Hillsboro Council Discusses Sewer Line Issue

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Spending items and the Public Comment segment of the agenda dominated Hillsboro’s last city council meeting of 2020 Tuesday evening, Dec. 8, as two council members (Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy) contributed by Zoom while Utilities Commissioner Don Downs was in council chambers. Parks, Public Properties, and Streets Commissioner Daniel Robbins was absent; Murphy read Robbins’ reports. City Attorney Kit Hantla was also on Zoom. City Clerk Cory Davidson, City Planner Jonathan Weyer, and Streets Superintendent Justin Chappelear joined Downs in chambers.

Duncan presented November bills (to be paid in December) of $454,513.00; the motion to pay the total was 3-0, as were all votes taken throughout the meeting. Also passed was the annual Tax Levy Ordinance; the fiscal (financial) year ends on April 30, 2021, and the ordinance for any year is traditionally passed at the December meeting of that fiscal year. The aggregate sum is $9,000,492.50. As a result, the 11 funds for which the city levies taxes totals $852,210, of which the largest shares go to pension or retirement funds: Police Pension Fund is $202,250; Firefighter Pension is $132,900; the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) is $114,500; and Social Security is $108,500. Those categories are fully funded, which hasn’t always been the case.

A purchase approved for future payment once the items are received and in service was for two pumps to be used by the Street and Utility Departments as they repair broken water or sewer mains buried underground. Called trash pumps, the devices will replace two older units that have been destroyed by the fly ash once used to cushion the mains as they were buried. The ash, though cheap, proved to be corrosive to the pumps used to pull water, mud, and other materials that fill holes dug to reveal the broken mains. The new units, to be purchased from Hillsboro Rental, come with Honda engines; the smaller one, with a two-inch outlet, will cost $1,091.08, while the one with a 3-inch outlet will cost $1,305.65.

The council approved sending Police Officer Adam Fath and canine Little Darryl for the training necessary for certification as a K9 team. Little Darryl once partnered with the now-retired Kelly Brewer but has been inactive since Brewer’s retirement. The state requires a dog and his handler be certified as a unit, so the new pair will travel to Springfield for training and certification. Hillsboro’s canine units have always been supported by public donations, so Murphy asked for donations to support the training, which will cost $1,600.

The Hillsboro Planning Commission (at their Nov. 19 meeting) decided to ask the council to have the commission appoint a Land Use Plan Committee for the city. The new committee will be overseen by the planning commission. According to Weyer, two of the new committee’s purposes will be to recommend uses for property the city owns, including the newly-annexed Eagle Zinc site, and to examine benefits of future annexations. The Land Use Plan will augment the recently adopted Strategic Plan.

The final action item on the agenda was cancellation of the December 22 meeting because of its proximity to Christmas.

The only Public Comment contributor, Eric Bradley, spoke to the council via Zoom. Bradley, who first approached the council in July, said that despite some current perceptions, he doesn’t want to fight with city hall. His first concern was to build a garage last summer/fall, but that concern has become secondary now to that of public health and welfare because of a broken sewer main that can’t be located.

As a professional land surveyor with experience in the Chicago area, he’s offered his help in solving what he sees as a major problem. The city needs to know where all of its water, sewer, and storm water mains are located as soon as possible so that breaks like the one he suspects exists in his area (West Summer Street) can be located.

He objected to the council’s last attempt at a resolution because he wasn’t present (the council met in executive (closed) session to discuss the matter, citing the reason for closing the discussion to the public as “possible litigation”). After the meeting became public again, temporary mayor Duncan said no action resulted from the meeting, but a letter was sent to Bradley, which, according to Bradley’s remarks during the latest session, offered to split the costs of moving the mains on his property.

Bradley said he was upset by the letter for several reasons. He contested the “possible litigation” reason for closing the session because he has not hired an attorney; he is afraid of setting an unfair precedent for other property owners if he agrees to split the costs if they also face the building-over-mains problem (and two of his neighbors that he knows of have that problem); and no engineer’s estimate of costs of the project were included in the proposal.

He concluded his comments by saying his biggest concern at the moment is a breach in the main(s) that he knows exists. He wants to figure out the best way to move forward while working with the city, but he feels he’s being ignored rather than included in a search for a resolution.

The meeting ended with a closed session, to “discuss possible litigation and personnel.” No announcements were made after the closed session ended.

Robbins, through Murphy, began the departmental reports that started the meeting. Among activities of the Public Properties Dept. were taking down the flags along Main Street and replacing them with snowflakes in preparation for the Christmas season, putting up the tree on the courthouse lawn, and repairing a 36” sewer main in the Challacombe Bottoms. The Street Department helped with that repair, repaired a water leak on Northwood Circle, continued to run the leaf vacuum and the street sweeper, picked up a dead raccoon on Vandalia Road, and checked a leaking fire hydrant at the corner of Hiltop and Fairground. The cause of the leak is yet to be determined. Robbins was the first of the commissioners who all thanked Imagine Hillsboro and everyone else who made the reverse Christmas Parade on Dec. 5 a success.

Murphy reminded residents that all of them are ambassadors whose job is to sell the city. He asked that everyone clean up after themselves (and their pets) and to put leaves in paper, not plastic, bags. He added that a house on Lakeview Drive needs to be repaired or demolished (part of its foundation has “blown out”) as it’s become a public nuisance.

In her role as temporary mayor, Duncan said she’d had a call from a resident on Fern Hill (outside city limits, but within the mile and a half distance which Hillsboro zoning controls) asking if the city has a “cupcake” ordinance. Without that, the county Health Department won’t let her sell baked goods produced in her home. Attorney Hantla said he could prepare such an ordinance, but first he must be directed to do so, and that direction has to be on a meeting agenda.

Downs offered thanks to Tim Ferguson, Bill Christian, and all other city employees who fixed the Challacombe Bottom sewer main break. He said the main was exposed and fixed quickly to avert what could have been a very high expense item. He also thanked workers from both Vogel Plumbing and Schram City for their help to repair a lift station and sewer line for a new resident in the Schram City/Hillsboro border area. A house had been abandoned for a while; a new resident then found a sewer backup which he hadn’t caused nor known about until he moved in, and the workers he mentioned, “...did the right thing.”

Weyer said the city had completed the required forms for the CURE Act money and is now waiting to hear from the state. He also said meetings he’d held recently with two more prospective businesses had gone well, but he doesn’t expect to hear from them again until after the holidays.

The council next meets on January 5, 2021, at 7 p.m. in city hall.

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