Paxton seeks state approval for using funds on streetscape project

PAXTON — By the end of this year, the city of Paxton hopes to have secured the state’s approval for the city to use its remaining $1.2 million in revolving-loan funds toward the improvement of Paxton’s downtown streetscape.

Mayor Bill Ingold said the federally funded revolving-loan program, administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO), is being terminated. As a result, Paxton and the other 49 communities in Illinois that have been participating in the program must file an application with the agency seeking its authorization to pursue projects using any remaining revolving-loan funds they still have on hand.

The revolving-loan program was created about 20 years ago for the purpose of retaining or creating jobs, with communities able to loan the funds to local businesses for that specific purpose. With the program being terminated, however, the DCEO has expanded the range of eligible uses for revolving-loan funds to allow for each community’s remaining funds to be used toward infrastructure projects, Ingold said.

Paxton intends to use its remaining $1.2 million in revolving-loan funds to redevelop its downtown streetscape, Ingold said. The project would mean a new street, new curbs and gutters and new sidewalks, as well as new traffic and pedestrian lights, new signage and other features that will beautify the business district, Ingold said. The project would be completed in phases.

A proposed streetscape design has already been developed by the Farnsworth Group. The city now just needs to formally apply to the DCEO for its approval of using revolving-loan funds on the project. Ingold said the city hopes to have its application filed, reviewed and approved by December.

“If it’s approved by DCEO, we can start that project this year,” Ingold told aldermen during a combined meeting of the city council’s economic development, long-term planning and community committees last week.

If the city has not received DCEO approval for the use of its remaining revolving-loan funds by January 2019, Ingold said he expects the state agency to ask the city to return its remaining funds. The city would then need to ask DCEO for the funds once its project is approved.

The city’s revolving-loan fund contains about $285,000, Ingold said. There are also about $880,000 in revolving-loan funds that have been loaned to local businesses and are still being paid back, meaning the city’s revolving-loan funds total about $1.2 million.

Ingold said the DCEO would prefer that the city have its outstanding loans collected entirely before any project is pursued. To do that, Ingold said the city could ask the two businesses that still have loans out — Colmac Coil and Central Lean — to renegotiate the terms of their loans so that the city could collect the funds owed quicker, Ingold said.

“Or we could find a company or a bank that would be willing to buy those receivables,” Ingold said. “Or we could take out a loan ourselves and use the receivables to pay that back.”

The city’s financial advisor, Freddie Beth Schmutte, is working on possible scenarios “on what we can do with the $880,000 in receivables,” Ingold said.

Other business
Also at last week’s committee meeting:

➜ Ingold said he has been in contact with Illinois Department of Transportation officials about the city’s intent to apply for a vegetation-control permit for the areas around the Interstate 57 interchange. IDOT officials told Ingold that the agency has stopped issuing vegetation-control permits, but such permits are expected to be made available at some point soon, hopefully this summer. Like Paxton, Manteno is also applying for a permit, Ingold said.

➜ After a wheelchair-bound resident raised concerns last month about a curb on U.S. 45 near Clayton’s Bridge and asked that the curb be removed, Ingold said he met with IDOT officials about the matter. “They looked at it,” Ingold said. “They said it was well within their dimensions of 6 1/2 feet at a 6-inch drop from one place to the other, so they’re going to go ahead and tear that sidewalk out and build (a ramp).”

➜ Ingold said two ash trees along U.S. 45 near Orleans Street are to be removed by IDOT sometime after October.

➜ Ingold said the Paxton Packing LLC beef-jerky manufacturing plant at the intersection of State and Taft streets is looking to expand its production and office areas. “They’re going to need more room,” Ingold said. “They’ve got a couple of pretty good-sized contracts in addition to the ones that they already have, and so they’re going to need to have more space.”

➜ Ingold said improvements are being made to the appearance of buildings downtown on Market Street. The north and east sides of the Hope Vineyard Church building recently were repainted. Also, the building that houses Hudson Drug & Hallmark Shop had its upper-floor windows repainted, and the Arcade Cafe & Pancake House has been remodeled on the interior with a new facade being put up outside. A new facade is also being installed at 125 S. Market St. by Corey Tavenner. The first floor of the historic Remembrance Hall is also occupied now with an Edward Jones office, Paxton Area Chamber of Commerce office and Kief Realty office.

➜ Alderman Mike Wilson said Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative has installed a new LED sign outside its building on West Ottawa Road. Ingold said that First National Bank in downtown Paxton plans to install its own new LED sign, as well.

➜ Ingold said the four empty storefronts downtown might be occupied within three months. “We’ve got four people looking at doing things in (those locations),” Ingold said.

➜ Ben Grice, owner of the Harvest Ale House at 102 S. Market St., has asked if the city council would consider allowing him to have outside dining on the sidewalk directly north of his restaurant, Ingold said. Alderman Rob Pacey said he thinks outside seating is “worth exploring,” but he noted that it might not work in some areas due to a lack of space.

➜ Ingold said another entrance to the parking lot of the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites on West Ottawa Road is being considered. The second entrance would be on the hotel property’s west side, and the road leading to it could also be used to access other businesses that locate in that same area.

➜ The city is moving forward with the demolition of dilapidated homes at 137 W. Oak St., 234 W. State St. and 354 E. Fulton St. Ingold said he has already contacted two companies that do demolition work, and he expects bids to be discussed by the city council in July. After the homes are torn down, the city is likely to acquire the properties and can then sell them as vacant lots that can be developed.

➜ Alderman Eric Evans said a new business is in town, called 51 Fire & Safety. It is owned by Dan Cribbett and operated out of his home.

➜ Ingold said Paxton will host the next meeting of the Central Illinois Municipal Officers Association (CIMOA). The meeting will be held either July 19 or July 26 at the Little Chef Diner on John Street. “They are very willing just to close down for a night to host it,” Ingold said. A menu for the meeting has been worked out, Ingold said, and will include stuffed chicken breast, pork loin, roasted wedge potatoes, a vegetable medley, fruit plate, coffee, iced tea and water. The cost for attendees is $18 per person. The speaker for the meeting is expected to be a representative of the “CEO program” that is being introduced in fall 2019 at area schools, including Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School. Also expected to be in attendance is state Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City. CIMOA meets every three months, with the last meeting occurring in Clinton.

➜ Ingold pitched the idea of making Paxton a designated “Dark Sky Community.” Dark Sky Communities promote “ecotourism” by preservation of the night sky through implementation and enforcement of quality lighting codes, dark sky education and citizen support of dark skies. There is no cost to the city, Ingold said, adding that “we don’t have to do anything different as far as any lighting, as far as street lights or house lights or anything.” Ingold said being a Dark Sky Community might being people to Paxton to watch the sky, and while here they may stay in a hotel, eat at a restaurant or buy gas. “People will come from all over the Midwest to come to some place that’s got a minimum of lights so they can look at the stars and all the other things up there (in the sky),” Ingold said.

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