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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Two major proposals came before the Jacksonville City Council this week: a new historic district and plans to improve the wastewater treatment plant.

The Historic District

The proposed historic district actually combines two different designations. The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission wants to get the area lined in the National Register of Historic Districts, and create a local Landmark historic district. Although similar, they perform different functions. The National Register is primarily symbolic. It does identify areas of historic value, the only real change it would make is allowing some property owners tax credits for some improvement projects.

A Local Landmark District is what would really impact property owners. If the district is created, it will require some improvement projects to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. Owners would be encouraged to keep the style of buildings the same and attempt to match the existing aesthetic as much as possible. However, different materials can be used so long as they look authentic.

Not everyone on the council was receptive to the idea. Alderwoman Marcy Patterson repeatedly pressed presenter Judy Tighe what the actual benefits to the property owners would be. Tighe answered that the main benefits are a preservation of property values, as well as the tax credit opportunities. Patterson noted that the requirements to be eligible for the federal tax credits were often far too burdensome to justify going for. Other council members said they would withhold judgement until after the public hearing on the issue June 13th.

The full discussion starts at the 7:00 mark in the video. You can read the full proposal to find out what properties are included, and the FAQ to learn more.

Wastewater facility improvements

Improving the wastewater treatment plant was far less controversial. The EPA is handing down new rules regarding phosphorus, and the city will have to comply. Phosphorus is an odd pollutant, in that it is actually good for some kinds of life. However, too much phosphorus causes “algal blooms” that consume all of the oxygen in the water, killing everything else in the water. The dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are a result of these blooms.

Local engineering firm Benton & Associates gave a presentation to the council on what will need to be done. Cameron Jones, one of their engineers, explained the current situation and the impact the new regulations will have. They are still at the study phase of the project, and are looking at a number of approaches to treating the phosphorus.

The full discussion starts at the 39:30 mark in the video.

Policing improvements

The city also heard about plans for a new sub-station at 300 West Walnut. This station would be a part time location, and help with community outreach. Chief Mefford also discussed how the in-car camera grant was progressing. Thanks to the additional $45,000 of the grant and smart buying decisions, the department was able to move forward with improvements to the interview rooms at their station. By coordinating the two projects, they were able to return $33,000 to the city.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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Chatham gets mixed news about its pensions

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Village of Chatham received an update on the status of their pensions this week. Overall, the funding percentage of the police pension has gone up 1.65 percent, which is good news. However, the pension is still only 59.26 percent funded.

Pensions are funded both by direct monetary contributions and by profits from investing those contributions. Last year, the investment income was more than enough to cover the payments to pensioners. That meant all of the new contributions went directly to closing the funding gap. But although the investment income was enough to cover the payments, it was lower than anticipated. Lost investment income has to be made up by additional contributions from the village. This, combined with normal salary increases, mean that the village’s expected contribution will be larger next year.

But even this cloud shows a silver lining. The markets giveth, and the markets taketh away. Even minor shifts in investment performance can dramatically change funding percentages. The fact that Chatham is still making progress towards its funding goals despite underperformance in its investments means the village leadership is doing what it should be doing to meet its pension obligations. And an annual increase in funding percentage of 1.65 percent still puts the village on track to reach the state’s 90 percent funding goal by 2040.

You can read the full report here, or watch the presentation here.

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Springfield City Council discusses pay increases for some city workers

Thomas Clatterbuck

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Raising pay for government workers is always a delicate subject. Springfield’s budget problems are well known, and the city has dramatically scaled back the size of its workforce already. And in an election year, raising pay for nonunion workers or for the city’s leadership makes for even more challenging optics.

But as long as there is inflation, there is justification for cost of living adjustments (COLA) for city workers. Any year without a COLA increase is functionally a cut in pay.  Mayor Langfelder brought a resolution calling for a 1.5 percent increase for non-union  employees. He said bringing the motion was important for transparency. However, the city council declined to take action this proposal.

Alderman Hanauer explained the council’s decision not to move on the motion. Pay increases are an executive function. Once the council has approved the budget, it is up to the mayor to assign raises as he sees fit and as money allows. Because the council had already approved money to cover these raises, implementing them was “100 percent an executive function.”

Aldermanic Pay

Alderman Theilen also brought forward two ordinances dealing with pay for the city council and the city’s executive officers. Like most units of government, the city council cannot raise its own pay. Any salary increases can only be approved for future councils. With the next municipal election coming up April 2nd, the time to implement an increase for the next cycle is now.

Alderman McMenamin said that these increases are important for making local office accessible to those of lesser means. Aldermen put in substantial numbers of hours for their wards. And city executives must leave the private sector. There has not been an increase for the last eight years, and if the increases are not approved, it will be another four before the matter can be brought up again. McMenamin said that personal finances should not be a reason someone should be unable to serve their community.

Other aldermen did not share this perspective. Alderwoman DiCenso said that people join the city council to serve their community, not to get rich. Passion, not profit, should be what motivates someone to run for office.

Both of Theilen’s ordinances passed out of committee and will be discussed at the next city council meeting.

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LIVE | Chatham Village Board Meeting November 13th

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Follow along live with the Chatham Village Board. They will be discussing the village’s finances and pension liability. Next year’s tax levy will also be planned.

Additionally, the Glenwood High School Boys Cross County team was recognized for winning their state contest.

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