City Council, On Split Vote, Agrees to Funds for Workman Complex


Published on August 19 2014 5:35 pm
Last Updated on August 20 2014 2:49 am
Written by Greg Sapp

The Effingham City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to contribute $500,000 in hotel/motel tax revenue toward the cost of the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Complex. The Effingham Park Board, which is pursuing the project, will meet in special session Thursday night to consider awarding the bid for the project.

Those voting to allocate the funds, which will involve $250,000 in each of the next two years, were Mayor Merv Gillenwater and Commissioners Matt Hirtzel and Don Althoff. Commissioners Alan Harris and Brian Milleville voted against the allocation.

The mayor again explained his change from opposing the project when it was considered by the City. Gillenwater said the Park District plan is something he can support and thinks the Park District is the proper agency to pursue the project. 

Hirtzel has consistently supported the project. Althoff said he'd rather the City's contribution be spread out over several years, but voted in favor.

Harris has based his opposition to more City funding on the results of a non-binding referendum when the City was pursuing the project. Milleville said the City has already contributed enough to the project when it donated the land involved and paid earlier architect costs on the work.

If the Park Board votes to award the bid, Park Board President Dave McDevitt is still pursuing a goal of getting the project under construction this fall with a completion date later next year.

The Council also voted 3-2 to allocate funds for the renovation of the former 5th/3rd Bank building into the new home for the Effingham public library. Under the agreement, the City will contribute up to $200,000 in Tax Increment Financing dollars, and will issue a revenue bond of up to $500,000 provided the Library Board agrees to assume responsibility of any debt incurred by the issuance of the bond.

On this issue, Mayor Gillenwater and Commissioners Harris and Althoff voted in favor, while Commissioners Hirtzel and Milleville voted No.  

The Mayor said the issue is the City already has a library; saying, "if we didn't have one (a library) we'd be wanting one."

Milleville said the City has given enough toward the project, including the contribution of the building. Hirtzel said he objected to using TIF dollars on the project, and also had concerns in not knowing the terms of the bond issue before voting on the matter, and the debt that would be incurred in issuing the bond.

Later in the meeting, Library Director Amanda McKay said the library board plans to let the library renovation project for bids on September 15.

The Council voted 4-1 to maintain membership in the economic development group known as The Alliance for $25,000 for another year. The Mayor voted against the renewal, saying he'd heard The Alliance's goals and saying he didn't agree with them. Harris voted in favor despite saying he's not convinced the group had given him enough information on its goals. Meanwhile, Gillenwater indicated City Administrator Jim Arndt has asked not to be one of the two City representatives on the Alliance Board. The Mayor offered the spot to Hirtzel, who has been critical that an elected official is not on the Board, but Hirtzel declined saying he had a couple of reasons not to accept. Althoff then said he'd take the spot on the Board.

Council members voted unanimously to amend the City Council rules and regulations concerning public participation at Council meetings. The changes include allowing individuals to obtain a speaker's card up until the time of the meeting rather than having to drop by City Hall a period of time ahead of the meeting.

Hirtzel said, "We need to go above and beyond to make sure people know they have the right to speak."

Gillenwater agreed, saying he'd like to see more participation and would like to see more people attend Council meetings.

The Council voted to approve an ordinance to abate excessive noise when the noise is deemed a public nuisance. The ordinance specifies how loud noise can be during different periods of the day and night. 

Hirtzel voted against the measure, saying it does not contain enough specifics to gain his vote. 

City officials say the ordinance will assist police in regulating situations where noise is involved.

The Council unanimously voted to grant $25,000 in hotel/motel tax funds to Mid America Motorworks for permanent fencing and porta potties for various Mid America events. Harris said, "Mr. Yager puts as many heads in beds as anyone." The Council also voted to temporarily close certain streets for the Corvette Welcome Fest Downtown Party this fall.

Council members also voted 4-1 to contribute $55,000 in hotel/motel tax funds to Arts Connection of Central Illinois, the non-profit agency that operates the Effingham Performance Center, to cover the cost of a new sound system and advertising. Milleville voted No on the allocation, saying the City already has an agreement in place to assist the Center.

The Council agreed to convert the intersection of Douglas Avenue and 5th Street to a four-way stop intersection, but voted against renaming Outer Belt West "Utz Outer Belt West".

Gillenwater and Harris voted for the change, but Althoff, Hirtzel and Milleville voted against. Milleville said the street should have been named in Utz's honor when it was opened, not after addresses have been established along the roadway. He also raised the issue of requesting a bridge being named in memory of the late Chris Donaldson, who was fatally injured while serving in Afghanistan, and getting no support.

Council members revised the MABAS agreement among area fire departments, allowing a fire department to charge for mutual aid assistance for incidents over eight hours in duration, and updated the ILEAS agreement among police agencies to meet with new state and federal guidelines.

The Council approved a proposal to work on the roofs at the water treatment plant and the central fire station, awarded a contract for pavement patching throughout the city, and awarded the contract for surfacing the final section of Blohm Avenue out of Woodland Heights Subdivision to Veterans Drive.

Council members approved a revised agreement for maintenance of the city phone system, authorized the purchase of audio/video interview and interrogation equipment for the city police station, and agreed to move ahead with creation of an employee recognition award policy for the City.

There was no agreement on a proposed article to be added to the administration and oversight of special events in the city. Milleville had many objections and the constitutional problems that could result from some of the proposals. City Attorney Tracy Willenborg said she agrees with some of Milleville's concerns, so it's back to the drawing board for the proposal.

There was discussion on construction engineering on an extension of Thies Avenue in the area of John Boos and Company's plant along South Route 45, it was reported that a reconstruction of Douglas Avenue in the area of South Side School was completed just in time for the start of the school year, and there was discussion of rebuilding the sidewalk at the corner of Banker and Washington by the CEFS Outreach Office.