Council Votes to Join Economic Development Foundation

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Published on August 21 2013 12:34 am
Last Updated on August 21 2013 12:57 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

The Effingham City Council Tuesday voted 5-0 to join the Effingham County Economic Development Foundation, but there are still some uncertainties over the issue.

Mayor Merv Gillenwater said he'd vote for the motion as he didn't want to do anything that would appear he wasn't supportive of economic development, but said, "I'm still concerned about what we'll get for our money."

The Foundation is an outgrowth of the Effingham Civic Foundation that supported a number of initiatives over the past 70 years, often in a behind-the-scenes manner.  The new set-up involves 15 to 24 board members with the members contributing dollars as well as decision-making to the Board.

The Council voted to contribute $25,000 for one year.  Stipulations include two directors appointed by the City to the Board, the money contributed by the City go for purposes that promote economic development in the City, and the Foundation making a report to the City before the one-year period is up on their activities and how the money was used.

Mayor Gillenwater said he plans to name City Economic Development Director Todd Hull and City Administrator Jim Arndt to the Board.  Commissioner Brian Milleville suggested a member of the Council get one of the seats.  Gillenwater said he'd listen to that proposal, but thinks Arndt would represent the entire Council whereas a commissioner might vote for what he thinks is a good idea or a particular entity.

Commissioner Matt Hirtzel said he wanted to chew on the Mayor's rationale before deciding on the issue.

The Council considered several projects that could boost the economy and beautify the City.  Wiedman Cleaners on Washington Avenue is seeking the City to go halves on painting their building and a new doorway.  The work would cost $5,584.  Mark and Susan Dust are renovating the former Sehy and Jones optometry office on Washington Avenue downtown to use as his headquarters for his Subway Restaurants franchises.  Dust said he owns 26 Subways and thinks the project would mean seven or eight employees there as well as 20 to 30 people on hand for management meetings.  The renovation will cost $78,740 with the City going halves on the cost.  Sheryl Herboth said she plans to spend $92,623 to renovate the building housing The Last Straw on Jefferson Avenue.  Herboth said she's operated the business for 27 years in four different locations and likes where she's now located.  She said she wants to give a historic building a facelift.  The City would also split the cost on her project.  A vote on those projects should come at a future Council meeting.

The Council also took a brief look at the Hodgson Mill retail and office project east of the mall that houses Buffalo Wild Wings.  The building will include offices in a lower level and retail space on the main floor, and will resemble a flour mill.

A scheduled presentation on remodeling of the Thelma Keller Convention Center and a new hotel that would be connected to the Convention Center was pulled from the agenda.  The mayor said the Keller family's plans for the development were not ready.

The Council approved a litter abatement program entitled "Pick It Up, Effingham!"  Volunteer groups will have the opportunity to adopt specific roadways in the city for a two-year period and would cleanup the roadways on at least a quarterly basis.  The City would provide the items needed to facilitate the cleanups.  It's hoped the project could begin in September.  Contact City Hall if you're interested in helping.

The Council agreed to include Effingham with more than 100 other communities in Illinois in an effort to buy electricity as a group in hopes of getting lower electric rates.  Also approved was the closing of streets and certain parking lots for the Effingham County Old Settlers Reunion on September 28, and renewal of an agreement with Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center to administer the Fresh Start Wellness and Smoke Cessation programs for City workers.

Council members agreed to issue a special use permit for mini-warehouses to be located on land at 305 Miracle Avenue, but heard that developer John Kirby has withdrawn a proposal to rezone land at 1110 Ford Avenue from general commercial to multiple dwelling district.

The Council approved reassignment of some duties in the Department of Public Works and the duties and responsibilities of the City Administrator.  Also approved was a new three-year contract with Jim Arndt to continue as City Administrator into 2016.

Council members agreed to consider adding a liquor license for Taqueria Don Pedro on West Fayette; amended the city personnel policy concerning corrective actions, the open door policy and the pre-disciplinary meeting; purchased a vehicle exhaust removal system for the Central Fire Station; but heard that a bid for work on the City Hall roof has been withdrawn by the contractor.

The Council contracted with Milano and Grunloh Engineers of Effingham for engineering services on an extension of Midtowne Boulevard north and east to tie into the intersection of Keller Drive and Temple Avenue.  The street now leads into Jimmy's John's and National Bank among other businesses.  There is the possibility of some economic development in that area.

Council members approved infrastructure work including sewage lift station repairs, a sewer force main along Temple Avenue near Kralman Subdivision, and resurfacing work on Jack Court, Illini Drive and the water treatment plant parking lot and roadway.  There was discussion about resurfacing Holiday Drive from Henrietta Street to Penguin Street and concrete pavement patching in several locations.

Some of the projects are being moved along by the end of the state sales tax increment of Tax Increment Financing in Illinois at the end of 2013.

Helen Matthes Library Director Amanda McKay and Arndt presented quarterly reports on library activities and the city's fiscal condition, respectively.  Hull reported that the City is "getting close" on some "really nice projects" involving economic development, and it was reported that the state grant requesting funds for work on the city's bike path network is now on file.