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Daily Journal
     September 22, 2022      #41-265 KDJ

Send out positive signals in Manteno

Phil Angelo For the Journal

Every community wants to welcome its new residents moving in.

In Manteno, they do it with a definite plan in mind. The Manteno Chamber of Commerce has worked with merchants in the village to create welcome bags. This is a similar concept to Welcome Wagon. People who move into town get a container full of goodies: coupons, pens, notepads, keychains, a toothbrush and a chip clip, among other things.

The Manteno Chamber asked its member merchants to contribute to the bags. Many did. Some 100 were created and realtors are giving them away to people who buy homes in Manteno.

Sarah Marion, president and CEO of the Manteno Chamber, shared that the bags are a hit with both merchants and with those moving into town.

Manteno is a village where the Chamber and the municipal government work hand-in-hand. The director of the chamber had traditionally been a part-time job. At the same time, the village had a part-time person working in the mayor’s office creating events.

Nine years ago, the two part-time jobs were combined.

“We realized we were doing the same thing,” Manteno Mayor Tim Nugent said.

In turn, he adds, creating the one full-time job has worked out exceptionally well. Manteno does a good job explaining itself to the public.

A “Manteno Matters” video points out the many public construction projects under way. Marion, in turn, has helped create, support and promote activities in downtown Manteno.

For example, Manteno has Rockin’ on the Square every third Friday of the month during summer.

“We’ve had 1,400 to 1,500 people come,” Marion said. And when they come, they come back asking when the next one will be.

Manteno has free summer movies Thursdays at Legacy Park. There is a strong Christmas celebration, with Santa, the lighting of a tree and a walk with a punchcard to encourage people to visit businesses. There’s a Christmas Tree Lane on the downtown square and lights everywhere.

Not surprisingly, Manteno has a full downtown. The chamber has its highest membership ever, at 225. The town is self-sufficient with all types of businesses from coffee shops to banks and a grocery store.

“You do not need to leave town,” Marion said.

Manteno has a dozen parks. The 66-acre Legacy Park is the highlight, a joint project of the township and the village. Legacy Park includes a popular walking trail and a splash pad for children to cool off during the summer. It hosts youth football in the fall. Nugent said a $50,000 Blue Cross-Blue Shield grant recently installed a 10-station fitness course.

Downtown Manteno is home to a jumping pillow, a sort of permanent bounce house without walls that lets kids work off energy while mom and dad watch.

The idea, Marion said, is to attract young families. Manteno wants families to be entertained and be safe without having to spend a fortune.

The town’s biggest annual celebration, Oktoberfest, starts tonight. That activity, and many others, Marion said, are only possible because of a strong core of volunteers.

Manteno has a definite positive “look” in other ways, too. It might be the most golf cart-friendly town. It has more than 500 carts registered to run on its streets.

“We have had next to no issues with them,” Nugent said.

Nugent said the golf carts help create a “relaxed vibe” and “feeling of friendliness” in town.

There’s also a practical side to it. Cart drivers and owners must have seat belts, turn signals and insurance, but the overall cost is less than purchasing and maintaining a car. There is a limitation on where you can use them. You can drive them on city streets and across a state highway but not down a state or federal highway, such as Route 50.

There’s one other unusual transportation plus in Manteno. Manteno is a stop for the River Valley Metro Bus that heads to Chicago. For $2, the bus goes to Midway Airport. Manteno throws in free parking at the downtown stop, a big savings over leaving your car at the airport for a weekend.

“It’s a best kept secret,” Nugent said. “I’ve had people from Champaign and Bloomington tell me they would have taken the bus from Manteno if they had known about it.”

Thus, Manteno maintains small town appeal while also having a convenient link to all the amenities of Chicago. Nugent said there is also a strong spirit of cooperation among Manteno area governments. The village has appointed a police resource officer for the village schools. The cost for the job is shared.

Right away, as you pull off Interstate 57 or pull into town along Route 50, one of the signature things about Manteno is apparent. Poles throughout town hold colorful banners with individual pictures saluting the town’s veterans.

Nugent explained this is the fifth year of the program. People pay $100 for a banner and bring in their relative’s photo. After two years, the banner is given to the family.

“I was at a convention,” Nugent said, when he picked up the idea from another town. With an active American Legion Post and the Illinois Veterans Home, Manteno is the perfect spot for such a program.

One thing you wouldn’t obviously see on a pole is the village government’s financial health. Earlier, the village sold its water and sewer systems. The savings, in turn, have been passed on to the residents. Manteno, for example, has no fee for garbage collection. The town also picks up recyclables every other week.

It also rebates the village portion of the property tax. The rebates only apply to owner-occupied single family homes, not to rental or commercial properties. The checks go out Dec. 1.

“Everyone said do something about taxes,” Nugent said.

Manteno did. The program will go on for the next several years, he said. The hope is the village investments will grow to keep it up, but no one can predict that.

“We’ll do it to the extent of our ability,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s been popular enough that some folks from neighboring villages have come to Manteno to fill out the form. That won’t work. They will have to move into town.

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