Decatur City Council

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.

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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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I watched most of last night’s city council meeting regarding the water rate hike proposal(s) and here are some notes and observations that I took during the meeting:

Councilman Caulkins was concerned that money generated from the water funds are also used for non-water projects. He first proposed cutting those projects (roads, bridges, etc) from the water fund and instead tap into the general fund for those projects. Laegeler brought up the point that the general fund wasn’t budgeted for the $1,000,000 plus extra dollars that was being generated by the water rates; either property taxes or sales taxes would have to be raised to compensate for the lost water revenue or the budget would need some major slashing. That idea didn’t sit well with anyone on the council.

Councilwoman Stockard, who was named Mayor Pro-Tem last night, didn’t want to vote on the issue until talks ADM take place. ADM is Decatur’s largest water user and has pledged to help pay for the proposed new reservoir. However, it wasn’t clear if these talks were about new reservoir funding or the rate hike. The talks are now set for July 17th. It seems like we’ve been hearing about these “talks” for months and months now and they still haven’t taken place – I’m sure some of that is because the city is now without a city manager but still… City management stated that ADM was ok with the rate hike but discussions with other industries hadn’t taken place.

There were four proposals for the water rate hike on the table.

1. 25% + CPI + CPI (Not sure what CPI stands for!)
2. 25% + 15% + 10%
3. 25% + 15% + 15%
4. 25% + 20%

Essentially, the first 25% would take effect immediately in each proposal and the others percentages would be implemented with a 24 month period. The first proposal would implement an immediate 25% rate increase and two 4% increases that would have to approved by the council. However, some on the council didn’t believe this increase would be enough. In the end Councilman Caulkins, with the help of Laegeler, worked on a compromise of 15% + 15% + 15% over the next 24 months and that proposal was eventually approved by a 4 – 2 vote. Stockard and Edwards opposed the proposal.

This all sounds so exciting doesn’t it! The end math has Decatur residents paying a little more than a 50% rate hike over the next two years. What concerns me, besides the 50% hike, is the funding for the reservoir isn’t even included in this hike – if I’ve got it right. Where is this money going to come from? Even if ADM pays half of the 50 some million dollar project, 25 million dollars is a lot of money for Decatur to come up with! Are we going to see another rate hike?

I really think we should be working with the state and/or county to help fund the new lake. I’ve discussed this before but I’m going to keep saying it until someone listens!

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I was surprised to open today’s newspaper and read that Mayor Osborne is resigning as our mayor effective June 1st. Apparently, due to health problems and his editorial duties at the Decatur Tribune, which often posed conflicts with his mayoral obligations, he felt the need to step down as mayor. I don’t think people fully appreciate the pressures of the job and what little compensation our mayor receives for the countless hours he/she is forced to spend on city issues. I’m looking forward to reading what he really thinks of city issues in the Decatur Tribune – I’m sure he’s looking forward to that freedom too! I just wanted to take this time to thank Mayor Osborne for his service to the community and wish him well!

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I didn’t get the chance to watch the entire council meeting last night on tv but I did watch the last part of the Millikin “streetscape” discussion to get the gist of it. The council wasn’t too pleased that the actual bid for the project was $120,000 more than the what was anticipated. If I’m remembering correctly, the city has to match so much of the funds of the federal grant that was awarded to Millikin University for the improvements. The city’s costs are due mainly to infrastructure upgrades that are needed to accomplish the project. The problem is, this isn’t the first time costs have exceeded what was initially anticipated and that raised the ire of many on the council – understandably. Even if you’re in support of the project, the ever increasing price tag does rub the wrong way. However, it’s obvious that the West Main improvements are helping to improve the historic district. I drive and up down West Main and I see homes being repainted and restored and it’s due, in large part, to the major upgrades the city did to the road. Maye it would have been better if Millikin could have stepped up to the plate this time around and paid the $120,000 overrun. After all, they were the ones who sought the grant in the first place. I agree that the upgrades are going to benefit more than Millikin but well,…oh well… Maybe DMH could donate…no, on second thought, not a good idea!

A funny thing was said by the interim city manager last night. I think it was in regards to the Wabash Crossing deal. The mayor asked him at the beginning of the discussion, if he had anything to add regarding the project, and Mr. Smith said “No. It’s pretty straightforward.” Well, an hour later they were still discussing the “straightforward” project and Mr. Smith vowed to never categorize anything brought before the council as “straighforward” again! Nope, nothing is ever that easy in this city!

That was the last of the meeting I saw, because about then my three year old son began throwing up in the hallway – motherly duties always take precedence!

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The Decatur City Council will be meeting tonight at the Civic Center at 5:30 pm. The main agenda will be the budget. Councilman Caulkins reimbursement request for his legal fees is on the agenda again, we’ll see if his lawyer shows up this time. If you can’t make it down to the meeting and you have Comcast, tune in to channel 18. ( I think that’s right!)

The council packet for tonight’s meeting can be downloaded here. (Offsite, PDF, 10.67 MB) This is a 208 page packet! I’ll have to set aside some time to read it through and take some notes. There are quite extensive details regarding the city’s beautification program in this packet. I believe the recommendation is to have Macon Resources take over the maintenance of these beds. Private landscapers have done this in the past but for whatever reason(s) that didn’t work out too well. Personally, I’d like to see more wildflowers planted, they take care of themselves! I’ve been waiting for the flowers to grow and bloom in the median between Water & Main by Brettwood Village all Spring. (See the picture below from last year.)

A Side Note:

A good link to keep bookmarked, if you haven’t noticed it before, is the council agenda page on the city’s Web site. This has all the up-to-date council meeting times, agendas and other important information regarding city council business.

http://www.ci.decatur.il.us/citygovernment/council/council_agenda.htm

UPDATE:

I watched most the the council meeting last night. It looks like Caulkins was denied reimbursement for his legal fees though most of the council expressed sympathy for his troubles. It was agreed that some sort of “system” needs to be in place for the future. I’ve been on the fence on the Caulkins thing for a while. Part of me could see his point of view, it’s not like you get rich being a councilperson in Decatur; the other part of me realized that if he were reimbursed – this could possibly open up an expensive can of worms in the future!

An interesting lengthy “discussion” centered around a property that had been ordered demolished, but was purchased by a private entity, who hoped to secure a federal loan of $360,000 to turn the property into low-income housing. Apparently this building has been a notorious hot spot for criminal activity through the years and the neighbors wanted to see it go; they even inquired into purchasing the property themselves but for whatever reason didn’t know the right channels to do so before the other entity did. (At least that’s what I got out of the conversation.) The neighbors have complained of lewd conduct by the contractor working on the building and claimed criminal activities are still a problem. I’m sure there’s two sides to the story, but at any rate, the council chose to nix the building owners request for the funds.

The council plans to meet in special session on Wednesday April 23rd, to select an Executive Search Firm, to find qualified city manager applicants.

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