Water, Sewer Mains Plague Hillsboro Council

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One might conclude Hillsboro will need a King Solomon and all his wisdom to appear, before Thanksgiving if possible, after the city council and a pair of West Summer Street residents presented their and the city’s potential problems during the latter part of a city council meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Council members Don Downs and Daniel Robbins and City Clerk Cory Davidson sat at the council table; Katie Duncan and Michael Murphy plus City Attorney Kit Hantla appeared via Zoom, so did all those who talked to the council about agenda items.

The serious nature of the problem on Summer Street in the area once known as Bells Addition became obvious when the spokesman for the homeowners involved began to speak. 

He and neighbor John Gibb had spoken to the council at two earlier meetings in the Public Comment section of the agenda, which meant the council couldn’t act on their issue; this time they had gone through the formalities to be on the agenda.

Eric Bradley wants to build a garage in his back yard but discovered his planned spot would mean constructing it on top of both the storm water sewer main and the waste water main. 

His neighbor, Gibb, discovered the same mains are under a section of his house. A third house, whose occupant/co-owner has yet to be involved in the discussion, is built entirely over the mains.

Obviously, as Bradley pointed out, the mains need to be moved; if either breaks or plugs, it could become a public health issue and would be hard and expensive to resolve - as well as very time consuming. 

Moving the mains before a bigger problem (at least one clay tile is broken) occurs would be the pro-active stance.

However, that process will be expensive; $75,000 was an unofficial estimate voiced during the discussion, but it wasn’t clear if that would be for one site or all three. The question then becomes who has to pay the cost.

That became a point of contention after Attorney Hantla asked how many similar situations exist in the city. If this is the only one, it can be managed; if there are multiple houses built over sewer mains, the costs for fixing each one would be prohibitive. No one knows the scope of the problem city-wide, but as Hantla said, what the city does in this known incident will become precedent and thus the expected course of action in all similar situations.

Another complication is lost records. No one knows when the sewer mains were laid nor when the structures were built nor by whom they were built. Either the builders didn’t know where the sewer mains were located or they didn’t care. There were no ordinances governing location of utilities then as there are now. Even if there were, the time for holding people responsible for breaking them, the statute of limitations, has passed.

The discussion ended amicably; Bradley and his side are to meet with Public Utilities Commissioner Downs, a representative of Hurst-Rosche Engineers, Tim Ferguson of Woodard & Curran, and Hantla between now and Thanksgiving to see if a solution can be found.

In other council action, they approved paying bills totalling $45,647.84. The vote was 3-0, with Robbins abstaining. Clerk Davidson presented a lease agreement with Sumner One for a copy machine. The current  five year lease with a different company expired; the newer one lets the user choose one of three color levels depending upon the job, which can save the city money. The lease will cost $257.95 per month, and the agreement was approved unanimously.

Davidson introduced the insurance program renewal with Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust (ICRMT) by saying the city would decrease its deductible from $5,000 to $2,500 dollars so other improvements could be added to the policy while not increasing the premium too much. Added were provisions to cover computer fraud, employee dishonesty, and increased cyber liability. Total premium is $169,886, which is a .004 percentage increase.

The city will advertise for a person to fill the water clerk position (the current clerk, Ms. Jan Jett, will retire on May 31 of next year). The intent is to hire her replacement at the December 8 meeting so training can occur over a five-month period beginning in January.

The action segment of the meeting began with unanimous approval of two matters discussed at the public meeting (also held by Zoom). First was the official adoption of the 20-year city strategic plan and the second was approval of the zoning changes from R-1 (Large Residential) to I-1 (Industrial) for the land once occupied by Eagle Zinc and currently under reclamation by the EPA using Superfund monies. Most of the land once occupied by the plant is in one parcel; the smaller strip is to the south of that. Part of the agreement with the federal government said the land can not be used for residential purposes.

Caitlyn Voyles appeared by Zoom to further explain the reverse Christmas Parade as it was tentatively approved at the October 27 meeting. Lighted floats will be parked along Main Street on Saturday evening, Dec. 5, so cars can drive by them. It is part of the Christmas Festival that Imagine Hillsboro supports each December; the tree lighting and stores open for shopping Friday and Saturday nights are part of the tentative plans as the group hopes to keep the tradition alive in a safe way despite the pandemic.

Parks and Public Properties Commissioner Robbins began departmental reports. Mowing equipment is undergoing end-of-season maintenance and repairs; the information Burbach Aquatics requested after the last council meeting has been sent; and season-end routine winterizing has begun at Sherwood Forest. Sidewalks were poured at the Sports Complex and needed work was done under Meisenheimer Bridge. Robbins concluded his report by reminding everyone to “Thank a Vet.”

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy asked political candidates to pick up any signs still in yards around town. He also asked homeowners (and professional caretakers of lawns) not to blow leaves into city streets; he said the city could be short of manpower as employees use vacation time, but any leaves bagged in paper and left on the boulevards will be picked up. He also thanked Police Chief Randy Leetham for leading the procession escorting his grandmother’s funeral to the cemetery last week, and Officer Gary Satterlee for helping with traffic control as the procession left the funeral home. His family appreciated the gestures.

Satterlee, nearing retirement, also drew praise for his work as code enforcer over the past six years; Murphy said up to 44 non-compliant structures had been demolished, and he asked future councils keep up with that type of diligence.

Finance Commission Duncan said the tax levy would be ready for the next meeting.

Downs said a potential issue on Park Street had been resolved by homeowners working with city officials. By ordinance each house must have its own curb stop (shut off valve), but there are instances around town where curb stops are shared. When a plumber discovers that problem, he has to report it, and the homeowners have to have it fixed. Also, a sidewalk had to be disturbed to move one inlet pipe to the new curb stop. The homeowners and the city worked through the dilemma so both houses are now legal, meeting both city and EPA requirements.

Downs also said trees need to be removed from the vicinity of a lift station behind Paris Frozen Foods because falling limbs could interrupt electrical service to the pump, causing problems for Helston Place residents. That area is the possible site of a project in 2021. Downs also thanked the Rake and Runners group (Hillsboro Area Hospital and Presbyterian Youth Group members) for their work on Saturday, Nov. 7. He asks that those who still have leaves on their premises not to allow them to clog city gutters and grates over the storm water sewer mains.

City Planner Jonathan Weyer said 50 copies of the Strategic Plan will be available at city hall on Thursday morning, Nov. 12, for any who want one, but they are also on the website. Also, the marketing website has gone live at www.headtohillsboro.com.

He named Kaitlyn Fath, Dustin Jones, Quincy Egert, Bethany Martin, and Terri O’Dell as members of the team that made the marketing website possible. He also said the announcement of another company coming to town would be made Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 2:30.

The next council meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. in city hall. Most likely it will be another Zoom meeting, but that depends on pandemic developments between now and then.

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