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19.

That waiver extends to the Riverside Golf Club and the North Riverside VFW hall, but it does not extend to standalone video gambling parlors, whose owners pay a premium for liquor licenses to operate in the village.

Finally, all North Riverside businesses that possessed business license in 2020 – with the exception of Zeigler Ford, which received a generous sales tax rebate package last summer – will be eligible for a 25-percent reduction on their 2021 business licenses.

Between the liquor license fee waivers and the reduced business license fees, the village expects to take a revenue hit of about $100,000.

The money for the business and liquor license relief is being pulled from the roughly $187,000 the village has received so far as reimbursement for COVID-related expenses in 2020 from the Cook County CARES Act.

The village has applied for another $12,000 in CARES Act reimbursement, which it has not yet received.

Money earmarked for food assistance

A fourth prong in the village’s COVID-19 relief package, which was carried out late last year, offered North Riverside residents who qualified for financial assistance to purchase food from Aldi on Harlem Avenue.

According to Scarpiniti, the program was funded by shifting $10,000 budgeted for the village’s annual Christmas party to buy $250 gift cards from Aldi to assist food-insecure families in North Riverside.

  The families were identified by the North Riverside Department of Parks and Recreation as well as the village’s Neighborhood Services program, which maintain a list of families in need of assistance throughout the year, Scarpiniti said.

Some 40 local families qualified for Aldi gift cards from the food assistance program in late 2020.