By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — With only 25 acres left in the Rolland W. Lewis Industrial Park, city leaders have planned for future economic development by approving a resolution Monday night to purchase additional property.
The 100 acres will be purchased for $1.75 million from Barnard Farms and Barnards Soil Service, LLC. The property is located south of Neon Sign, off Illinois Highway 15 and Shiloh Drive.
City Manager Ron Neibert said the city put together the capital revenues for the project nearly two years ago.
“We had the conceptual plans drawn up and worked with PGAV Group out of St. Louis to come up with conceptual designs. Those designs were implemented, we identified properties. We not only put the TIF district in place on the west side of the interstate, but we also entered into negotiations some time ago with the landowners of this agreement and reached equitable terms on the nine-month option,” he said.
Neibert said there is $5 million allocated in the budget for acquisition and building the industrial park. The city will also be looking to the Federal Economic Development Administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation for an additional $3 million in funding.
“That will pay for a large portion of the roads, water and sewer to develop the park,” Neibert said.
“This has been a long time coming, even before the Comprehensive Plan identified areas where we needed more industrial
sites. We budgeted for it and here we are,” said Councilman Todd Piper.
Council approved on second reading the tax levy, but not before Councilman David Wood said he would be voting in opposition of the ordinance. Wood said he was not voting against the proposal because it was too low or too high, adding, “I’m concerned in the way we’ve gone through this process; we’re behind the curve on this.”
Wood said the council needs to have public hearings on the issue, although it chose not to, and he suggested a workshop — following the holidays — to address the issue through a public forum.
The total levy approved by the council is $2,536,921 which represents a 4.96 percent increase. The lion’s share of the levies are for firefighter’s pension, police pension and the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and FICA. The council did not raise its General Corporate levy, but the city is faced with $16.5 million in unfunded mandates.
Information Wood received from Finance Director Merle Hollmann indicates cities of similar size are facing similar financial problems through no fault of the municipalities. Wood reported Carbondale has funded its mandates for a 28-year period and increased its levy by 10.57 percent; Marion has amortized its unfunded mandates of $9.4 million for 27 years with a 6.1 percent levy increase; and Mt. Vernon has averaged a 4.41 percent levy increase over the last four years.
“I don’t mean to be overly critical, but I’ve been on the council for six years , and although we have discussed this in workshops, we haven’t really gotten into the weeds.,” Wood said. “Unfortunately, we may have been delusional when we thought the state was going to fix our problem when they addressed their pension plans. Hopefully, this will help us and let the citizens and more importantly, the politicians in Springfield know what devastation they are laying at the feet of all of these communities in the state.”
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
n The council approved a bid of $61,700 from Kenneth Hails Excavating for the demolition of eight residential properties, which will deplete the city’s demolition funding for this year, Neibert said.
n Approved a resolution granting a conditional sign permit for property at 1550 Main St. for St. Mary Catholic Church.
n And approved an agreement for the construction of a road between Star Investment Group, LP, the city and Good Samaritan Regional Health Center to realign and reconstruct a portion of 34th Street intersecting Veteran’s Memorial Drive.