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Illinois towns prepare for new small cell towers

Thomas Clatterbuck

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Fifth Generation (5G) data service may soon be coming to Illinois. Adding 5G should provide another leap in speed and reliability to internet service around the state. But the new technology requires new physical infrastructure. Unlike the giant cell towers used be previous generations, 5G uses “small cell” towers to provide coverage. Small cell towers take up just a few cubic feet of space. Because of their size, these towers can be placed on existing utility poles and other structures.

In April, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law to help facilitate the rollout of the new technology. This bill greatly constrains the ability of municipalities to restrict how and where the small cell towers could be installed. It also capped the fees that municipalities could charge cell providers to use their poles. These caps preempted existing ordinances, including those in Springfield and Chatham.

The timer starts

The new law became effective on June 1st. Even though the old ordinances had been preempted, cities were only given two months to draft new ordinances. According to Jacksonville’s City Attorney Daniel Beard, the time constrains add another challenge to an already complex issue. Fortunately, the Illinois Municipal League has helped by providing a sample ordinance for cities to work off of.

Both the Jacksonville City Council and Chatham Village Board discussed this issue at their last meetings. Jacksonville approved drafting the new rules, and should be discussing them at their next meeting. Chatham is likewise actively looking to replace their old ordinance. They should have little trouble adopting a new ordinance by the deadline.

But Springfield may be less prepared on this issue. While several aldermen I spoke with were aware that Springfield’s old rules had been preempted, they were not aware of any new ordinance coming through the pipeline. Mayor Jim Langfelder explained that Springfield has a complex relationship with cell provider AT&T, which has delayed adopting new rules. He assured me that new rules are being drafted, and thinks they should be ready before the August 1st deadline.

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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

Staff Contributor

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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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