FROM GRAFTON MAYOR RICK EBERLIN:
Dear Governor Pritzker,
My name is Rick Eberlin and I am the Mayor of Grafton, a small west-central town at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. If you recall, you were here last year during the Flood of 2019. I was elected in 2017, recently celebrating the 3rd anniversary of my swearing-in. What an incredible 3 years it has been! I would have never dreamed that I would have to deal with 6 high water events, with last year’s being the second-worst on record and then a Global Pandemic on top of that.
Our town has simply been devastated. Aesthetically, structurally, and economically devastated, more so than any other time in its storied history. My administration worked diligently to balance the budget only to see those efforts wiped out by the costs of fighting the flood. The majority of businesses were shut down from March until August, that coming after our tourist season was cut short by flooding in the fall of 2018. Most people were optimistic heading into this year, but the pandemic crushed those hopes. I can’t imagine any other town in Illinois that has suffered more than us.
We still have not been able to clean up from last year’s flood and have had to approve supplemental budgets on a couple of occasions. State and federal aid through IEMA and FEMA have not found its way to Grafton yet. When I checked yesterday we had approximately 25,000 dollars in our general fund after transferring from our steadily depleting savings, The steady flow of revenue normally generated by our business community which in turn is driven by tourism has been reduced to a trickle.
To make matters worse in Grafton, many businesses fail to qualify for the stimulus that is being offered. The requirements are such that it makes it nearly impossible for our businesses to get the help they so desperately need. Sole proprietorships, businesses in the floodway or floodplain, seasonal business and businesses not owned for three years, or have not shown profitability for two of the last three years, businesses with more than 50 employees all find themselves ineligible. These businesses can’t afford to take on additional debt in the form of loans.
The Stay-at-Home order began on March 21, 2020, in Illinois, however we still had a steady influx of visitors from Missouri as well as a large number of our residents that traveled to Missouri for work. This went on for approximately 3 weeks as Missouri did not issue its order until April 6, 2020. Missouri then lifted their stay-at-home order on May 4, 2020. If the city of Grafton was ever going to be exposed or become infected it would have been during that time.
As of today, we do not have a single case of COVID-19 being reported in our community and only 17 cases in the entirety of Jersey County. To our north, Calhoun has 1 case, Greene 3, Pike 1, Scott 0, and Brown 2. To our west Macoupin has 36. Only two deaths have been attributed to the COVID-19 virus in those counties. Madison county to our south has 435 cases with 27 fatalities. However, 24 of those fatalities have come in nursing homes. Obviously, the point that I’m trying to make is that my town and the region in which it lies has not experienced the outbreak of COVID that Chicago in Cook County and the collar counties have seen. 92% of all COVID deaths and 91.5% of all cases in Illinois exist in those counties. There is really no comparison that can be made to the rest of downstate Illinois.
Governor Pritzker, I am begging you to step outside of Chicago and the collar counties that surround it and re-evaluate the one size fits all approach to essential and non-essential businesses. My town and our region are vastly different and deserve to re-open immediately. We can’t wait until May 29th! due to the fact of the back to back negative financial impact that the 2019 Flood and this spring’s pandemic have caused. We already have businesses that will declare bankruptcy and others that will simply not open due to the restrictions that have been imposed. They can’t be profitable under the current rules.
We have a family-owned water park on the eastern edge of town in addition to one of the premier GO TO riverside destinations in the metro-east area. In the center of Grafton, we have a 5 star Marina along with a beautiful winery, one of the best zip lines in the Midwest, and a newly opened Sky Tour. Outside of the western limits of the town, we boast Pere Marquette State Park, one of the most beautiful state parks in the entire state. These facilities are the drivers of our economic engine. Unfortunately, they are all closed. Without them, the other smaller shops such as the ice cream shops, gift shops, antique shops, and other businesses would not exist. If they fail, Grafton will cease to exist.
Please allow us to work in conjunction with our health department and with the use of good judgment and common sense to implement a strategy that works for us. Most of our bar and restaurant venues have an abundance of outdoor seating and could easily practice social distancing. The same could be done with our main attractions too. The health and safety of our citizens and the tourists that frequent our town would be of the utmost importance. Look at the statistical and scientific evidence of COVID-19 in downstate Illinois and your decision would be much easier.
Please consider giving Grafton the flexibility it needs in order to control its own fate and existence. I have always said that Grafton is not a town that begs for hand-outs. It simply, from time to time, needs a helping hand. We are a resilient people and with your helping hand and the relaxation of COVID-19 requirements, we could remain a viable community. We can not wait until May 29, to reopen!.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
Rick EberlinMayor of Grafton, Illinois