The February meeting of the Witt City Council was held before a large crowd on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Opening with the public comments, scheduled speaker Lynn Cady voiced the frustration regarding the deterioration of neighborhoods due to trash left in yards, cars on blocks in yards, cars with expired license sticker left sitting on the streets for prolonged periods, and general lack of upkeep of many properties. Cady felt strongly the council could be doing more to resolve the problems, preventing an increase in the issue going forward. Mayor White acknowledged the citizens' concerns and urged them to file complaints the police department could act on.
Apparently sympathetic to the mood of the crowd, Councilman Tim Taylor questioned, "Why do we need a complaint when we have an ordinance?" and Cady added, "Trash is considered a nuisance in our ordinances. You can clean this up."
Chief Scott Woods commented that the police had issued 30 to 40 citations in the recent past. Two of those served had subsequently cleaned up their properties, four or five had been dismissed by the judge, and the rest had been given ineffective monthly payment plans as low as five dollars per month; the city was owed several thousand dollars by these people. He added he needed signed complaints to get further traction with the court, if any, which garnered the response,"I don't want their money; I want the junk cleaned up."
In turning to the city legal counsel, also in attendance, he stated the city ordinances were the "playbook" for handling this matter. Acting on obvious ordinance violations or signed complaints, the police could issue the resident or property owner a first notice. Upon failure to act, the council could have the attorney issue a second notice with a five-day deadline. Given further inaction by the offender, the city could clean up the nuisance property and send the bill to the owner. If the bill went unpaid, the city could place a lien on the property, which could eventually result in foreclosure.
Concerned with attracting new people and businesses to Witt and decreasing property values for current residents as well as a restoration of civic pride, the council agreed they must pursue the matter immediately, but Mayor White cautioned they had to make sure they find the most efficient legal way to do it. He added the problem with the demolition of the Regina building was contingent on funds from the Montgomery County revolving loan fund and the estimate received $9,000 over the amount allotted. Virtually all of the residents in attendance volunteered to help as they were available.
City Clerk Nancy Hughes questioned if Envision Witt might become involved with clean up after the proper steps had been taken by the city. The residents were asked to compile a list of problem areas and Taylor volunteered to head the cleanup committee.
In new business, Greg Myers approached the council to introduce himself and to make his preliminary request to obtain a liquor license for the business he is purchasing. After a short discussion the council agreed there shouldn't be a problem and approved that Mayor White could sign the license at the appropriate time upon return of the application and required state approval.
Kim McCarty, owner of Mac's Diner, questioned the council as to whether she needed a building permit to make renovations to the property she purchased. They told her a permit would be needed and gave a brief description of the requirements to obtain one. Asking how much further she could build out, she was informed the building was already at the limit of 12.5 feet from the center of the alley. Additionally, she asked if she would have access to the alley for customers to drive around to get to her drive-through window. She explained this plan was still contingent on further approval of her overall plan submitted to IDOT. The council said as long as the alley was not blocked and she maintained it, there shouldn't be a problem.
A planned action on the increase in water and sewer tap-on fees was tabled pending further discussion of some new information brought to the attention of the mayor. Problems with the water plant were discussed though. The mayor reported that wells #1 and #2 were not in good shape and #4 was not at full capacity. He estimated well #3 was doing 95 percent of the work and that the roughly $20,000 the city spent on well #4 did not result in a satisfactory well, now requiring additional work.
Councilman VanOstran expressed a need for better estimates for repair of the well along with the probability of their success. He suggested a cost-benefit analysis be completed regarding repair of the 1920s era well versus investing in a new well. Others on the council added the future needs of the city be considered in addition to the present situation.
Mayor White asked John Baurle as head of the water committee to call Benton and Associates to get their assessment of the wells. It was noted that Benton had previously recommended taking wells #1 and #2 out of service, however the council tentatively agreed if those wells could be recovered to over fifty percent with reasonable investment that would be the best course of action. Baurle will get a status report of all the wells and report back at the next meeting.
A city drainage problem on the agenda was summarized by Councilman Taylor. Much of the water does not drain until it gets over sidewalks. He said many of the ditches need to be cleaned out east to the highway. Collapsed culverts are also a problem. Several examples were cited. VanOstran reported a three-phase plan to fix the problem had been developed seven to ten years earlier, but never completed due to lack of funds. He questioned where the plan was at now so that it could be reviewed. It was commented that it had been over 25 years since some of the ditches had last been cleaned out. The mayor said he would get some elevation data and an estimate on costs to present at the next meeting.
The fire department report showed an increase in activity with 32 calls so far this year. The sold Pearce firetruck was now eligible to be taken off the insurance policy, as it had been taken by Fillmore. The new truck payments will be made together with the city starting in December. Additionally, the chief reported the rib dinner fundraiser was very successful, raising nearly $6,000.
City Clerk Hughes reported on an effort to develop new maps for the cemetery, as the old ones are not accurate and are falling apart. She said people are inquiring as to the availability and location of lots and it is difficult to provide answers. A quote to provide 2x3 copies of the current maps for ten dollars had been given by Prairie Engineering. A motion by VanOstran to spend $250 for mapping of the cemetery was approved by the council. He further requested it be investigated to see if the map could be computerized as well. In a related item, the council asked for additional details to a request made to allow installation of a homemade grave marker.
In additional items presented in new business, VanOstran commented it was time for the city to seek bids for mowing for the City of Witt Cemetary for the upcoming season. He also reported there would be a mostaccioli dinner fundraiser for the library held at the Methodist church on March 31 and that Envision Witt would be holding another cleanup day, but the date had not as yet been set. Also, the council agreed the city should solicit bid quotes on rock and hauling by placing a notice in the paper.
A motion to adjourn was approved at 9:39 p.m.