The easiest to explain motion at Hillsboro’s City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, was one brought forward by Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan to pay the monthly bills of $292,316.92. That motion, as most others were approved unanimously. It was newly-appointed Parks and Public Properties Commissioner Fred Butler’s first official meeting; also at the table were Mayor Don Downs, Public Safety Commissioner Mike Murphy, and Utilities Commissioner Kendra Wright. Attending by internet connections were Finance Commissioner Katie Duncan and City Attorney Kit Hantla.
Thirty-one items appeared on the agenda, more than usual probably because the council didn’t meet twice in December.
The first item presented after the usual preliminaries was an explanation by Woodard of Curran’s Tim Ferguson, who at Wright’s request explained the provisions and their effects on Hillsboro and their water customers of Public Act 102-0613, the “Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act.”
Although the law took effect at the start of this year, some of it, especially the details of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DECO) policy, have yet to be determined. It creates a low-income water assistance policy to help those in or near poverty to receive financial help to replace lead service lines or other water system improvements which will be mandated by city ordinance patterned off state law. Missing details include income limits, which are to be determined annually.
Current EPA rules require any lead pipes uncovered during routine plumbing and/or work be replaced before the pipe is covered again with earth. Cities and/or companies who provide water for their residents are now required to inventory old service lines and the materials of which they are made within their jurisdiction plus a replacement plan for any lead pipe or galvanized water pipe that contains water now sent through a lead main or pipe. Also, occupants of any buildings serviced by those lines must be notified. Plumbers who expose lead pipes are held liable to follow that law–any known lead pipe must be replaced.
Wright also told the council that three inch water meters to service the gym building at the high school needed to be purchased ($2,200 already in budget). Also the water plant needs a high service pump with an alpha-nickel impeller. Department workers tried rehabbing an older pump, but it was designed more for limited, not constant, use, and was too badly damaged. The approved investment is $15,368. Ferguson said this pump should last longer, but that others like it will be needed sometime in the future.
Last year the city hired Petersburg Plumbing and Excavation and their vactor machine to jet sewer mains around town in heavily tree-rooted areas; the council agreed to bring them back for two (three if needed) days at $270 per hour, covering the rent of the machine and the crew to operate it. The total isn’t to exceed $6,480.
Because the facade grant work at 439 South Main has been completed (what was once Jerry’s Cafe now has a new glass front), owner Tony Dragoo’s request for $2,000 was approved. In other administrative moves, City Clerk Cory Davidson was directed to begin the process of revising the city employee’s handbook. Commissioner Wright began a discussion about the differences between the amount of vacation time as decided by years of service for union employees and exempt employees. The consensus was to level the benefits packages, but the topic was tabled to allow for more investigation.
Then it was Commissioner Butler’s turn to make motions. The first, quickly agreed to, was to ask Attorney Hantla to draft an ordinance tackling the bond to disturb the surface of brick streets within the city from $1,000 to $2,000. Butler said now it’s cheaper for individuals to leave the streets damaged than to repair them. Then he asked for approval to purchase a pickup broom for the skid steer machine the Street Department already has. Duncan said the $12,175 needed could come from the Capital Improvement Fund.
Next on the Butler agenda was new brush pick-up schedule for the Street Department. Rather than driving the streets every week looking for piles of branches and bags of leaves, Butler wanted the trips to be made monthly except for the leaves-are-down months of October and November. Butler also said there should be a call-in service for senior citizens so their yard waste can be collected as the street crew has time.
Butler also asked permission for Parks Superintendent Jim May to begin now looking for a campground host and a pool host for this summer. He hopes the campground is used to capacity again in 2022. Also on his wish list is the hope of hiring another worker for the street crew; his vision is to have two three-man crews working under Justin Chappelear’s supervision, in part so an emergency doesn’t call everyone off a project to deal with it. That wish may come true when the next budget is considered.
Butler’s last request met with more questions than objections. He’d like to have a plan in place for new housing to be placed on public lands, so he asked the city to terminate what to this point is only a verbal agreement to sell two lots near the entrance to City Lake Park.
That sale had generated much public comment last fall, and because of COVID and the sharp rise in the price of building materials concurrent with that, a written contract hadn’t been signed. Butler said he wasn’t upset with the company which submitted the bids; he hopes they remain interested if the city can provide more than two lots in the same area. He just wants the opportunity for better planning than took place in the rush to sell.
Attorney Hantla said no written contract and no money changing hands meant no obligation on either party, so a motion to withdraw from the contract wasn’t necesary. A letter will be sent to the potential buyers stating the changed circumstances.
Then it was back to more routine council business, for a bit. A request for an extension of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) deal was extended until the end of 2022 for work in progress at 227 and 229 South Main Street. One of the apartments has yet to be finished; the petitioner, Brian Lee, wrote that the rise in material costs made timely completion difficult. Allan Spelbring was appointed to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Finally, a motion to pay the final amounts of the HUD grant was amended to include only $22,235 to Blue Collar Construction for work done on Hillsboro Project #10. Two payments for $2,000 each to Dunham, Inc., were amended out of the motion until that firm and the government settles a dispute about timelines.
The last discussions in open session were initiated by Commissioner Butler and could be controversial. The first dealt with restoring the flow of part of the money from the sale of water to the coal company back into the Lake Restoration Fund. That funding had disappeared in 2011 or 2012, according to Mayor Downs, and a vote to restore 50% of it to lake restoration had failed within the past year.
Butler said he had been on the lakes since his appointment and the need for work, especially dealing with erosion, is evident. Speaking from the audience, Pinnacle Point resident Dave Strowmatt re-emphasized Butler’s comments. The work will need funding; however, Strowmatt pointed out that although he uses the lake for recreation, he also drinks the water, as all Hillsboro citizens do.
Ferguson added that the first need is to create a Watershed Management Plan. Duncan said given the normal cost to the coal company per month, 50% of the revenue stream would be $5,125 per month, to which Butler replied, “It would be a start.” Strowmatt asked that any further motion (to perhaps be made at the Jan. 25 meeting) not specify an amount but at least 50% of any amount received from the sale of water to the mines. Butler said he was hoping for 80%.
Downs responded, “This discussion was a good first step. The city has received the water cost estimate study we needed, so we can study it in depth before the next meeting.”
Downs also encouraged commissioners and department heads to begin the budget process soon so it isn’t a last minute ordeal this year.
A short executive session called to discuss potential discipline of an employee or employees ended with no action reported to the public.
During commissioner reports, Butler said work, in co-operation with Mondin Electric, on the power panels at the campground is proceeding. Ameren and Mondin are installing a new CT panel and main breaker panel.
Wright reported that the Jan. 2 power outage had damaged “...two of the large valve operators/actuators on the sand filters. In sewer news, those unwanted socks are haunting the pump station on Hickory again, and Hillcrest had problems too.
She also reminded citizens that the ordinance regarding shutoffs because of late payments will be strictly enforced.
Commissioner Murphy commended the police for cracking a burglary ring in town recently; again, he asked citizens to call police dispatch if they see suspicious activity. Contact Code Enforcement Mike Lee about any abandoned tires or trash around town.
Mayor Downs commended Police Chief Randy Leetham for the arrest of those in the theft ring.
Commissioner Wright thanked Atlas 46 for their fundraising efforts for improvements to Central Park after City Planner Jonathan Weyer said the oft-mentioned Downtown Grant was submitted Monday, January 10. He thanked Downs, Butler, Jeremy Connor, Woodard & Curran’s Liz Prereia, and Barb Hewitt for their help. Besides that grant, an OSLAD and a Safe Route to School grant have both been completed.
The council next meets on Tuesday, January 25, at 7 p.m. in city hall. As Councilman Murphy often emphasizes, anyone with compliments, complaints, or just comments is welcome to attend.
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