As Hillsboro’s acting mayor and Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan said during the Tuesday evening, Feb. 23, city council meeting, “We have to do it, but I don’t like it.” Most citizens will react the same way.
The exasperation came about because a federal mandate established in 2018 to insure the safety of local water supplies will need to be paid for before the end of the current calendar year (ideally by the end of the fiscal year in mid-summer) and the amount is “...enough to cause shell-shock,” according to Utilities Commissioner and presumptive mayor (he’s the only candidate on the ballot) Don Downs.
Woodard & Curran engineer Jennifer Anders and local representative Tim Ferguson first identified the problem and then presented the possible solutions and their costs. The 9/11/2001 terrorist attack raised concerns about the vulnerability of water supplies across the country to terrorism attacks as well as natural disasters and mandated security measures; afterwards, cyber security became an issue, too, so the Federal response upgraded security requirements across the nation without including funding. Large metropolitan areas had to be in compliance by the end of June 2019. Level Two providers had to meet requirements by last June, and Level Three (Hillsboro’s designation) has to have a Risk and Resilience Assessment (RRE) on file by this June 30. The next phase is an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) by the end of this year.
Anders was concerned that if the council didn’t give her the authorization to begin work at Tuesday’s meeting, then her staff wouldn’t have time to complete the RRE by the deadline; failure to comply would result in fines to the city.
The cost of the studies involved ($50,000 each) seemed a large pill for the council to swallow.
All of the money must come from the Water and Sewer Fund (because of accounting principles); and, although that budget has some breathing room because the water tower debt has been paid, the need for a new sewer plant is real and looming. Anders said her firm can bill the city for the RRE program work during the next fiscal year if that will help; she just needed the authority to proceed. Though the discussion was agonizing, the authority she wanted was granted 4-0.
The remainder of the agenda seemed anti-climatic. The council voted to grant Ameren an easement to cross city property at 17 Doe Run Lane; the lease holder of the lake front property wants to run power to his dock. Though the property has an Irving address, it is within Hillsboro city limits. The vote to give easement was 4-0.
After a half-hour closed session, the council voted to ask for bids on real estate parcel 11-36-400-032, which is a lot on the circle where the city lake cabins are. The property will be advertised in the local paper. The meeting then adjourned at 8:35 p.m.
It began with the customary commissioners’ reports. Installation of drain, waste, and vent piping in the floor of the Central Park restrooms has been completed by Bondurant Plumbing, and the work passed state inspection according to Daniel Robbins. The Park and Public Properties Department also cleared snow from sidewalks in front of city hall and Lincoln Plaza and worked with Hiller’s to prepare the Harkey House rental property for new leasees. The snowflake holiday decorations were removed from the street poles downtown as well.
The Street Department drew praise from Robbins and Downs for their willingness to work long hours to make streets possible for residential and business traffic during the recent snow storms and cold weather. The leaf box that collects debris from the leaf vacuum as it cleans the gutters and grates was repaired and painted, and a dead possum was retrieved from Hiltop Drive.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy expressed a major concern with signs in the yards of residences that have “...language not acceptable on signs and flags appearing in certain yards. I defend free speech, but the town hopes to project an image that certain words destroy. As with masks, it’s decency and consideration of others, not politics, that is the issue. One word is so disgusting, so vulgar, that it has no place in a civilized society. Flying a flag with that word could be construed as disturbing the peace.
“Those who find it acceptable should find another place to live if they want to act like that. This town has made massive progress in the past six years (in terms of demolishing or rehabbing derelict housing), and we need citizens who want to continue on that path.”
Murphy also had a message for those encountering dog problems around town. “Call the county facility; it is their responsibility. Insist they fulfill the duties we pay taxes to have them perform.”
Duncan asked the various departments as they consider budget requests for the next fiscal year to keep in mind the constraints placed on the money supply by the COVID 19 pandemic, which has resulted in lower sales tax revenues. Later, council members wondered unofficially about the impact Governor Pritzker’s new budget would have on cities the size of Hillsboro. The new expense for water and sewer had not been revealed.
Commissioner Downs reflected on the parking situation along city streets during the last snow. “Please don’t park on the streets,” he asked, “because that hampers our snow plows from doing their jobs well. No one wants to hit a parked car, so pay attention to weather alerts and park in a driveway.”
Downs also reminded townspeople and business owners that pipes freezing inside buildings during cold weather are the building owner’s responsibilities. “Don’t call us; call a plumber. If you call us with a problem, we can send someone to check it out, but we can’t work on private property.” He also added that the meter changing process is still underway.
Community Planner Jonathan Weyer reported that newly-appointed State Senator Doris Turner will be in town for a visit next Thursday, March 4; she intends to tour Atlas 46, the ongoing Red Rooster project, and The Coop (business inoculator facility under development) as well as other sites with her. He also said, “Serious discussions are happening with Capstone Development about bringing sustainable/green Workforce housing to Hillsboro.”
Weyer also said he and Chamber of Commerce representative Kaitlyn Fath want to develop a tourism board to establish regional connections in the bi-state area in order to promote tourism interest in Hillsboro.
The only comments offered in the Public Comment section came from Downs, who said a city employee almost stepped in a pile of dog waste on one of the new sidewalks by the Red Rooster. He emphasized again that owners must clean up after their pooches or face a fine for littering.
Engineer Jeremy Connor said the 2021 MFT program has been submitted to IDOT; that the preliminary layout for the Helston Street sewer project has been established; and that the Seward Street bridge project is underway. Also, IDNR has completed 90% of their review of paper work for the spillway project at the older City Lake, and Hurst-Roche will have the final paper preparations ready in April.
The next regular meeting will be on Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. in city hall. Zoom access will be available to the public.