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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.