Belleville alderwoman: Don't spend city money on 9/11 memorial

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

AP GRAPHIC

— A Belleville alderwoman wants a nonprofit committee to promise it will not use city funds to build a Sept. 11 memorial.

Alderwoman-At-Large Lillian Schneider has asked members of the Sept. 11 Memorial Walkway of Southern Illinois Committee to state in writing that the group will not seek city funding for another "park."

The group verbally affirmed its commitment to build the memorial with private funds, but did not put anything in writing.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the committee has not asked the city for money and members have no intention of doing so at this point.

"But if they get all but done and all they needed is a parking lot, would I consider the city partnering on the parking lot?" Eckert said. "Yeah, because it would help to have more parking when we have training at the Fire Department."

The memorial will be built on city-owned property by Firehouse No. 4 at 1125 S. Illinois St.

The site design features a steel column from the World Trade Center, a Flight 93 Memorial, a timeline of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and a memorial in the shape of a pentagon.

The group hopes to have the site done and dedicated on Sept. 11, 2014.

"I have nothing against the memorial and I think it's a very good thing," Schneider said. "But the city cannot start putting money in that. Our sales tax is one of the highest around. We're raising sewer rates. We need to start fixing some important things in the city of Belleville."

Schneider expressed these concerns at the aldermanic Streets and Grades Committee meeting last week to members of the Sept. 11 memorial committee, which includes some city employees.

Fire Chief Scott Lanxon, who serves as chairman of the Sept. 11 memorial committee, said the group has no plans to ask the city for money.

"We're trying to raise it all," Lanxon said later in the week. "We're committed to building the memorial with all donated money."

The committee has raised $70,000 of the estimated $100,000 it will take to start to build the memorial.

Schneider also questioned whether the width of the access road to the memorial and Fire Department could accommodate motorists and fire trucks passing through at the same time.

Sharon Strausbaugh, vice president of the Sept. 11 memorial committee, said the road is about 20 feet wide and has always been open to two-way traffic.

The Fire Department's trucks are about 8 feet wide and pass easily by trucks used by Illinois American Water, which still has property by the firehouse.

Schneider said she does not want committee members to take her concerns the wrong way. She supports the memorial and voted to approve the project when it came before the City Council.

"I donated a black Christmas tree with flags and with red, white and blue streamers, and I was there for the fundraiser at Big Daddy's," Schneider said. "But the city can't keep spending money this way."

Strausbaugh said she was surprised Schneider did not raise these concerns before voting to support the project.

"And why not wait and discuss it if it becomes an issue, if we do ask the city for money?" Strausbaugh said. "Why are we making an issue out of something that isn't even an issue?"

Schneider, a vocal critic of the city's new Bicentennial Park off 17th Street, said she is voicing her concerns because of the amount of money the city has spent on what she calls a "swamp."

Mayor Eckert said the Sept. 11 memorial is not another "park" but a tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, and to first responders and military men and women who continue to protect citizens on a daily basis.

"I don't know why (Schneider) wants to dampen the spirit of these volunteers raising money and upset their positive efforts," Eckert said. "If these are true concerns, she could have raised them quietly instead of seeking public attention. This time she really hurt the 9/11 volunteers."

For more information on the memorial and how to donate, visit www.wtcmemorial.us or call the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce at 233-6769.

All donations are tax deductible since the Sept. 11 Memorial Walkway of Southern Illinois Committee is a subcommittee of the nonprofit Belleville Cultural Enrichment Organization.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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