It was a meeting that almost didn’t happen. Once Mayor pro-tem Katie Duncan gaveled an assembled crowd to order and roll call was taken, City Attorney Kit Hantla rose to explain why the meeting couldn’t be held because of Governor Pritzkers restrictions on the number of people who can attend an indoor meeting during the COVID-19 emergency.
City hall chambers can hold 50 under normal meeting circumstances, but only 16 during the crisis. Hantla said either people would have to leave voluntarily or the meeting would be postponed until a bigger facility could be located.
Dr. Patty Whitworth, there as a representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution who were on the agenda to have Duncan sign a resolution honoring the U.S. Constitution, suggested some of those on the agenda could stand outside until their agenda item was to be addressed.
Eventually a few of the attendees left and others waited outside so the meeting could proceed. All four council members were present, and so were three policemen; three members of the public who wished to address the council; Dave Leonatti, who had just walked through the Corner Block Building; and other city officials.
Leonatti is a resident of Carlinville as well as part of the Melotto-Morse-Leonatti-Parker Ltd., Urban design and historic preservation planning firm located in Springfield.
Leonatti discussed the scope of work his company could provide as a first phase for rehabbing the building: evaluate its structural stability, investigate any environmental hazards that could be encountered, and determine if the building can return the investment needed to rehab it. Leonatti had done a free walkthrough in 2012 which resulted in roof repairs; the firm has done extensive work for county and municipal governments in the surrounding area. He’s impressed with the size and stability of the building, mentioning in particular the gambrel style roof so unique to urban settings. No formal action was called for at the meeting.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy emphasized, “The city is not going to buy the building; we are not in the real estate business.” He said the city’s role is to be the conversation starter because Hillsboro doesn’t want to lose the building.
Kyle Putnam, representing Patton and Company PC, presented that firm’s audit report. She noted that expenses were up considerably in the last fiscal year, primarily because of retirement (IMRF) requirements, but yet the city’s revenues exceeded expenses “by a little bit.” She continued that might not happen this year, as revenue will be down and expenses, again fueled by IMRF and other retirement needs, will be up. The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt businesses, so sales tax and the once-lucrative gaming tax will produce less revenue.
Putnam concluded by encouraging the city “to keep the ball rolling” as far as downtown growth is concerned. Warning that infrastructure grants are harder to find than in the past. “The key to financial success will be budgeting closely and then monitoring that budget,” she said.
First to speak when public comment was asked for was Eric Bradley, a resident of West Summer Street who had asked the council for help during the Sept. 8 meeting. He again described his plight; he wants to fill and grade his back yard in preparation for building a garage, a project he hopes to begin this fall. A storm drainage line serving his neighborhood was run across his back yard diagonally years ago; the sewer main is also present, though no one seems sure of its location. Both need to be moved so his garage isn’t built on top of them.
His neighbor, John Gibb, also spoke from the audience; his house was built with a corner over the water drains before be bought the property. Gibb said another neighbor, currently on vacation so he couldn’t speak for himself, has a potentially bigger problem because his house covers even more of the drainage systems. Both wondered why they had heard no response from the city after the last meeting.
Utilities Commissioner Don Downs said they had investigated; the city believes the storm drain was placed on top of the sewer main in the area. City Clerk Cory Davidson said he’d call Bradley and/or Gibb the next morning.
Chris Hubbart of Hubbart Wood read from a prepared statement to conclude the public comment segment of the agenda. His statement began with a charge of “the blatant abuse of power, authority, and biased reporting that has caused division and undo stress in this community.”
His appearance was the culmination of Facebook postings, and in reaction to the last city council meeting when Murphy asked for an ordinance to be prepared requiring notification to the council of any gathering in support of a movement (That ordinance has yet to be presented).
Hubbart fears that would be a way of showing favoritism. In his statement he asked if the people who sponsored the Black Lives Matter prayer vigil had to fill out paper work, or if those who organized Pritzkers’ political rally on the Lincoln Plaza two summers ago had to fill out paper work. He contends that it became a requirement only after a Trump rally was proposed at Hillsboro Lake over Labor Day weekend.
The statement asked that City Planner Jonathan Weyer be removed from his position because of ongoing conflicts; that CTI record and produce live footage of city council meetings from this point forward, and that Police Chief Randy Leetham not exceed his authority in denying permission for groups to gather.
The council approved the 2020-2021 health insurance plan for city employees; Davidson was very complimentary of the employee representatives who agreed to accept a higher deductible to keep city costs down. What would have been a 21.5 percent increase will be two percent instead. The carrier is Blue Cross-Blue Shield.
A quote was presented to convert the phone systems in city hall and the fire department to a voice over internet system to be provided by CTI. Dropped calls have become a frequent problem for the current system. CTI’s solution will cost $5,475.62, but Davidson said additional money will be spent as the city will buy and connect the necessary lines as a cost-saving measure.
A used but new-to-the-city leaf box, leaf vac, debris loader for the street department will be purchased in Peoria once department supervisor Jordan Chapplear inspects it and gives his approval. The asking price is $7,500.
Davidson explained an unclear deed situation concerning four lots bordering Ice Plant Road sold in 1993 by the city. Vernon Durbin bought one of them; Gary Noyes, the father of Connie Emerick, bought the other three. Before the deeds to Noyes were recorded, Mrs. Emerick’s husband was killed in an accident along I-70 in Fayette County while doing his duties as a law-enforcement officer. Later her father passed, and those deeds weren’t recorded. Mrs. Emerick wants them recorded in her son Noah’s name, and the council agreed to do so to correct the original oversight.
When the coal company agreed to purchase raw water from Hillsboro, part of the contract called for a $10,000 monthly payments go to the Lake Restoration Fund. The 2011 city council, beleagured by debt incurred to pay for water tower and water plant construction, voted to redirect that payment. Any money spent on lake reclamation since then has been taken from that fund’s surplus, and most of that is gone. Attorney Hantla suggested pulling the motion so further details can be explored.
The DAR proclamation was signed by Duncan; three DAR members were present for the ceremony honoring the constitution. Three facade grants and a TIF grant were also discussed. Hollie Blake, owner of the Subway franchise on South Main, will do mortar work on the facade of her building; the estimate of $3,980 allows for a grant of $1,990. A block south and on the east side of South Main, Ryan Hamby has two addresses; estimate for second story window work there is for $6,670, which makes him eligible for a grant of $3,335 upon completion of the work. Baltic Avenue Investments, LLL, at 107 S. Main Street are currently remodeling/replacing windows, and their estimate was for $8,500 in costs. They will receive $2,000 (the maximum for one address) when work is finished and receipts are presented.
The Tax Increment Finance project was submitted by Brian Lee for work underway at 229 South Main. Total costs there could exceed $200,000. Lee asked for $20,000 in TIF funds; the council approved that contingent upon approval by Keith Moran, in charge of distribution of TIF funds.
Department reports were relatively short. Parks and Public Properties and Street Commissioner Daniel Robbins didn’t give his orally because of a temporary vision problem. Highlights of his written report included placing fish structures donated by employee Tom Reynolds in Hillsboro Lake; Superintendent Jim May’s visit to see a siltation structure at Taylorville Lake; and the discing of Central Park (time and equipment donated by John Pocklington) in preparation for seeding.
The Street Department poured concrete at the corner of Oak and Summer Streets and ran the jetter through the storm sewer behind Fairmont Place. They also worked to locate the sewers in question on the two hundred block of West Summer. Robbins asked for patience when concrete work is scheduled because concrete demands are high in the state this late summer.
Public Safety Commissioner Murphy said he was eager to hear Leonatti’s report. He also again asked townspeople to take care of their own properties and reminded them that code enforcement would continue.
Commissioner Downs said the flushing of fire hydrants and pressure testing began last week and would be ongoing. Water may have a slight chlorine odor, especially near the water plant, but it is safe to drink. It also may appear discolored. GIS mapping is occurring as the flushing process continues. He asks homeowners who know where their curb stops are to let the city know of the location. (The curb stop is the outside, underground, on the boulevard shut off valve to the house.
A lightning strike in July affected several electronic devices and scales at the water plant; those are being replaced. The agitator inside the water tower failed because of an electrical issue inside the mechanism. It will be replaced under the warranty.
The council next meets on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. in city hall. The public is welcome to attend.