Benld City Council members voted unanimously Monday night to spend more than $11,000 to determine the volume of sludge settled at the bottom of the city’s sewage lagoon and determine the best course of action to deal with it. The council also voted to accept the annual city audit following a brief meeting with the city’s auditor, voted to make the first payment to Haier Plumbing and Heating for the first segment of work completed on an extensive sewer improvement project, and authorized the mayor to purchase a $100,000 tractor with a boom mower attachment.
Justin VonderHaar of HMG Engineers reported that representatives of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency investigated the lagoon in February but rendered a final report only recently. The report generally approved of the lagoon operation except for the amount of sludge the lagoon is carrying. He recommended hiring Water Treat Technology, Centralia, to use a remote control ground penetrating radar device to measure the volume of sludge in the lagoon at a cost of $3,250.
Before the sludge can be measured, however, VonderHaar said the city must control an infestation of duckweed to clear the way for the sludge-measuring device. VonderHaar said duckweed is difficult to eradicate but he recommended hiring Water Treat Technology at a cost of $8,380 to treat the invasive aquatic weeds. He said the city would be unable to discharge water from the lagoon for a 48-hour period after treatment, and recommended lowering the water level before treatment and scheduling the treatment for a time when rain is not in the immediate weather forecast.
On a motion by Ald. Jerry Saracco, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council voted unanimously to accept VonderHaar’s recommendation to hire Water Treat Technology at a total cost of $11,630.64.
Once the volume of sludge is determined, the city will need to decide how to deal with it. VonderHaar said dredging the lagoon would be the most expensive option. An alternative would involve aeration and the addition of biological agents to consume the sludge and reduce its volume. The cost of adding aeration units, he said, could be as much as $85,000.
Apart from the duckweed issue, VonderHaar also noted the edges of the lagoon are choked with phragmites, similar to cattails, which also need to be removed. Like duckweed, phragmites do not reliably respond to traditional herbicides. One option under discussion, he said, is the possibility of allowing a private individual to release goats on the property to eat the vegetation, including the phragmites.
“My opinion is EPA was very lenient,” VonderHaar said. “They were here in February. If they went out there now, it would be different. It’s in rough shape.”
Later in the meeting, the council authorized Mayor Jim Kelly and the city Maintenance Director to purchase a 2016 John Deere 6110 tractor with a 20-foot boom mower attachment at a cost of $100,000. The used unit has 500 hours on it and is located in Fenton, MO. Kelly said he and the Maintenance Director will examine the machine and test drive it before committing to the purchase.
Kelly said the equipment will allow maintenance workers to mow down to the water line at the lagoon and will be used for other projects where a boom mower is needed. The city has tried to rent a similar unit for the past three years but hasn’t found one available for rent.
“We haven’t been able to rent one for the past three years, which is why our lagoon looks the way it does,” he said.
Kelly said the city plans to post a downpayment of $10,000. Carlinville National Bank will finance the purchase over five years with payments amounting to $1,600 per month.
Finance Committee Chair Saracco expressed concerns about projected upcoming expenditures, including the $85,000 or more that may be needed to address the lagoon issue.
“We don’t have any new businesses coming into town,” he said. “We don’t have the money.”
WATER RATE INCREASE
Responding to a rate increase on bulk water imposed by the City of Gillespie, the council agreed to raise the minimum bill for individuals from $12 to $13 per month. The rate increase will be reflected on customer bills in October.
City Clerk Terri Koyne said she averaged the city’s monthly consumption of treated water from Gillespie and determined the city will be paying about $750 more per month for water. With the number of customers on the Benld water system, she said the $1 increase would be adequate to cover the increase in cost.
“Our water rates are still cheaper than what they were before the sewer rate increase,” she said. To qualify for a grant to help pay for sewer improvements, the council raised sewer rates several months ago but decreased the water rate by the same amount so consumers’ total bills remained relatively the same.
SEWER IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
Council members authorized an initial payment of $174,828 to Haier Plumbing and Heating for work completed as of Sept. 8 on the city’s sewer improvement project. The payment represents $194,178 for completed work, less a 10 percent retain age. VonderHaar said the payment leaves about $444,500 in funds yet to be paid as work progresses on the $550,000 project.
The project calls for replacing about 3,400 feet of deteriorating sewer lines on the city’s east side and re-lining about 1,600 feet that can be salvaged with lining.
VonderHaar reported that workers recently ran into a problem on the south side of the city park where an influx of water stymied progress on laying new sewer lines. The engineer said some of the water apparently came from a previously unknown water leak in the water line supplying the park. Workers turned off water for the park, which reduced the flow of water into the trench but a substantial amount of water continues to flood the trench, apparently coming from an underground spring.
VonderHaar said the influx of water was so significant that at a depth of about 12 feet, a slurry of sand and water flowed over the top of the trenching box onto workers in the trench. He said workers are attempting to pump water out of the trench in order to complete work. VonderHaar said workers should know by Tuesday if pumping alone would be sufficient to control the water.
If workers have to construct drainage wells, VonderHaar said the contract cost could potentially increase. At this point, he said, the increased cost is minimal, limited primarily to the cost of additional rock.
Responding to a question from Ald. Saracco, VonderHaar said the presence of spring water should have no long term detrimental effects on the project. In theory, water from the spring will travel along the trench and ultimately drain into a creek to the east of the park.
If the issue causes significant cost increases, VonderHaar said the city may be able to take advantage of a recently announced program to increase the grant amount by as much as $100,000. The initiative is primarily designed to help municipalities deal with increased costs associated with inflation and VonderHaar said it is unknown if the state will approve an increase to cover increased costs resulting from the discovery of the spring.
During a special meeting prior to Monday night’s regular meeting, the council voted to accept the annual audit completed by Scheffel Boyle, CPAs, Alton. Accountant Keith Brinkmann presented the audit, commending the city for living within its means and exercising outstanding oversight over the expenditure of public funds.
“To us, there’s more oversight here than we’d normally see in a small community,” Brinkmann said. “I applaud you for your oversight. To me, that’s the heart of the matter.”
He said the firm’s opinion letters do not cite any deficiencies and make no recommendations for improving accounting procedures.
“We’d love to have other communities mirror you,” he said.
As expenses increase and revenues plateau, Brinkmann said it will become more difficult to balance expenditures with revenue. He praised the council for raising water rates in response to increases in cost rather than delaying such adjustments until increases would be oppressive.
Brinkmann’s 15-minute presentation did not include a summary of city finances. The 28-page audit document shows governmental revenues from taxes, fees, licenses and so forth in the amount of $745,168 during the fiscal year ending April 30, with expenditures of $511,348. The governmental activities line ended the year $233,819 in the black; coupled with the beginning balance, governmental activities ended the year with a positive balance of $1,720,707.
So-called proprietary funds—sewer and water, and trash collection—reported profits of $25,146 for the year and ended the year with $2,138,954 in the bank.
PARK DEVELOPMENT GRANT
Over the objection of Ald. Jim Tilashalski, the council authorized the Mayor and City Clerk to apply for a $600,000 grant on behalf of the Benld Sports Association from the Department of Natural Resources to subsidize development of the former site of Benld Elementary School as a recreational park. Current plans for the park include development of a walking path, playground equipment, a softball field, a baseball field and a football/soccer field. The deadline for the grant application is at the end of the month.
Tilashalski said 10 percent of the grant application evaluation is dependent on officials conducting public hearings on the project.
Mayor Kelly offered to call a special meeting for next week to review plans for the park but Tilashalski rejected the offer, apparently on the assumption a special meeting would not meet the definition of a public hearing.
If the grant application is successful, the Sports Association would be responsible for raising additional funds to build the park facilities.
Brought to a vote, Ald. Saracco, Robinson, John Balzraine, and Lance Cooper voted in favor of the application. Tilashalski voted “no.”
Ald. Balzraine reported the Civic Center renovation, underwritten by former resident Rick DeStefane, is nearing completion and is expected to open to the public in mid-October.
On Balzraine’s recommendation, the council voted to spend $2,667 to scrub, clean and seal the center’s concrete floor, and $965 for a metal sign renaming the center as the DeStefane Event Center.
In other action, the council:
- Approved a food truck ordinance identical to an ordinance approved by the Gillespie City Council earlier this month, establishing a fee structure of $100 for four days of operation, plus $25 for each additional day.
- Authorized City Attorney Rick Verticchio to develop an ordinance on manufactured homes which will include an increase in the fine for violations.
- Agreed to accept the deed for derelict property at 106 North Main Street in lieu of pursuing legal action.
- Set trick-or-tricking hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Oct. 30 and 31.
- Reappointed Don Chapman, Cathy Barylske and Jeri Bayse to three-year terms on the Public Library Board of Trustees.