Members of the Benld City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to approve a motor fuel tax resolution authorizing expenditures of up to $90,772.65 for next summer’s street maintenance program. The vote followed a brief presentation by Doug Ratermann of HMG Engineers, Carlyle. The new resolution exceeds last year’s by about $16,000, and is subject to final approval by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Ratermann said one of the few differences between the 2023 resolution and the resolution for 2022 is the proposed inclusion of 4,800 gallons of HFE 300 road oil, which is said to be a superior product for application to road beds that have been disturbed due to construction. He said he included a provision for the product because of street surfaces that were torn up as a result of the city’s extensive sewer improvement project. The resolution also includes a proposal for 8,600 gallons of HFE 150, a more traditional road oil for motor fuel tax projects. Whether or not the city is able to actually use HFE 300 on selected streets will depend upon the Transportation Department’s approval, Ratermann said.
The resolution calls for appropriating $56,226 in motor fuel tax funds, which is less than the $74,000 in motor fuel tax monies appropriated last year. In addition, the proposal includes an appropriation of $34,547 in Rebuild Illinois funds. The Rebuild Illinois money, Ratermann noted, must be spent by the end of next year or go back to the state. A total oil $7,356 is allotted for engineering fees, including on-site supervision.
Similar to an appropriation, the motor fuel tax resolution sets the maximum amount the city can spend on its annual street maintenance program next summer. In actual practice, the cost of the street maintenance program will be less than the amount appropriated.
The resolution approved Monday night includes estimates of $32,250 for 8,600 gallons of HFE 150, $15,600 for $4,000 gallons of HFE 300, $11,000 for 500 tons of seal coat aggregate chips, $13,000 to spread and roll the chips, $2,438 for 125 tons bituminous patching material, and $9,500 for 100 tons of aggregate CA-6 rock.
“This spring, we’ll see how the streets held up over the winter,” Ratermann said, “and start putting together a list of streets, depending on oil prices.”
In other action, the council agreed to buy certificates of deposit with money remaining in the Atrazine Fund, hired a new sewer affluent tester and gave the mayor power to act in hiring a new custodian for the Civic Center.
WATER TOWER PAINTING PROJECT
Following a brief presentation by Justin VonderHaar, also with HMG Engineers, the council voted to seek bids for a project to repaint the city’s water storage tower and to apply for a grant of up to $30,000 to assist in surveying city water customers to document homes served with lead water lines as part of a state-mandated program to locate and replace such lines.
VonderHaar said he had developed bidding specifications for the tower painting project. Bids will be opened at 10 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 15, with the expectation a contract will be awarded on Monday, Dec. 19, during the council’s regular monthly meeting.
Answering a question from Ald. Jerry Saracco, VonderHaar said the project cost is anticipated to come in between $150,000 to $200,000.
VonderHaar said the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a grant program to assist eligible municipalities in determining which homes are serviced with lead lines. Lead water lines have been determined to be a hazard to municipal water users because quantities of lead can leach into water customers use for drinking water. To be eligible to apply, more than one-half of a municipality’s households must report low or moderate incomes, which Benld does. The grant money, if awarded, can be used only to pay outside vendors. It cannot be used to pay city employees or acquire equipment for the city.
HMG Engineers serves only one other client that meets the eligibility requirements, VonderHaar said.
“They decided it wasn’t worth the effort because they plan to use their own people for the survey,” VonderHaar said.
VonderHaar seemed to steer the council away from the grant applicattion not only because the city is likely to use city employees to conduct the survey but also because water lines from the water main to the meter have been replaced in recent years. “That eliminates the lines from the main to the meter,” VonderHaar said. “What’s left is from the meter to the home.”
To survey those lines, the city plans to send out questionnaires asking residents to report whether or not they have lead lines in their homes. For households that do not respond, city employees will make door-to-door visits seeking permission to enter the home and inspect water lines. Households that do not respond to the questionnaire and refuse permission to examine lines will be listed as homes with potential lead lines.
“When the replacement project begins, you might dig up a line and find out it’s not lead,” VonderHaar said. “In that case, you cover it up and move on.”
VonderHaar was somewhat critical of the lead water line replacement program because it will force city employees to enter into private homes. “It’s always been the line of demarcation was the meter,” he said. “EPA is basically forcing people into homes and that’s not a good spot.” To avoid controversy and allegations of impropriety, VonderHaar urged the city to send city workers to private homes in pairs.
Despite VonderHaar’s misgivings about the grant program, Ald. Saracco moved to apply for the grant, with a second from Ald. Mickey Robinson. VonderHaar will provide information and documentation to City Clerk Terri Koyne to prepare the grant application.
VonderHaar also reported that Water Treat Technology, Central, sprayed vegetation at the city’s sewage lagoon about six weeks ago and that most vegetation is either dead or dying. The company plans to survey the lagoons next week with a small remote-controlled boat equipped with a sonar device to measure the amount of sludge at the bottom of the lagoon.
“At that point, we’ll know what we’re up against,” VonderHaar said. The lagoons passed an EPA inspection last summer but state officials directed the city to determine the amount of sludge the lagoons are carrying and determine whether or not it needs to be removed. VonderHaar has previously said the expense of dredging could be prohibitive but that it might be possible to use sewage-consuming bacteria to remove the sludge material.
VonderHaar also reported that the city’s extensive sewer improvement program is essentially complete with the only major item left to be done is replacing a control panel for one the system’s lift stations.
Following a 35-minute executive session with the City Attorney, the council accepted a bid of $5,800 from Sam Shafer, Jr., Pontoon Beach, to raze and remove a structure on a church-owned property at 311 North Fifth Street. Shafer recently was retained to demolish the old bank building on Central Avenue. One other bid was received from Mark Ranger in the amount of $10,000. Once Shafer has removed the structure, filled in the basement and reseeded the site to grass, a lien will be filed against the property.
Council members also voted unanimously to accept a proposal to purchase property previously deemed a nuisance property at 301 East Central Avenue for $750. Additionally, the city will have to pay about $550 in delinquent property taxes to redeem the property. In the same action, the council agreed to declare the property as surplus and offer it for sale to the qualified bidder submitting the highest bid.
The council also voted unanimously to declare the former Gay Hardware building at 409 East Central Avenue as a public nuisance. The building, owned by Catherine Young of White City, has been the focus of discussion for the past several months after the city cited Young for building’s condition. Young has made several appearances before the council to report on her progress in dealing with the structure. Last month, she told the council she had decided to raze the building but was non-committal about a timeline.
“She’s strung us along long enough,” said Ald. John Balzraine, who moved to formally declare the building a nuisance and have the City Attorney contact Young by letter.
Council members voted unanimously to approve the recommendation of Ald. Saracco, Finance Committee Chair, to invest about $270,000 from the Atrazine Fund in four-month, eight-month and 12-month certificates of deposit. Saracco said the city will earn upward of 4.7 percent in interest by investing in CDs, which exceeds what the city currently earns.
Ald. Balzraine, City Property Chair, reported that he Ald. Saracco, Ed Saracco and J.O. Kelly recently used a trailer loaned by Mayor Jim Kelly to travel to St. Louis to purchase an additional 175 white folding chairs for the newly remodeled Civic Center. Balzraine said the city used a $2,000 donation from Nicholas Saracco and a $2,300 donation from the Italian Club of Benld to make the purchase. With the 75 chairs initially purchased with a donation from the Build Benld organization, the city now has a full complement of 250 chairs for the Civic Center.
Mayor Kelly reported that he recently met with Gillespie city officials regarding the city’s contract with Gillespie to provide police protection. Gillespie is urging communities that currently contract with Gillespie for police services to contact state representatives and senators about the possibility of forming a police district which would have the ability to levy property taxes to pay for police protection services. Communities currently contracting for police protection from Gillespie include Benld, East Gillespie, Eagarville, Sawyerville and Mount Clare.
The council voted unanimously to contract with Robert Risley, owner of Water Treat Technology, Central, to test sewage effluent to comply with EPA requirements after Mayor Kelly reported that the city’s former tester, Ethan Martin has resigned, effective at the end of November. Ridley agreed to provide his services for $576 per test, including mileage, which is less than what the city was paying.
The council also gave the Mayor power to act on hiring a new custodian for the Civic Center after accepting the resignation of Tom Turifliatto, who has cleaned the facility for the past several years.
In other personnel action, the council approved Christmas bonuses of $125 for full-time employees and $75 for part-time employees, which are the same amounts given to employees last year.