Hillsboro Council Makes Adjustment

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All’s Well That Ends Well is a fitting title for a Shakespearian play, but it also is a fit description of the city council meeting held in Hillsboro on Tuesday, July 14. 

From a corrective action that began the meeting through citizen complaints/observations, the agenda held the potential for confrontations, but each instance became a clarification discussion instead.

Correction? At the June 23 meeting, Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan was sworn in as Mayor pro tem to replace Brian Sullivan whose letter of resignation was accepted during the meeting. 

Ms. Duncan, who’s to fill the mayoral seat until the next city election, was seated with the understanding she would receive the mayor’s salary rather than a commissioner’s salary. 

The council then would operate as a four person entity.

However, a state law prohibits an elected official from receiving a raise once he/she is seated; as a correction, Michael Murphy moved and Donnie Downs seconded a motion to keep Duncan’s salary at the same level as was set before the last city election. 

Duncan said she would accept that because she wanted to retain her Finance Commissioner’s post. 

That motion was passed 2-0 (Public Properties Commissioner Daniel Robbins was absent and Duncan abstained) after Downs expressed his concerns.

His contentions involved the legality of having only four councilpeople (City Attorney Kit Hantla said that was a legal option - the other would have been filling Duncan’s spot as Finance and Accounts head with an appointment, but that was a position she wanted to retain). It allows her to vote on all motions; if she were only mayor, she could vote only in case of a 2-2 tie. Now, if a tie vote is cast, the motion will be ruled defeated for lack of a majority.

Downs also questioned the legality of the last mayor’s resignation because the signature wasn’t notarized, a requirement of state law governing mayoral resignations. Hantla, who had not been at recent meetings for personal reasons, said while technically it was a valid complaint, it was also a correctable error as Sullivan would submit an affidavit affirming the signature was his. Past Mayor Bill Baran, there on another matter, recalled how in the past when mayoral vacancies occurred, a councilman became mayor and a new councilman was appointed.

Before the vote, Hantla commented that all was fine with the June meeting’s course of action except the reimbursement matter, and Duncan said she was willing to act as mayor with no additional compensation.

Baran also spoke during the public comment segment of the meeting; the city had removed two maple trees from the boulevard in front of his residence on St. Louis Street. An existing ordinance says the trees are to be replaced, and Baran has found a tree (on the city’s approved list because roots spread out rather than dive deep to search for water from utility mains) which he is willing to purchase, but he’s physically unable to plant it himself. He expressed frustration that nothing had been done after he’d contacted city commissioners and workers.

Public Properties Superintendent Jim May said a clarification was needed. An agreement exists that trees are no longer to be planted in boulevards because of damage roots cause to infrastructure (sidewalks as well as utility mains). Baran said he’d then like to have the tree planted in his yard where he could water and care for it. It seems a compromise is possible.

Other citizens had concerns on the agenda. Gene Knisley asked why an ordinance prohibiting fireworks in the city wasn’t enforced this year. Knisley said he heard fireworks coming from the high school’s lower parking lot (in his neighborhood) beginning on July 1 at 10:30 p.m. and occurring as late as 3 a.m. on July 11. He’d called police dispatch and was told the city would give offenders “some leeway,” perhaps because the traditional display on July 4 was cancelled this summer.

Public Safety Commissioner Mike Murphy said that wasn’t the city policy, at least not to his knowledge. Knisley said he hadn’t called back after the initial response, but he knew that veterans and those who own dogs weren’t happy about the noise. He also said some of the explosions were enough that the devices couldn’t have legally been sold in Hillsboro.

Murphy thanked Knisley for coming to the meeting with his complaints and apologized for the response he’d received from dispatch. He said he’d called about an occurrence in his neighborhood (Anna Street) personally, and Downs knew of one incident on Seymour Street to which the police responded, but the council was receptive to Knisley’s concerns.

Other visitors were concerned about lake lot assignments. Doug Donaldson described a situation near his residence on the lake in which he claimed an area which he had mowed and kept clean for the past seven years had been assigned to a home buyer new to the lake front. Shelley Pearman also complained about which she thought was unfair treatment. The two were accompanied by Isaac Law.

May explained the city’s position while asking the council to consider changes in lot rule administration as proposed by the Natural Resources Committee. “Two sets of regulations are needed,” May said, “One for homeowners and another for non-residents. Homeowners have a different perspective than someone who leases a lot and utilizes it only three or four times a year.”

Donaldson agreed with that assessment, so again a compromise seems possible. May said the situations with lake lots is always changing, making it difficult to write and enforce regulations that fit all circumstances. Attorney Hantla suggested more time and discussion could lead to a resolution.

As Finance Commissioner, Duncan brought bills totalling $423,021.55 to the table; approval to pay the bills was 3-0. She voted that more money than usual was spent on Amazon suppliers; she noted that while some items might be only available (or might be cheaper) on the internet, she would encourage purchases to be made locally when possible to help the tax base.

Two facade grant requests were acknowledged, one from Paris Frozen Foods (Tom Campagni) who anticipates spending over $4,000 on landscaping and other improvements to the front of his business on Springfield Road. He’ll be eligible for a $2,000 grant when the work is completed. The other was from John and Kendra Wright of the Red Rooster. Their business has two addresses; the set of stairs and other work on the side of their building has a cost estimate of over $9,000; their request was for $4,000. Both requests were approved by a 3-0 vote.

Two company representatives addressed the council. John Vezzetti from Bernardi Securities brought the annual disclosure report from his company which handled the bond work for the city in 2003 when the water plant financing was arranged. The bonds were refinanced in 2013 (with considerable interest savings for the city), and another chance for refinancing will occur within four years. The water tower bond has been paid off; the report contains the facts that investors will consider when the water plant bonds are up for renewal.

Tom Fagan, representing the Chicago firm Azavar, spoke to the council from there. He apologized for not appearing in person, citing Covid-19 considerations. His firm offers a zip code accountability service; some fees due the city (Ameren was cited as an example) base fee payments on zip codes, but sometimes the zip codes are attributed to the wrong town. Thus Hillsboro may be missing parts of revenue sources. Azavar will check the revenue streams; if they find errors that mean less revenue for the city, their fee would be 45% of the additional revenues for three years. Then 100% of the revenues would accrue to the city. No vote was taken concerning the offer, but the council will research and consider it at a later date.

The board also tabled a request from Casey’s General Store to sell beer curbside. Commissioner Downs said he’d spoken to employees at Casey’s who don’t like the idea, nor does he - “Casey’s is a convenience store; and if I’m standing in line, it isn’t convenient if I have to wait while the cashier runs a beer to a customer in a car.”

The manager of Moto spoke against the request, basing her opposition on a lack of employees because of a cut based on the higher minimum wage requirements. Attorney Hantla said a governor’s mandate made opposition futile unless it violated a city ordinance. He hadn’t had a chance to review applicable ordinances, so the council agreed to table the request until more information could be acquired. Hantla said it wasn’t necessary to give permission or denial Tuesday night.

During commissioner reports, Murphy said Charlie Goad would retire before the end of the year, and that four applicants for policeman/code officer Gary Satterlee’s position had been tested on Saturday, July 11. He reminded residents to maintain their properties -- “Every house is a billboard (to a visitor).” Murphy also thanked Baran, Knisley, Donaldson, Pearman, and Law for bringing their complaints to a council meeting rather than using Facebook as a voice.

Duncan said though the budget for the next fiscal year is finished, it wasn’t posted for the required ten days before the meeting, so it will be on the July 28 agenda. She also said CTI would like to sponsor/donate banners featuring historic Hillsboro building pictures to hang downtown.

Downs said a construction crew had accidentally damaged two curb stops (water valves) at the work site at Rountree and Summer on Monday, July 6. City crews combined to fix that problem; Streets Superintendent Jordan Chappelear and Downs thanked the anonymous person who brought a cooler of water to the site. Then another construction crew struck a 12” water main at the intersection of Welch Street and Ice Plant Road. That rupture took several more hours to repair, and the lack of water pressure meant a boil order had to be issued. Even the Parks Department was called into service to help with that repair.

Finally, late in the day Friday, July 10, another break in a water line on Jefferson Street capped a rough work week for city personnel.

Downs reported that the Rountree and Summer Street project should be completed by this Friday, July 17. The Rt. 127 IDOT project to upgrade ADA ramps is to begin this week or early next week. He asks that drivers proceed cautiously near construction sites.

He also thanked Vogel Plumbing for helping the Sewer Department with cleaning wet wells at the pump stations and the youth group at the Presbyterian Church for cleaning blighted areas around town.

Downs has been reviewing the standing ordinance requiring excavation bonds before city streets or sidewalks are disturbed for plumbing work; Downs said there have been several times where bonds were not posted before work began, and sidewalks were not then replaced. Besides enforcement, he questions wording requiring replacement equal to that which exists before the work began. Often the pre-existent sidewalk is not very good.

Mayor Duncan read the reports Robbins had submitted. His street department had picked up brush, installed and changed a new water main on Summer Street, and repaired the other broken mains. They helped put up the tent for Covid-19 Testing at the hospital -- and picked up a dead possum from Summer Street.

The Parks & Public Properties Department continued mowing, bush hogging, and weed spraying around town, doing piping and tile work at Central Park, doing maintenance work at the Marina Restaurant, working on lake lot signs, and assisting other city departments as requested.

City Planner Jonathan Weyer, while making the first anniversary of a report to the city council, told members that the rough draft of the Strategic Plan has been distributed to the Planning Commission, which meets today, Thursday, July 16. If they approve, it will be submitted to the council for review at the July 28 meeting. After work by a graphic designer, it will be presented at a public meeting before the council officially votes to accept it.

Weyer said the Atlas 46 and Hardcore Hammer week went well. Another company has committed to be here by October and perhaps another by next spring. Vacant building owners who want to sell their buildings should contact Weyer at city hall. 

The council next meets Tuesday evening, July 28, at 7 o’clock in city hall. Wear a mask and come to the meeting.

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