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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Water is the most basic and critical recourse for a community. Clean, abundant water is a blessing. Not having water spells doom. After a flash flood in 2011 knocked the Jacksonville water treatment plant offline for weeks, the city knew it needed to upgrade. Now, seven years and 37 million dollars later, Jacksonville has a state-of-the-art water treatment plant.

This new facility took two and a half years to build, and should last the city far into the future. The plant was built to the strict EPA standards to ensure safety for both workers and the water customers. Computerization allows the plant to be operated with a very small team in the off-peak overnight hours. However, manual backups ensure that the staff can work all of the systems by hand if necessary. Most importantly, it is not built in a floodplain, so it should be safe from any flash floods.

Today was a day to celebrate the new plant, but the developers were already planning for future maintenance needs. The plant has many areas where this forward-thinking is on display. Three sedimentation basins will make it much easier to rotate them out for maintenance. When the old plant only had two, taking one offline for cleaning was difficult. Windows near the chemical tanks can be removed, so changing out the 5,000 gallon tanks will not require tearing down walls. In the basement, an overhead crane was installed to assist with moving heavy pipes without destroying the ceiling. It may not be used for 20 years, but future workers will be glad they have it. Even something a simple as putting heating elements under north-facing stairs was considered. Removing snow and ice only needs to save the city one workman’s comp claim to be cost-effective.

Water quality in Jacksonville was always high, and this will only continue with the new plant. The plant can draw water from two sources: wells and the nearby lakes. However, most of the city’s water comes from the wells. Residents may not notice an increase in water quality, but this is because Jacksonville already enjoyed some of the best water in the nation.

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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.

Local

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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State

Duckworth, Durbin Introduce Legislation to Improve Water Quality & End Sewage Dumping into Great Lakes

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PRESS RELEASE | U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation today to end the dumping of untreated sewage waste into the Great Lakes Basin. The Senators’ Great Lakes Water Protection Act would improve water quality in the Great Lakes, which contain 95% of America’s fresh surface water and supply drinking water to more than 30 million people in North America. The bill would also create a dedicated fund to help clean up sewage in the Great Lakes and require the public be immediately notified when sewage is discharged. Representative Dan Lipinski (D-3) has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“The Great Lakes is the source of drinking water for tens of millions of Americans and supports 1.5 million jobs,” said Senator Duckworth. “Yet, under the current rules, roughly 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water are discharged into the Great Lakes each year, threatening the health and livelihoods of millions.  Our legislation will help fix this problem by banning discharges of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes to protect local economies and ensure our water is clean for families in Illinois and throughout the Great Lakes region.” 

“The Great Lakes are precious natural resources and it’s our duty to protect them. In Illinois, we depend on Lake Michigan as a critical source of drinking water for millions of people. Lake Michigan also provides a huge economic benefit to the state, and is a place of recreation for countless residents and tourists,” Senator Durbin said. “This bill will end sewage dumping and ensure we have clean and healthy Great Lakes for future generations of Americans to enjoy.”

“My bill and the legislation Senators Duckworth and Durbin introduced in the Senate will improve water quality in the Great Lakes by ending the practice of blending and making sure that wastewater discharged into the lakes is fully-treated,” added Representative Lipinski. “We are also creating a Great Lakes Cleanup Fund that will provide federal dollars to offset the cost of infrastructure improvements needed to end wastewater blending, and make sure that an undue burden is not placed on local residents.”

An estimated 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water are discharged into the Great Lakes each year. That’s because inconsistent rules allow sewage treatment facilities in some states to divert wastewater around secondary treatment and discharge the untreated water directly into the Great Lakes when the treatment facilities are overloaded due to heavy storms, wet weather events or power failures, creating a public health hazard. The Senators’ legislation would create a uniform policy across the entire Great Lakes Basin that ends this practice. It would also authorize The Great Lakes Cleanup Fund to provide up to $250 million each year from 2020 to 2024 to support projects that lead to reductions in wastewater blending. 

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act has been endorsed by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center, American Rivers, Environment Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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Local

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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