Lebanon city council approves TIF district expansion

EDR Project Manager Daniel Schmidt shows the Lebanon City Council the additional 116 acres of property that were deemed able to use TIF development funding. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – Lebanon City Council gave a final approving vote to the amendment to the TIF eligibility study. Economic Development Resources (EDR) Project Manager Daniel Schmidt made a presentation before the vote detailing just what the amendment would cover, and gave the results of the eligibility study that he conducted. 

The area originally voted into the Lebanon TIF District was between South Fritz and South Madison streets along Route 50, and contained seven parcels. The new area would be a significant expansion to 49 parcels, four of which are vacant. 

The part of the 116 acres inside the new TIF district that’s developed include “38 buildings, according to St. Clair County with more than 50 percent, something like 60 percent, being of the age of 35 years or more. That allows us to look to qualify the area as a conservation area,” Schmidt said. 

He explained undeveloped parcels have been subdivided and meet the definition of vacant land. EDR’s study led Schmidt to work hand in hand with the city to find things like asbestos and clay piping in utilities, lack of sidewalks, improper subdivision of parcels, low light levels and other issues that fall short of current development standards.

“The final factor that we have is a lack of growth and equalized assessed value,” said Schmidt, noting that similar conditions existed in the vacant land. He concluded his presentation by suggesting that the council consider expanding to include the newly analyzed areas to help with redevelopment before they became blighted. 

The vote to accept the study was unanimous, meaning the city can seek TIF redevelopment funds to help develop the area. Mayor Rich Wilken announced that he had spoken with Mike Elbe, and the grocery store project was in the hands of architects and engineers, and the store is still slated for a September 2019 opening. 

In Other News:

• Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Fairlie spoke to the board about the difference between Residential Design Districts (RDD) and Planned Unit Developments (PUD) after a recent vote by the council to have a subdivision development by Jeff LaDriere fall under the guidelines of a PUD. The planning commission had previously recommended adopting an RDD ordinance to allow the development to move forward.

Fairlie said adopting an RDD ordinance, which would be the first of it’s kind in the area according to Attorney John Long, “could be a shiny new penny” and “a draw” for the city. “We would have a new avenue and a new vehicle form to use. We also believe the guidance could be written in clear, new language that will best allow Lebanon to drive the community in the direction that we want to go,” Fairlie said. 

He reaffirmed that the planning commission reaffirmed their original recommendation of adopting an RDD, but that under a PUD, the commission agreed to allow the minimum size to be reduced from five acres to three. He added that the commission wanted to allow LaDriere to move forward with the development as soon as possible. 

The council voted to amend the PUD ordinance to reflect the acreage changes. LaDriere said he just wanted to “dig in the dirt and build some houses.”

• Planning Commission Member Don Burgett needed to step down. The council voted to appoint Jeremy Corbett to take the open seat. 

• The council unanimously voted to put Phase I of the Roger Drive project out for bid. Resident Noel Harpe thanked the council for taking a step forward. Harpe’s property has been subject of severe flooding and sinkholes for over two decades. Due to the hardships of Harpe and her neighbors, the council wanted to move forward with that part of the project first.

Lebanon Council hears proposal to repair flooding concerns

Lebanon Mayor Rich Wilken listens as Rhutasel and Associates, Inc. Project Engineer Mark Rujawitz presents his ides for fixing two decades worth of flooding issues on Roger Drive and Merrill Street. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – Rhutasel and Associates Project Engineer Mark Rujawitz updated the Lebanon City Council and concerned residents about his survey of the flooding areas at Roger Drive and Merrill Street. He shared his ideas for multiple different aspects of the project and advised on the possible use of of Motor Fuel Tax funds. 

Rujawitz recommended some grading along Roger, replacing one 30 inch pipe with a 36 inch pipe, adding two box culverts or manholes, having the pipes turn, and adding a ditch in an easement near the worst of the flooding that would connect to a culvert at McKendree University, “at least five feet wide” and would be lined with rip rap. He did add that there is also potential to widen the pipe on Roger Drive to 36 inches, but said “It may be easier in the long run to add a retention pond across the road, but I know that’s McKendree’s property. There’s several areas here that need to be looked at and decided on.” 

The estimate for widening one pipe and adding in the box culverts is $60,000 in construction costs alone. “That doesn’t include the grading, or anything around McKendree. Some of the funding could be motor fuel tax, and some could be general funds, and you could use multiple funding sources and one contractor to do as much as possible,” Rujawitz explained. 

The materials are also not included, however Alderman Frank Almeter has already purchased one 36 inch pipe that’s waiting to be installed. 

Audience members and aldermen lamented that there were no visuals, and Rujawitz will be sending his plans to the aldermen. 

Streets and Alleys Superintendent Jody McNeese and Mayor Rich Wilken have previously met with representatives from McKendree University but do not seem hopeful that the university will install a retention pond. “If anything goes into that land that they own, by ordinance, it’s going to require a watershed engineering report. They are aware of the state of things,” Wilken said. 

Resident Terry Weil pointed out that the property in question used to be the site of Neverman Lake before it was closed in. 

Work would begin at the downstream end, and Rujawitz would recommend replacing the culverts at McKendree Park and replacing the pipe that runs from Roger along Merrill Street. 

Alderman Al Gerdes  has concerns about the box culverts, which would be made thicker to be part of the roadway, being grated. Gerdes said he keeps a rake in his car to help clear off the existing grates, and the gumballs and leaves would continue to build up. 

McNeese said that he did not want to have to return to this spot every few years and suggested materials that might make the ditches more permanent, but Rujawitz said having a wide base should be enough. 

The aldermen will review the plans and maps, and move forward from there. 

In Other News:

• There will be no committee meetings on February 4. The Lebanon Planning Commission will meet on February 5, and there will be a public hearing at 7:00 p.m. to discuss proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan and revision of the planned use map. The finance, water and sewer, and personnel committees will meet on Wednesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m.

• The council approved changes to the city’s burial policy, including allowing burial on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The policy will aign with the state of Illinois’ Burial Rights Act. There will be fee changes for opening graves. Monday through Friday burials will cost $750, and weekend and holiday burials will cost $1,500. The cost of the plots and funerals are separate. Aldermen Almeter and Gerdes voted against the proposal. 

• City Attorney John Long updated the council on his research into changing ordinances regarding business licenses and special use permits, and said that Lebanon’s current ordinance mirrors multiple court decisions. 

From the 1961 case of Jones vs. Carbondale, Long read “A special use is a permission by the board to an owner to use his property in a manner contrary to the ordinance provided that the intended use is one of those specifically listed in the ordinance, and provided that the public convenience will be served by the use.” 

With legal notices, public hearings and ordinance amendments,  the entire process for business owners could take 60 days. 

“It’s unfortunate that it’s cumbersome, but there’s a reason for this, and cumbersome as it is, those are the rules,” Wilken said.

Lebanon Library referendum fails to make the April ballot

Dr. George Fero, Sr. (left) listens as resident Roberto Roma (second from right) asks questions about the proposed referendum. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon Library Board proposed a $4.16 million dollar referendum to the Lebanon City Council, and after a lengthy discussion and debate, it failed in a 5-3 vote. Library board members answered questions from council and community members about their dream project, and now have a new direction. 

As of last January, as specified by City of Lebanon Treasurer Paul Grob, the Lebanon Public Library became the owners of a building at 318 South Fritz that formerly housed St. Joseph’s grade school. The purchase price was over $50,000, and the move would allow the library to move from their 1,250 foot space on St. Louis Street to over 10,000 feet of space. The board has renderings and ideas for the new space on their website which include two floors of ideas, including a small cafe, a dedicated children’s area and several community rooms. 

Over the last several months, the board has mentioned several different numbers for the project that could be brought forth in a referendum on the April ballot, including most recently $2 million dollars. George Fero, Sr. presented to the council as they looked at preliminary design documents prepared this month, from Van Voyles of White & Borgognoni Architechts, P.C., located in Carbondale, Illinois. 

The documents include estimates for work to the existing structure, including demolition of much of the inside and abatement of environmental issues. “The first thing the structural engineer discovered was that the second floor could not withstand the weight of the books and stacks, and that that floor would need to be replaced. The approximate cost of that, currently in the estimate that you have, is about $400,000,” Fero said. 

Environmental concerns would cost another $97,900 for asbestos, mold and issues with bats, and another $14,350 would need to be spent on underground oil storage tank removal. The estimate includes just over $400,000 in electrical and plumbing work, and $358,248 for HVAC. 

The total for construction and design elements, such as a $3,500 clock, came to $2,656,338.93. The rest of the estimate includes contractor overhead and profits that near $200,000, almost $625,000 in contingency fees, and $414,089.41 in soft costs. Those costs include over $337,000 in architectural and engineering fees. 

The building would not be tornado or earthquake proof, but would be fireproof. Fero said the board was told by White & Borgognoni that the building did not have to be tornado or earthquake proof, and doing so would require a whole new structure. The building would also not be “turn key,” and would still need stacks and materials. Fero said the board planned to apply for grants to cover as much of those materials as possible.

The library board did do away with some wishes for the project to help lower costs, and noted that the presentation was of their dreams. Fero said “It will be a showcase facility for the city of Lebanon.” He added that bids may come in lower for the project, which could lower the tax that was passed forward to residents. Under the $4.16 million dollar referendum,

Alderman Rick Gale asked why the library needed 10,000 in square footage and if they could do with less, and mentioned that the new firehouse was under $2,000,000. Alderman Bart Bartholomew said “We need a new City Hall, too. Why couldn’t that be combined? If we build a new City Hall, we would have to have another bond issue. We could combine them to have one bond.”

“We weren’t looking for a 10,000 square foot building, we just wanted something,” said Library Board Member Julie Ford. She explained that the board searched for a long time and examined the idea of building from scratch before purchasing the former grade school. 

Several community members questioned the estimate and space needs, but none of the community or council members denied that the library does need a new space to be able to have programs for the more than 1,000 residents that use their services. 

After a motion to place the referendum on the April 2019 ballot, only aldermen Landall Mack, Wilbert Jenkins and Al Gerdes voted to approve the motion. Gerdes said he wanted to give the Lebanon residents the chance to decide for themselves. Aldermen Frank Almeter, Rick Gale, Joe Diliberto, Bart Bartholomew, and Cheri Wright voted against the referendum. 

After the measure failed, Mayor Rich Wilken took the suggestion of one of the meeting attendees to put together a committee to start looking at the feasibility of a new civic center that would serve as a joint use facility for City Hall and the library. Volunteers from the audience included Teddy Sells and Roberto Roma, with volunteers from the council including Frank Almeter, Cheri Wright, Al Gerdes and Paul Grob. An opportunity to volunteer for the committee will be presented to the public, and meetings will be open and comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 

The city council will meet on Friday, December 21 at 6:00 p.m. to vote on the purchase of a new dump truck, and then will not meet again until January.

Lebanon Council sends proposed tow company back to square one

4 Sells Towing owner Teddy Sells (left) responds to some of the comments from the crowd and questions from Alderwoman Cheri Wright. Property owner J.D. Biel (right) was also present for the meeting.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – One Lebanon resident will go back to the drawing board after a city council vote accepted the recommendation of the Lebanon Planning Commission to deny a special use permit to open a towing company lot at 606 McAllister. 

In a meeting that was heated and confusing at times to attendees and city staff, City Attorney John Long said that a council meeting vote was null and void until a hearing was held and the use was added to an existing list of possible uses for the current zone. 

The property sits adjacent to Jesus the Living Word Church and is zoned MH1, Manufactured Home. The area sits in a prominently African American neighborhood that residents are hard at work to clean up, taking vacant homes and lot and revamping them into community gardens and new homes, and making sure that a nearby park is clean and safe for the community. Resident Lafarrell Price said that most of the aldermen would not want the tow yard next to their homes or churches, and it was no different for this community. 

Applicant Teddy Sells currently leases the property at 606 McAllister and wants to move his towing company, 4 Sells Towing, to the lot. The lot would have a small gravel parking lot for customer parking and Sells’ three small tow trucks, as well as the office of his business. The towing lot where the cars would be held would be behind a six foot privacy fence and would be situated backing to into the woods. Sells noted at one point that no one from the street would know what was behind the fence unless they specifically tried to see over it. He agreed that chain link fencing with slats would not make the lot private enough, and added that he knows that towing businesses have a bad perception, and that he wanted to help be a part of setting the new standard. He mentioned that the lot would only contain cars that have been towed per insurance, such as after an accident, and cited not only the relative privacy, but the other towing and impound lot on the same street, catty corner to the church, Buhl’s Towing and Recovery, as part of why he felt the property was a good fit. 

Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Fairlie said “To break it down, there’s a church next door to it. The residents of the community are concerned with how it’s going to look, and whether it fits with the direction they want their community to go.”

Fairlie said that the planning commission heard hours of testimony from nearby residents and Sells, and deliberated over several factors, including the individual testimony since the property would be in a residential district, that Sells is currently leasing the property, that Sells’s business is currently based out of Mattoon, and that there is a petition signed by more than 40 area residents. After weighing everything, the commission voted to recommend denying the special use permit. Fairlie noted in his presentation that the commission understood that while a towing company was not included on a list of specific uses for MH1 zoning, “we believe exceptions can be made on a case by case basis.”

Alderwoman Cheri Wright mentioned that Sells lived only two blocks from the property and had children in the Lebanon schools, and said that she visited the property and took pictures, as well as examined the property surrounding the area. 

“He’s saying he doesn’t necessarily want the lot to go there and was looking for a commercial location, can’t find them. There are automotive locations down there, and there are other location businesses down there. I don’t think it’s fair that we tell someone that wants to bring business here that he can’t. Especially since he’s not interfering in the church. I did look around the neighborhood and some of the areas are a little rough,” Wright said.

Assistant Pastor Denice Price Martin spoke on behalf of audience members that took exception to Wright’s comments, saying, “I want to address when she stated she doesn’t think it’s fair. What isn’t fair is switching midstream on people that have lived there 20, 40, 50 years in an MH1 area. It’s not fair to rezone it and change it for a business to come in. You said it’s a rough area? There’s more areas of Lebanon that’s rough. Do you live there? Do you know?”

Wright responded “I don’t mean it’s rough as in the people. I mean some of the properties. The people are all very nice.”

City Attorney John Long brought up All About The Sweets Bakery, which also operates in the neighborhood, and said that when he was examining that instance, “I found out something there that applies directly to this, and that is that a provision in our code of ordinances says that if a use is not specifically allowed, neither the planning commission nor the city council has the leeway to approve it. What has to be done is it has to be taken to the Zoning Board of Appeals and written into the ordinance before we allow it. We actually have a problem with the bakery, and we have to go through the process of putting that into the zoning code, but that applies directly here because if it’s correct that this is not listed as a permitted special use in an MH district, then the city council’s vote will actually be annulling this because it has to go to the zoning board…. You can take the vote, it’s just not going to have any meaning.”

Long said that from the board of appeals, Sells would go back to the planning commission and repeat the process. Amidst confusion from aldermen, audience members, and Sells, Mayor Rich Wilken attempted to make the situation as clear as possible for what the process would be moving forward for Sells and other residents wanting to come into the area. 

Later, it was figured out that the planning commission would be the ones to add the special use to the list, not the zoning board of appeals. Fairlie said he wanted to know specifically to be sure to streamline the process for residents, so that they can have as smooth a process as possible. It was later decided that a special group will look at the verbiage in the ordinances to make the process easier and more timely, as well as clear to all city boards and commissions. 

Wilken called for a vote to know where the council stood on the issue, and it was a seven to one vote with Wright being the only dissenting vote. After the vote, Wilken and Sells had a heated exchange as Sells said multiple times that the vote was illegal and against the advice of the city attorney, and Wilken said that he had expressed the opinion it needed to be done.

Sells said he was not surprised to be denied, because he expected it after the planning commission meeting. “That meeting was perfectly civil, though. Everyone shook hands, and there was no animosity.”

Sells said what upset him the most was the behavior of Alderman Frank Almeter making him feel unwelcome in a town that he just wants to contribute to. When confirming the towing business was currently based out of Mattoon, Illinois, Almeter said “That’s a good place for it.“

Later, when Sells was speaking and forgot Almeter’s last name, the alderman said “It’s not important.” As Sells was leaving the building after a heated exchange with Mayor Wilken, Almeter made a comment about going back to Mattoon. 

“So I’m not welcome in town anymore Mr. Frank? Because I wasn’t born and raised here in town I’m not welcome to live and operate in Lebanon,” Sells asked. 

Almeter immediately responded “You don’t run the place do you? We run the place.”

Sells is not only a resident and local business owner, he is also a City of Lebanon volunteer firefighter, and says he has been attending city council meetings for months attempting to be a contributing member of the town.

“And that won’t change; that mess tonight will not run me out of Lebanon. I have a plan B, C, D, E and F,” he said. He also added that he felt bad for losing his cool, but is frustrated by what he feels is a lack of guidance and understanding from city officials. 

Sells plans to move forward with his business, still hoping to bring his tax dollars to Lebanon. Residents in the McAllister area say that they will continue to attend meetings to speak out against the business opening in their neighborhood. City officials plan to refund Sells the fees that he has paid so far for the process, and will work to streamline the process not only for Sells, but for future businesses wanting to come to Lebanon.

Lebanon council amends grocery store agreement

LEBANON – At a Lebanon City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 8, the council approved a resolution amending an agreement between the City of Lebanon and Elbe Enterprises to progress with the city’s plan for a grocery store.

Under the agreement, Elbe Enterprises will complete an engineering and architectural plan for a building permit to construct the entrance way for the grocery store. The developer also must apply for an access permit from the Illinois Department of Transportation before beginning construction.

As Elbe Enterprises begin construction, the city will begin construction on a culvert on the property for water runoff control. 

Alderman Rick Gale made a suggestion to amend the agreement to include that the amount for Lebanon’s financial responsibility not exceed $150,000.

The amended agreement reads: “The city shall not be obligated to proceed with the public project, however, if the lowest responsible bids that it receives for all aspects of the public project, in aggregate, exceed $150,000.”

Alderman unanimously agreed and signed the amended agreement. Mayor Rich Wilken said that construction will not likely begin until at least the beginning of 2019 as Elbe Enterprises has a minimum of 12 weeks to complete the engineering plan.

Lebanon council approves pay increase for city employees

LEBANON – At Monday’s Lebanon City Council meeting, the council approved a three percent pay increase for supervisors, part time and full-time city employees.

Auditor Kevin Tepen spoke to the council at the Oct. 8 meeting and summarized the Lebanon fiscal year 2018 audit report.

Tepen said that the current year overall for the taxing funds saw a decrease of about $32,000, while the general fund was down approximately $152,000. 

“The utility tax was up about $60,000,” Tepen said. 

He said that for water and sewer, “these funds have very good balances.” 

The sewer fund had an increase of about $418,000, while the water fund was up approximately $26,000.

“Those funds are looking a lot more solid than what you would be looking at on the tax side,” he said. 

Streets and alleys department head Jody McNeese said that flashing yellow caution lights were successfully installed at a cross walk at the high school.

“I talked to quite a few officers and crossing guards,” McNeese said. “They are ecstatic about the flashing yellow caution lights at the school. We have the most advanced crossing light down there at this point in time.”

Mayor Rich Wilken said that the caution light has a voice system that is compliant to those with disabilities. 

“It has made a tremendous big deal,” McNeese said. “It took us a while but we responded and did our due diligence with that.”

The city council agreed to renew a $100 per year membership with the local group Heartlands Conservancy. 

“They are working with the state and county to come up with answers to deal with flooding caused by the Silver Creek run off,” Wilken said. 

Wilken said that Lebanon is right in the “vortex” of the Silver Creek watershed.

“Lebanon is at risk of being an island,” he said. “It has safety and health related concerns for the fire department and ambulances.” 

He said that the local group is very active with meetings and also the EPA. One of the areas Heartlands Conservancy would look at would be the regular flooding of Route 50 and other streets throughout Lebanon. 

Lebanon Chief of Police David Roth said that last week – with the assistance of the O’Fallon Police Department, officers were sent to Lebanon High School for active shooter training. 

“It was exceptional training,” Roth said. “It was designed specifically for the teachers and staff. It was very well received by them.”

Lebanon declares Sept. 17-23 “Constitution Week”

Members of the Cahokia Mound Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution look on as Mayor Pro Tem Wilbert Jenkins reads the proclamation declaring September 17-23 as Constitution Week in Lebanon. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Annabelle Knef)

By Annabelle Knef

LEBANON – During Monday’s Lebanon City Council meeting, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution requested a signed proclamation designating that September 17-23 be considered Constitution Week. 

Serving as Mayor Pro Tem, Wilbert Jenkins granted that the week be officially declared Constitution Week in the city of Lebanon. 

Jenkins read from the proclamation, “Sept. 17, 2018 marks the 231st anniversary of the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America by the Constitutional Convention.” 

The celebration of the Constitution was started by the DAR in 1955. The week long observance of Constitution Week is meant to emphasize citizens’ responsibilities for protecting and defending the Constitution. 

Cox sworn in as Lebanon’s newest police officer

Gregg Cox is sworn in as the city’s newest police officer.

By Annabelle Knef

LEBANON – At the Lebanon City Council meeting Monday evening, Aug. 13, officer Gregg Cox was sworn in as a member of the Lebanon Police Department. 

Lebanon Chief of Police David Roth introduced Cox to aldermen and other’s gathered at Monday’s meeting. 

“It’s my pleasure and honor to introduce Gregg Cox – we met many years ago back when he was working for the O’Fallon Police Department. He worked for O’Fallon then moved on to Illinois State Police and put in 22 years,” Roth said. “I spoke with him about being a part of the Lebanon family and he was excited about it.” 

Cox said that he is “very excited” to be a part of the Lebanon community.

Lebanon residents seek update on Roger Drive flooding

Streets and Alleys committee members told residents that none of them gave Streets and Alleys Superintendent Jody McNeese an order to fill in a hole at Merril Street and Roger Drive, which the residents say now sends storm water running into different areas of the street. The committee members said that they could not recall voting on it as a council.

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – Residents brought forth concerns about worsening flooding along Roger Drive at the Lebanon Streets and Alleys committee meeting. After 20 years of small fixes and “kicking the can down the road” as one resident put it, they are eager to know when the project will be made a priority. 

Noel Harpe, a Roger Drive resident with deep pools of water on her property came forward to city council back in May with photos of the standing water of her property, which sits adjacent to property owned by McKendree University. Alderman Frank Almeter said he would personally pay for the portion of the pipe that needed to be replaced in front of Harpe’s home. Streets, Alleys and Cemetery Superintendent Jody McNeese told the council that he would get measurements and look into what it would take to help give Harpe relief. Since then, Almeter has paid for 140 feet of three foot pipe that is waiting to be installed by the city. 

Terry Weil, who owns a home on Roger Drive and has family in the immediate area, doesn’t feel like that will be enough. Weil, a contractor and licensed inspector, urged Almeter to have a new engineer look at the issues, especially since the current pipe that is deteriorating is three feet wide and water issues have persisted for “the past 20 years.” Weil held a thick file under his arm of photos and documents over the years, including petitions signed by Roger Drive residents asking for relief that were given to city council in January of 2016. 

Engineers have previously told the council that fixing the entire flooding problem along Roger Drive would cost an estimated $250,000. Mayor Rich Wilken said that finding the money to complete the project was “a priority.” Many avenues, including meeting with state legislative members, have been exhausted as the council has searched for assistance to complete the project. 

Wilken and McNeese met with Harpe and representatives from McKendree University in June, along with John Harryman, a District Conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Wilken was holding out hope that there may be federal funds available to the city. 

Harpe came to the committee meeting to address numerous large sinkholes in her yard, some nearing two feet deep, that make her concerned for neighborhood children. “Who’s responsible for fixing the sinkholes? Who bears the responsibility legally,” Harpe asked committee members Frank Almeter, Cheri Wright and Landall Mack. Al Gerdes was absent. 

Wright said she would prefer not to answer without City of Lebanon Attorney John Long present, as there could be many different answers, and she wanted to provide Harpe with the proper, legal response to her question. 

Weil asked committee members about rock that was used to fill in a hole at Merril Street and Roger Drive. “There was rock put over the drain again at the southeast corner of Merril and Roger. It was dumped there and leveled off with a city backhoe. Who authorized that? I was told by Jody that the city council told him to do it,” Weil said. 

Almeter said he “had no clue,” and Wright and Mack shook their heads. Weil asked if it was another verbal order, referring to the ongoing back pay issues facing the city. 

“Well, Friday morning, rock was dumped over the drain where water pools anyway, and now it’s even worse,” Weil said. Weil, Harpe and Almeter all spoke about concrete trucks that were washed out into the drain that began some of the issues at the corner years ago. Wright, Mack and Almeter said they would ask the rest of the council at the meeting next week who had given McNeese the order. 

The committee did say they would recommend purchasing tablets to rid the standing water of mosquito larvae, and to place cones around the sinkholes on Harpe’s property to make people more aware of where they are in her yard. They also said they would keep Roger Drive water issues on the city council agenda to keep the project moving forward. 

Lebanon Council approves study that could expand TIF

Economic Development Resources Project Manager Daniel Schmidt presented the map of the newly suggested boundaries for the expanded TIF district to the Lebanon City Council members. During his presentation, Schmidt read a list of reasons that the new area qualifies for blight and/or conservation status, including deterioration, inadequate utilities, and a lack of growth or a decline. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon City Council members voted to adopt an amended eligibility study and TIF plan that could expand the Lebanon TIF property area by more than double the original projection. Economic Development Resources Project Manager Daniel Schmidt presented the amended study to the council at their first regular July meeting. 

“152 acres either already in the city or anticipated to be annexed to the city. Fifty of those acres are improved, 84.5 acres have been determined to be vacant, and the remaining 17 acres have been determined to be right of way,” Schmidt explained, as he pointed to the new, larger area on a map he presented to the council. 

The established TIF district is a fraction of the size and sits in one corner corner of the suggested boundaries. The only new businesses included in the new boundaries that Schmidt mentioned by name were the Lebanon Flea Market and Casey’s General Store. 

Schmidt said that EDR was asked to figure whether or not the area qualified for TIF redevelopment funds, and found that they qualified based on a few factors, including deterioration of buildings, fences, parking lots, fences and more; Inadequate utilities such as asbestos cement pipe carrying potable water, clay pipe used for sewage, and poor storm drainage; And a lack of growth and equalized assessed value. In fact, the area had a decrease in EAV for three of the five calendar years from 2012-2017 according to Schmidt. All of these factors qualified the improved area for conservation status. 

In the vacant area, he noted that there was obsolete platting, deterioration of neighboring structures in the improved areas, and again, decreases in EAV, which qualified the area as “blighted.”

After the council voted to approve the initial TIF district in April 2018, Mayor Rich Wilken said efforts would begin to pursue a larger eligibility study. He hopes to lure some large businesses to the area South of Highway 50 on Route 4, including what he referred to as “light manufacturing and warehouse and distribution” that he said the city has been in the hunt for, but will now be more enticing. 

He added that including the area along McAllister is important in case the railroad ever shuts down the line so that the city can expand their industrial and commercial area since they would own the property. 

This was only the initial presentation by Schmidt. With the council’s approval, he will now formally begin looking at annexing the properties in what would be the new TIF zone, and City Attorney John Long suggested coordinating efforts to see if there would be any issues with water establishment with customers switching from SLM or Tri-Township Water due to federal statutes that make it necessary to get permission before annexation. 

Schmidt and Long will return to the council with any issues, and barring none, EDR will make a final boundary recommendation in August, and the council would vote to adopt a permanent TIF expansion in October. 

The council members voted unanimously to move the project forward. 

In Other News…

• The council members also unanimously voted to award the new Lebanon Water and Sewer Plant project to Haier Plumbing, pending approval of the EPA grant. Haier made a bid for the project in the amount of $12,132,000. The plant would house not only water and sewer, but all of the city’s public works employees and equipment. The plan is for ground to break this fall. 

• A unanimous vote allowed for $209.85 to be spent in addition to $18,000 already allocated for two cameras for Lebanon Police cruisers, as well as better microphones and other equipment. Police Chief David Roth has applied for and secured a grant that will reimburse all of the city’s costs for the equipment itself, but he cautioned the council that the $18,209.85 does not include installation, and he was not sure yet what that amount would be. 

• Six of the eight council members returned comments to Personnel Committee Head, Alderman Rick Gale, regarding the AFSCME contract. Gale will compile the comments and then contact AFSCME Representative Ed LaPorte to set a meeting and see what can be done regarding finalizing the contract with the city workers. 

Further investigations into the back pay, as well as the continued pay raise, brought to light by Treasurer Paul Grob at the meeting, are ongoing.

Regarding what to do about the back pay payments, Gale said “We have asked for recommendations for resolutions from the Illinois Municipal League regarding the best procedure to handle that, and best procedures to follow, but that is information only at this point.”

In her report, Clerk Luanne Holper said that she and Accountant Barb Cioni would be requiring written requests before processing financial transactions moving forward to prevent further confusion, a move that Alderman Bart Bartholemew said was “Very smart.”

Lebanon council investigates more than $12,000 in back payments to city workers

Resident Bill Eckert demanded aldermen answer why $12,253.60 was paid out to city workers with no council knowledge and no one claiming authorization for the checks. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon City Council voted down a proposed AFSCME contract and is continuing their investigation into exactly how nine city employees were issued “back pay” in the total amount of $12,253.60 without contract approval. 

At the June 11 council meeting, Alderman Cheri Wright brought up the back pay as a rumor, and Street, Alley and Cemetery Superintendent Jody McNeese confirmed that some employees had indeed received the payments. Wright asked Alderman Al Gerdes to look into the payments, and his investigation led him to the city’s bookkeeper, Barb Cioni.

To read the full article, pick up a copof this week’s paper on newsstands now. Or, click here for the digital edition. Wish to receive the paper weekly? Go to our Subscription Page to find out rates and how you can subscribe to our weekly paper.