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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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Well, it was kind of hard to see anyone’s shadow Saturday morning, with all the monsoons that moved across the area, but after the sun finally broke out around noon, I decided to go ahead and mosey on down to the Shadows of Lincoln Festival in downtown Decatur – not knowing if it had been canceled or not. Once I arrived downtown, I noticed that Central Park was bare and I sure didn’t see any horse drawn carriages! I decided to make a swing around Lincoln Square before I left, to see if anything was going on there, and I saw a large group of people on a walking tour, so I figured there must be some action going on somewhere. I drove by the Decatur Area Arts Council building and saw their doors were open and remembered that the Many Faces of Lincoln exhibit was going on, so I thought I might as well head in there so that the entire day wouldn’t be lost. Good thing I did because that’s where the Shadows of Lincoln Festival had moved to! Due to the rain, the activities had been moved indoors.

The Faces of Lincoln exhibit contains several different artistic impressions of Abraham Lincoln, from traditional oil and canvas paintings to painted washboards! It was interesting to see all the different styles and social statements, different artists had made, with Lincoln as the subject matter. The Shadows of Lincoln Festival artisans and storytellers, who were supposed to be in Central Park, were on the second and third floors of the building. We listened to stories about Lincoln’s life in Decatur and some other long yarns by a chap dressed in period clothing. I envy great storytellers because I’m simply awful at it! Lincoln was a master storyteller and jokester – that was a great talent to have in those days! It’s kind of a lost art today. I was disappointed the event was so sparsely attended but those that did attend were genuinely intrigued with the exhibits, artisans and storytellers.

Richard Oglesby Mansion, Decatur IllinoisAfter leaving the Decatur Area Arts Council building, the kids and I, decided to go over to the Ogelsby Mansion on William Street. I have to say, this was the most pleasurable part of the day’s events. My ten year old daughter, three-year old son and I were taken on a personal tour of the building by Betty Watkins, president of the mansion board. This was actually my first visit to the mansion, and I really feel like a heel for not going there before, because it’s certainly a historical treasure in Decatur. This is the home owned by Richard Oglesby, who was a three-time governor of the state of Illinois in the mid-1800’s. He was also a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and it was Oglesby who coined Lincoln, “The Railsplitter Candidate”, during the 1860 Republican State Convention that was held in Decatur. Oglesby remained a close friend of Lincoln through his presidency and was with Lincoln when Lincoln died.

Much of the original woodwork, fireplaces and chandeliers can still be found in the home, as well as period furniture, clothing and photos. There’s even an old-fashioned elevator, just to the left of the front entrance, that was installed by a later owner of the home. Fortunately, the house has only been owned by three different families over the past 130 years or so and is remarkably well preserved. When you get a chance, stop by! I’m sure you’ll be greeted by friendly volunteers eager to show you around and answer your questions. It’s open every Wendesyday and Saturday from 1:00 – 4:00 pm and the last Sunday of the month from 2:00 – 4:00 and is located at 421 W. William Street, just west of Downtown Decatur.

The Many Faces of Lincoln art exhibit runs through July 31st at the Decatur Area Arts Council building, so if you missed it Saturday, you still have time.

I hope that this year’s attendance, due to the lousy weather, doesn’t discourage organizers from holding the event next year. Every festival is at the mercy of Mother Nature! I sure did miss the horse carriage rides that I was looking forward too though, with today’s gas prices, I wanted to see how my future mode of transportation handled on Decatur’s roads!

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Here’s some pictures of Lake Decatur after all of the recent rains! As I came up to the lake on Lake Shore, I was kind of shocked by the muddy water. The lake looked more like the muddy Mississippi near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, than the Lake Decatur I remember! It also had sort of, a red hue to it, like one of the 10 plagues of Egypt…

Lake Decatur DamWashed up stump and debris in Lake Decatur

This duck doesn't seem to mind the water!A duck grooms himself on the lake shore.

Flooded pavillion in Nelson Park

And of course, a picture of my immaculately maintained brick patio in my backyard – under water!



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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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If you’ve driven around Decatur the last few weeks I’m sure you’ve noticed the tall grass. This year’s wet Spring really has the grass looking tall and lush doesn’t it! However, citizens are beginning to complain quite loudly about the grass situation. The State of Illinois has really stepped back their mowing schedule this year because of rising fuel prices, and I believe that makes sense to a degree, but the state needs to get smart about what it mows and what it doesn’t. In rural areas and along Interstates, do we really need to mow all the grass? Probably not. However, in cities like Decatur, the city and state needs to get smart about what is mowed and what can be left alone. One option is the planting of wildflowers and native plants that require far less care than regular grass. One area, that stands out to me, is near the Lake Decatur dam where US 51 and Lakeshore Road crosses. There’s lots of land in that area that would be perfect for wildflowers. It doesn’t make sense to mow such a huge area that people never walk through and where homes and businesses aren’t located. I’m not sure how much of the land is city owned and how much is state owned but the city and state should consider planting wildflowers in this area. I think they would look beautiful near the lake – a perfect fit! Just drive a little further south along US 51 to the South Shores intersections and you’ll see a lot of unmowed property as well. There are signs saying that there’s supposed to be wildflowers in the medians but I don’t see any flowers – all I see is tall grass.

One area in Decatur, that you can drive by and see wildflowers “in action”, is on the north side of town. The median between Water and Main just north of Brettwood Village was planted with wildflowers a couple years ago and I think it looks great. (You can click on the thumbnails in this article for a larger view.) It looks way better than dead, brown, chopped in half grass that is the result of only mowing grass a couple times a year. This median only had to be mowed at the end of the fall season last year – saving the state “us” money and gas.

The city just needs to sit down and take a look at what areas in town they need to “attack” with their lawn mowers and what areas can be left as is – there’s areas where tall grass doesn’t matter. If you’re talking about land 50 feet from a road in an unpopulated area – why mow it? Actually, I like the look of the tall grass in certain areas – just not in residential or commercial districts or where it causes safety hazards. The medians along Pershing Road are an example of what should be mowed. This is a high traffic area and the tall grass could become an issue to motorist.

Just make sure there’s a wide path along the roads that are kept mowed, so when some knucklehead tosses their cigarette butt out their window, they don’t cause a raging prairie fire that could burn down the entire city!

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