Witt City Council Talks About Water Agreement

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Mayor Jim VanOstran called the meeting of Witt City Council to order on Tuesday, March 23. 

Mayor VanOstran opened the floor to public comments. Visitor Lee Austin of Pana thanked the Witt-Nokomis Ambulance Service and first responders for their fast action getting him medical assistance on Saturday, March 6. “I had a very serious medical incident and they evaluated the situation and procured immediate transportation to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Because of their quick action I am here speaking to you today, and for that I am very grateful. Thank you very much.” Austin then requested that the City of Witt split the cost of moving a tree that is partially located on a property he owns at 208 East Ford Avenue. Austin informed the board that he had the property surveyed and the tree is located down the center of two properties, one owned by the city. He contacted a local tree removal service and was quoted a price of $875 to remove the tree. He would like the city to half the bill at a cost of $437.50. Since the item was not on the agenda the request was tabled until next month’s meeting.

Emmerich then presented the water report to the aldermen. He informed the board that they had not received the five horse-power (hp) replacement pump for the lift station yet, but that EJ Water Cooperative has received the 30 hp pump and is planning to install it late next week, pending scheduling with Hillsboro Electric.

Emmerich moved on to request that the council vote to approve the Water Purchase Agreement with EJ Water Cooperative. Emmerich presented a contingency plan for the city to apply for a USDA-RD Project grant, to help the city fund the water project, in the event that they do not receive the DCEO grant they applied for. Emmerich estimated that they should know the status of the DCEO grant by the end of this month.

Alderman Cearlock clarified that EJ Water Cooperative was asking the board to approve the water purchase agreement so that they could move forward with the grant application process and that once the grant application was approved the council would have to vote to accept or reject the grant. He asked about the validity of any vote taken, regarding the agreement, as the council may change with the upcoming election cycle. City Attorney Sherer stated (in answer to Cearlock’s inquiry) that if the sitting council voted to approve the agreement there was nothing stopping the upcoming council from negating it - one council cannot necessarily bind the next council to an agreement. Cearlock stated that he felt apprehensive about signing the contract now because things might look differently once the grant is (potentially) approved in August. Mayor VanOstran brought up that the pressing issue was not whether a future council will agree with the Water Purchase Agreement or not but that the city’s water plant is in serious disrepair and will likely not last much longer. Emmerich reminded the board that even with the DCEO grant the city would need funding from the USDA and that approving the agreement was moving the process of acquiring the grant money they need for the water project forward.

Alderman Lowe made a motion to authorize Mayor VanOstran to sign the Water Purchase Agreement with EJ Water Cooperative, pending the approval of the city attorney, and commit to getting a grant or a loan for the $750,000 needed. Alderman Martin seconded. The motion passed with aldermen Martin, Lowe, Vallelonga and Bauerle voting in favor and aldermen Cearlock and Taylor voting no.

Emmerich then moved on to a previously discussed  request from a resident, Dan Tester, to purchase a bulk water meter (at his own expense) and connect it to an approved city fire hydrant to acquire bulk water to supply water to his farm. Tester previously explained that he cannot use the city’s Water Salesman because his system does not allow him to fill his truck from the top and the current system does not enable filling from the bottom. Emmerich explained that if the request is approved, Mr. Tester will take a picture of the meter dial (to show the reading every month) and email it to City Clerk Hughes, who will bill him for water used. Emmerich also requested that the board make a motion to increase the bulk meter water rate from $5.50 per one thousand units to $8.50 per one thousand units, as previously discussed.

The council discussed the risk factor (potential water main breaks) of allowing individual residents to open and close the city’s fire hydrants. Both Fire Cheif Keiser and Mayor VanOstran separately stated that they were against using hydrants for anything other than fighting fires. Mayor VanOstran also expressed concerns that allowing Mr. Tester to utilize a hydrant for bulk water would open up the door to requests from others to use hydrants instead of the city’s water salesman. Cearlock responded that allowing Mr. Tester to attach a bulk meter to a specified hydrant would generate revenue that the city could use to make needed upgrades to the Water Salesman and attract more users.

Alderman Taylor made a motion to increase the bulk meter water rate to $8.50 per one thousand units. Cearlock seconded and all voted in favor of the increase. Taylor made a second motion to allow temporary use of an approved (to-be-determined) hydrant to purchase bulk water with an individual authorized by the city to be present any time the hydrant is opened and closed until the city’s water salesman is upgraded. All voted in favor.

Clerk Hughes gave the report submitted by Chief of Police Scott Wood. He reported that he is unsure where the city stands on the vehicle grant. The USDA states that they still have not received the information they requested from the city’s auditor, KEB. 

Keiser presented the fire report to the council. He reported eight fire calls and 13 EMS calls. The fire department hosted the 4-H Star Shooters Club at the station for a tour and presentation on equipment. They held a training burn on Saturday, March 13, and had around 55 participants from several departments. He then asked about the city’s plans to replace a broken hydrant on the corner of E. Ford Ave. and N. Stewart St. The request will be included on the April agenda.

Mayor VanOstran reported that he found a newer model of the city’s current lawn mower, a Kubota ZD1211. The board approved purchasing the replacement mower at a cost of $12,985, with 75 percent of the cost to be taken from the Municipal Utility Tax Fund and 25 percent from the General Fund. The aldermen then decided to retain Eric Lentz to mow the city’s cemetery again this year. A motion was passed to partially vacate Dorris Street to Randy Lowe, who has a section of his garage roof extending onto the city property, with Lowe abstaining from the vote.

Lowe sent in photos of flooding at the intersection of Dorris and Monroe Streets due to a collapsed culvert. The council voted in favor of replacing the culvert. Witt Bar was granted a sewer adjustment in the amount of $43.16.  

Cearlock made a motion to close Mitchell Street, between Main and Third streets, for the Easter egg hunt on Saturday, April 3. The council opted to stay with KEB (auditors) for the 2020-2021 audit. They also voted in favor of placing Authorized Vehicle Only signs in the alley located between Talmage and Monroe (Dixon and Allen).

The meeting was adjourned at 9 p.m.  

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