Decatur Issues

Transfer House Postcard 1906

Transfer House Postcard 1906

The City of Decatur is seeking resident input on the best use of the newly restored Transfer House in Central Park.  Decatur residents can fill out the one question survey on the city’s Web site:

I’ll be making my suggestion(s), once I get some time to write something well thought out.

Okay, looks like I finally have 5 minutes to myself tonight, so I better type fast…

I can’t claim much originality in my suggestions, as these come mainly from our former mayor Paul Osborne, and discussions I’ve had with other community members, but I think the most logical use for the Transfer House would be that of a museum to help promote our local history.  Interactive displays telling Lincoln’s story in Decatur and the history of the Transfer House itself make sense.  It’s not a huge building, and that kind of limits what can be displayed in it, but as Decatur’s most historical building, it should be used to celebrate Decatur’s history.  I don’t want it to be just an interesting old building that looks good in a photograph, but rather a hands-on educational experience for our children and visitors.   Making it a part of the Decatur Celebration, Arts in the Park, and other downtown festivals and events, I think, would be a good start too.

Well, that’s my two cents and my five minutes are up!  The dog is barking, my son is throwing objects across the room and I’m tired!

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I’ll have a full report tomorrow but for a quick update the city council decided not to move forward on the ward/district proposal by a 4-3 decision. The Regions building has been cut as an option for solving our police space needs; instead the council would like bids for remodeling the current Law Enforcement Center or building a new building on or near the current campus.

Ok, here’s some notes I took on the ward/district referendum debate last night:

Larry Foster still insisted that he feared wards or alderman would invite corruption. He also said that voters had already made their wishes known, regarding change, in defeating the ChangeDecatur proposition earlier this year. He urged those seeking change to either run for council or get behind someone they believe in.

Pat Laegeler didn’t say a whole lot but pretty much agreed with Foster. He said that it is “all about the people sitting up here”.

McElroy said that the current system isn’t perfect but you have take the good with the bad. He also referred to ChangeDecatur’s failed proposition and pointed out that only 14% voted for the change. He also said the problem is the people on the council not so much the system.

Edwards was fine with the ward/district question going to the voters as long as the council could decide the district boundaries and the number of people in each. He said that many people view the current council as “elitist” and out of touch. Edwards also brought up the point that part of the reason the ChangeDecatur proposition failed was because the former mayor Paul Osborne and councilman Dan Caulkins suggested the hybrid “compromise”. He also claimed that, in the current system, anyone wanting to beat an incumbent better have about $25,000 raised. Stockard disagreed visibly with this remark.

Stockard stressed the importance of “unity” and “communication” and invited people to come to the council meetings in person to see how things work – or don’t work.

Mayor Carrigan was in favor in placing the question on the ballot, but by the time the question got to him, four votes were already counted against the proposal, so he didn’t say a whole lot.


My thoughts:

If the question had been allowed to go to the voters, I’m not 100% certain I would have voted in favor of it – though I probably would have. However, as many pros as I could think of regarding district representation, I could think up just as many cons. I have to disagree with the statements, however, made by some council members suggesting that the voters had already spoken regarding change. The ChangeDecatur’s proposition earlier this year, regarded reverting the city back to a commission form of government, hardly the same change they were discussing last night. It’s a very weak argument to make claiming that the voters have already decided against change, of any kind, in our council makeup. That isn’t true. Councilman Edwards made a good point that possibly part of the reason ChangeDecatur’s proposition failed, was because of the hybrid compromise Caulkins and Mayor Osborne proposed just a few weeks before the election. I would have liked to have seen more council members with open minds last night, but I think many council members had made up their minds, a long time ago.

That being said, I would like to see us move forward now and that those seeking change work within the system we have. It is a democratic system, no not perfect, but something I can live with. If our city government problems are people related, we can change THAT, come April 2009!

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The Decatur City Council has been debating the police space issue for quite some time now. Even after trying to thoroughly research the issue myself – I still find myself scratching my head. I’m not sure what the real deal is. The problem is, the council seems as clueless as me!

To catch you up to speed, the Police Department feels that it needs more space; some of this is because they have more personnel; the other reason , maybe the bigger reason, is due to the fact they have to store evidence for much longer periods of time than they used to. In other words, they’re up to the ears in paperwork, evidence, computer systems, guns and donuts. It’s common for three officers to share the same desk while other personnel have no space at all. Not having toured the current facility myself, I’m going to take their word at it that they need more space.

There’s been several proposals and ideas (some good, some kinda goofy) for resolving the space needs. Some proposals include new construction; other proposals have suggested rehabilitating existing downtown buildings – namely the Millikin building (pictured above), which currently is occupied by Regions Bank. Regions will be moving to their new facility sometime this Fall. However, there’s been questions as to whether this building would be, or could be, up to code for a police station.

New construction has been proposed for the property directly east of the current jail. A “green” building has been suggested; satellite stations; a tent on the edge of town – ok I made that last one up but still the basic questions keep being asked and not answered.

A. How much will rehabilitating the Millikin building cost?

B. How much would new construction cost? (Last estimate was $15 million, do we hear a 20, a 30 a 40 million, sold to the highest bidder!)

C. Can the current facility be retro-fitted, remodeled and/or expanded to create more space?

D. How much more will the city be paying on a monthly basis for any of these options. (i.e.: electrical, water, rent, insurance, upkeep and maintenance, etc.)

Nobody seems to have clear answers. The only thing that has been made clear, by a 2003 study and an estimation of the police department itself, is that it needs somewhere around 60,000 square feet of space. It currently has somewhere around 45,000 square feet if you add up all of their different storage places and cubby holes. The city knows somewhat what our budget is. We know how much we can afford without raising taxes or putting the city in debt for the next 20 years. I have a feeling the only proposal that wouldn’t require higher taxes or big debt is the “tent of the edge of town” proposal mentioned above. We also don’t know precisely the costs that will incur over the long haul; a more energy efficient building might be more expensive to build but it would be cheaper to heat and cool, thus saving money in the end.

At any rate we need clear answers to clear questions, until then we’ll be discussing this issue for the next decade not knowing what’s up or down.

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The city of Decatur Web site has an informative slide show presentation detailing the pros and cons of many of the different water storage options that have been proposed and/or discussed. The North Lake Reservoir is presented as the most cost effective option. It’s also believed that development opportunities for homes and businesses would be well suited for the North Lake area.

What I think needs to be discussed/considered before moving forward:

  • Ensure that a portion of the acreage is set aside for a park/conservation area.
  • Funding should come from Decatur, Forsyth, Mt. Zion and other townships in Macon County. State funding should also be sought. As it is being proposed now, Decatur water customers and ADM would be funding the project. It isn’t known yet how much ADM is willing to contribute or how much Decatur residents would have to pay. As we have learned in the past, actual costs can be considerably more than projected costs. Having Decatur residents bear the brunt of the load, when the lake would benefit the entire county, is unfair. Much of the shoreline wouldn’t even be inside of Decatur’s school district boundaries; a greater percentage of property taxes and revenue would likely be collected by our northern communities.
  • Encourage “Green” housing and development. Possibly tax breaks, outside funding/aid could come into play?

The North Lake is probably the most significant project Decatur will undertake since creating Lake Decatur. If done right, it could be a positive turning point in Decatur’s history. I think it’s important to become an area wide project, because more than Decatur would benefit from the lake, however, as it is being proposed now, only Decatur would pay for it.

Here’s a link to the water resources presentation on the city’s Web site:

Water Resources Presentation

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