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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Ronald Batory is probably not an official you’ve heard of before. But yesterday, he was the man to impress in Springfield. Mayor Jim Langfelder, Sangamon County Chairman Andy Van Meter, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-13), representatives for Congressman Darin LaHood (R-18), Senators Tammy Duckworth (D) and Dick Durbin (D), as well as other local stakeholders all came out to meet with Administrator Batory.

Batory is the Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). They are the organization that oversees America’s railroads. They will control if Springfield can move forward with its various high speed rail improvements and track consolidation efforts.

The bipartisan efforts seem to have paid off. At the press conference, Batory pointed to the local “unanimity” supporting the project. Batory also has Springfield ties, so he was already somewhat familiar with the projects being discussed.

A happy discovery causes a delay

The rail projects have been in the planning stages for decades. According to Davis, funding has been one of the perennial hangups delaying the project. But a valuable discovery in the Carpenter Street Corridor also played a role in slowing the project down.

Remains of several homes that had been destroyed during the 1908 Race Riot were discovered in the construction area. The riot played an important role in African American history, as it was the catalyst that lead to the creation of the NAACP in 1909. Finding these homes and the artifacts inside was a discovery of both local and national significance.

It also meant that the FRA put a hold on the rail construction in the area. The historic nature of the Carpenter Street area made it eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. This made the FRA reluctant to allow work to continue in the area. It took several months to establish that there were no prudent alternatives. A plan was developed to minimize the impact on the historic site so the rail work could continue, which was endorsed by both Illinois’ Senators as well as Davis and LaHood.

Artifacts from the site are undergoing curation and preservation efforts. The hope is that some will be displayed both locally and in the Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress.

Looking to the future

The future looks bright for the Springfield Rail Improvement Project. Having convinced Administrator Batory, the project appears to be on or moving to the “fast track.” It is anticipated the work will be completed by 2025.

You can watch the full press conference in the player above, or Congressman Davis’ Q&A session below:

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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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