Decatur City Council

Future site of DPD

Tonight the city council will vote to improve funds for preliminary design work on the renovation of the former Zexel building on Decatur’s south side, which will become the new home of the Decatur Police Department.  If I’m understanding it right, these plans are not final detailed blueprints but rather detailed reports revealing what construction, remodeling and mechanical work will be required in order to turn the building into a police station.  The cost for this phase of design work by Dewberry Architects out of Peoria is not to exceed $280,000.  The total cost for final designs and construction isn’t known at this time.

According to the agenda the first walk through of the building occurred on August 30, 2012 and it was chosen as a final option on October 1, 2012.  The site was presented to the council by city management on January 22, 2013.

The review of the final design is to occur on July 30th of this year with construction beginning in August.  Construction is projected to be complete by February of 2014.

 

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Some new news came from city manager Ryan McCrady this morning on Byers & Company.  The most interesting being the proposed location of a new police department in the old Borg Warner facility near the WAND building in South Shores.  This was nowhere on my radar screen.  It’s the first I heard mentioned as a location but it will be presented to the city council at their next meeting, to be held Tuesday, January 22nd at 5:30.  I’ll be there live Tweeting if you want to follow along.  As soon as I get a hold of the agenda, I’ll run down the details of the proposal.

In other news, SUV’s and trucks will once again be allowed to park in the newly created angled parking spots downtown.  This comes as a response to the difficulty of categorizing vehicles.  Is a crossover an SUV or a station wagon?  Do people even know what category their vehicle falls in?  It’s been crazy, so the signs will be coming down and it will be in McCrady’s words, the wild, wild west.

McCrady also said that the relaxed parking rules will be a test run before the pavement is resurfaced later this year.  If the angled parking is determined to be unsafe, parallel parking will return.

Something I found kind of funny in a creepy way was the city’s new parking surveillance system.  It’s a high-tech approach to nail parking offenders.  Make sure you look good when you go downtown because you may be having your picture taken.  Meter readers will be driving spy-like cars that James Bond himself would envy.  Pictures of license plates will be taken and run through the system to find the worst parking offenders.  In other words, more boots are coming!

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The Decatur City Council went over their goals that were set in September of 2011 Monday night.  On that list were several items that residents are familiar with:  Police space, a long-term water solution, fixing aging infrastructure, attracting new jobs and tearing down the Barnes parking garage.

Police Space

As long as I’ve been covering the city council, I’ve been hearing about the need for more police space. The previous council tackled the issue during many long study sessions that never arrived at any conclusion, other than the realization that they would never come to an agreement on much of anything.

The current council hasn’t discussed the issue in great detail but I think they could come to an agreement on a solution soon.

Ideas in the past have suggested using the former Millikin Bank building, which is now occupied by several businesses, remodeling the old, now demolished, Carson Pirie Scott building, remodeling the current facility, building a new facility near the existing Law Enforcement Center, or building near Wabash Crossing.

The last I heard was the Wabash Crossing area has the most support but they may have changed.  Both the city manager and council were vague and short on details.

However, City Manager Ryan McCrady will be presenting a plan early next year, one that supposedly doesn’t involve a tax increase.

Long-Term Water Solution

Lake Decatur Oct 2 2012

Nearly every council member listed a long-term water solution as one of their top goals, however it wasn’t mentioned what long-term water solution any of them had in mind.

A few years ago, a second lake was in the talks, however that fell through for various reasons, mainly over possible locations for the lake and what taxing bodies would benefit from it the most.

This summer I had the opportunity to learn about other water sources the city could tap into such as new wells, which are currently in the works near Lake Decatur and a pipeline from our DeWitt County well fields but none of those solutions would amount to the need our industrial users would have during an extreme drought.

A pipeline from the DeWitt County well field to Decatur was projected to cost in excess of $100 million dollars to construct and maintain.  Obviously that isn’t a realistic option.

Infrastructure

Fixing sewers and water lines is very unsexy and expensive, however when a resident has a city sewer back up into their basement, which has happened to me more than once, or when water lines burst beneath a city street, it becomes apparent money needs to be invested into fixing our aging sewage and water lines.  Councilman Pat McDaniel has made it his top priority.

Above ground improvements focused on city sidewalks – fixing old ones and constructing new along roads where they are needed. The need for new and repaired sidewalks was a topic residents brought to the council during this summer’s neighborhood walks.

Making Decatur more pedestrian and bike friendly was stated as a goal.

Also the city expressed interest in expanding MLK across 72 to connect with Hickory Point Road.  The city has spoken to our newly elected state congressman Rodney Davis to help secure those funds at the federal level.

Jobs

It goes without saying that, if Decatur needs anything, it’s more jobs.  However, Mayor McElroy stated that there are jobs in Decatur that go unfilled, for several reasons.  One, many of our residents do not have the training to qualify for those positions, can’t pass drug screening or they may not even know positions are available.  The website indeed.com was suggested for residents looking for work in the area.

northgate mall

Only one store remains in Northgate Mall.

McCrady suggested focusing on attracting retail development along Pershing Road and Eldorado.  Possibly a 5-year tax abatement could be used to lurer new businesses.  It’s borrowing from enterprise zone incentives that is normally used to attract industry.  The now nearly empty Northgate Mall on Pershing Road is just one area the city is focused on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Parking Garage

Every time a council member mentioned the Barnes parking garage downtown, they said it with the same anticipation one has when facing a root canal.  You’d rather avoid the pain and the expense but it’s something that has to be done.

One way or the other the parking garage will be coming down this winter in preparation of Franklin Street improvements coming next year. There’s a possibility private funds will pay for the demolition but be prepared that the city will be picking up the entire bill.

My Two Cents

If there’s two areas that I would focus on the most it would be infrastructure and a long-term water solution.

I live in the Ravina Park neighborhood and old sewer lines are constantly clogging and caving in.  The city comes out several times a year, just on my street, to take out tree roots that have grown into the lines, one time blowing sewage 7 feet in the air covering my basement in raw sewage.  The city did pay to clean it.

In the last five years I’ve noticed increased problems with the sewage lines which are probably at least 75 years old. Neighborhood roads have sunken in sections and there are several cut out squares of pavement from where scopes have been sent down to inspect the lines. It’s a game of dodge driving down Dennis Street missing potholes and sunken pavement.

My neighborhood isn’t the only one experiencing these issues.  Yes, fixing sewer lines is unsexy work but cleaning up your neighbor’s raw sewage from your basement is far unsexier.

We reallyy need to invest in our aging infrastructure. Pat McDaniel is probably the most adamant supporter of such a cause on the council.

Water

I am a big proponent of constructing a second lake for Decatur and I’ve written about before and undoubtedly will write about it again.  To me it makes sense to invest money into a solution that can make the city money in tax revenue, improve our quality of life and help attract new residents and employers.  It’s a win-win on so many levels and after this summer, there’s no question in my mind that a second major water source is desperately needed.

Former mayor Paul Osborne has stated several times that Decatur has lost prospective large employers due to our water issues.  We can’t attract large industry until we have enough water for their needs.  In basic terms, the city can’t grow until we solve our water problem.

I’m looking forward to what long-term solution the city is focusing on.

Other Notes

Bruce Nims was recognized by the mayor for his restoration work on the former 1930’s Texaco gas station on West Main Street.  (See above.)  It wasn’t said what the building was to be used for but it does look great! There are several businesses in Decatur that have recently put much effort into beautifying their properties and their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by me.  Keep it up!

Of course downtown improvements are probably the city’s biggest accomplishment this year and it’s helped encourage private businesses to improve their buildings downtown as well.

I wanted to touch on what the mayor said at the close of the meeting regarding our schools and youth.  I think his statements deserve an entire article though and that will be coming.

 

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Here’s a brief rundown of highlighted items on the council agenda for Oct 15, 2012.

Emergency Wells

Agreement with Black & Veatch Construction, Inc for the design and construction of four emergency shallow well at a cost not to exceed $1,445,523.  The wells are anticipated to produce 1.4 to 2.0 million gallons of water per day.  Two wells will discharge directly into Lake Decatur and the other two will discharge into the city’s water mine (and old gravel pit), that will then be pumped into the South Water Treatment Plant.

If the drought continues, another four new test wells will be drilled downstream of the Lake Decatur dam along the Sangamon River for an additional cost of $1,445,523.

Local Cities Banding Together To Protect Mahoment Aquifer

The city will also vote on a resolution to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Champaign, Urbana, Normal, Bloomington, Mahomet, Savoy and the Mahomet Valley Water Authority of Piatt and DeWitt Counties to study legal interventions should the Clinton Landfill begins accepting PCB’s.  Portions of the aquifer lie below the landfill and worries exist that PCB’s could enter the water source.   The maximum the city of Decatur will pay to enter into this agreement is $80,000.

Land Conservation For Improving Lake Decatur’s Water Supply

The city will vote on whether to assist the Land Conservation Foundation in their purchase of a tract of land located in Piatt County.  The resolution approves $10,000 towards the purchase.  For more info on the foundation visit: www.landconservationfoundation.org

Called the Tipsword Tract, this 100 acre  land parcel is adjacent to the Sangamon River just downstream of Monticello.  The plan would convert 59 acres of the floodplain from crop land to a forested area.  This will help prevent soil from flowing into the river and eventually reaching Lake Decatur.

The total project cost is approximately $625,000 but with foundation funding sources and donations the city is only being asked to contribute $10,000 towards the project.

Drought Update:  ADM & Tate & Lyle Face Possible Water Restrictions

At the time of the publication of the council agenda, Lake Decatur was at 610.82 feet or about 56% full.  It is 1.7 feet below the normal winter levels.  If the lake continues to decline to the level of 610.5 or 52% full, ADM and Tate & Lycle will be asked to reduce their water consumption by 15% compared to the quantity of water they use in July.

The report also warned that the Sangamon River normally flows at its lowest rate from August through December, so its unlikely water from the river will drastically improve the water level of the lake during this time period, unless we have an abnormally wet Fall and Winter.

An update on water levels after this weekend’s rain will be given at the October 15th council meeting.
Single Stream Recycling For Downtown Decatur

A recent view of the alley behind Merchant Street.

 

The city will be doing a 6 month pilot study on a single-stream recycling program for downtown Decatur.  The city plans to meet with downtown merchants to obtain feedback and input on how best to implement the program.

A single-stream system has been in place for residents and has been a successful program thus far.   It essentially means that recyclable materials wouldn’t have to be sorted making it much easier for businesses to participate in.

A recent email survey of downtown businesses revealed that of those businesses who responded only 53.1% recycle, however they indicated that if a single stream pick up were available 71.9% would use such a program.

The complete agenda can be downloaded from the city’s website at:  http://decaturil.gov/council/councilagenda/councilagenda.aspx

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The 48th State Senate seat is the local race that interests me the most because I think it will have the most impact on Decatur and it’s one of the few local races I can actually vote on because of redistricting.  I don’t know Andy Manar (D) other than what I’ve read about him but as someone who has covered city council business for several years, I think I know McElroy’s governing style well enough to write about it.

While Mike McElroy was a councilman he was a fairly quiet participant.  I can’t recall any proposals he brought to the table.  He may have. I just don’t remember.  This was during a time when the city council was dysfunctional to put it mildly and certain members were at odds with each other.  Not a whole lot was accomplished during this time other than providing great material for bloggers.  I miss those days!

I didn’t have a negative view of McElroy as a councilman.  You kind of forgot he was there with the other vocal members who always had plenty to say – too much to say.  It wasn’t uncommon for meetings to last 3-4 hours and they were usually 3-4 contentious hours.

I do have to say that McElroy has never been an attention seeker and that’s a rare quality in a politician.  It’s probably a good quality.

As mayor, McElroy has run a tight ship.  He does have a habit of losing his place when reading the council agenda but he has improved.  He can come across as rather gruff but for the most part he’s tried to be fair to those citizens who have come before him at meetings.  I personally haven’t agreed with every vote that has taken place,  and at times I’ve left the council chamber steamed over decisions that went totally against my grain.  However, I don’t expect to agree with every vote the council takes; I just expect that reasonable decisions are made.

Typically I vote based more upon the person’s character than their party affiliation in local races.  My voting for Blagojevich twice was the rare exception that I don’t wear as a badge of honor. Cough. Cough.

I’m torn on this race.  On one hand I can see that having someone from Decatur representing us would be beneficial.  McElroy certainly knows Decatur’s issues well enough.  However, I’m probably more politically aligned with Manar but I haven’t been impressed with his negative ads, especially ones that are questionable in their truthfulness.

Then there’s the state of Illinois and the train wreck it has become.  Sometimes I think the only answer is if every single current state representative and senate member were tossed out on their rears.  Until new people are there, nothing is going to change.  Of course, it’s naive to think a downstate candidate is going to have much impact on a system dominated by Chicago politicians.

Manar would have a better chance of getting political favors from upstate.  McElroy would have to join with Bill Mitchell and Adam Brown and proposing legislation that doesn’t have a chance in you know where of passing.

Now this answer or lack of an answer from McElroy has me leaning heavily towards Manar.  How can you not know where you stand on such an issue?  He’s going to let us know what he thinks after he’s elected?

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Another issue: If McElroy wins who’s going to be mayor?  Will the council select a current council member or will there be an election?  And if someone from the current council takes his place,  then who will fill their vacant seat?

We’ll see.

 

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