Limits on public comments to see vote next month

PAXTON — It will be next month before the Ford County Board formalizes its public comments policy.

On Monday night, the board defeated a resolution that would have limited individual public comments to three minutes apiece with a maximum public comment period of 30 minutes.

In November, the board will vote on a resolution that limits individuals to five minutes of comments with no cap on the total comment period.

Only Chairman Randy Berger of Gibson City voted in favor of the resolution presented to the board Monday night.

Several board members said they could live with the three-minute limit but not the overall cap.

Board member Jason Johnson of rural Paxton said he did not like that public comment could be limited to agenda items only. Board member Tim Nuss of Roberts said he did not think there should be any time or subject limits on public comment.

“This is the people’s podium,” Nuss said. “We shouldn’t restrict them in any way. I hate to recommend that residents drive 45 minutes here to speak and then limit them to just 15 minutes.”

However, board member Dr. Bernadette Ray of Gibson City offered an alternate view. Ray said residents having to sit through 2 1/2 hours of unlimited comments could be off-putting, as well. Ray noted that there is always an agenda item for written correspondence, but rarely does the board receive written comments from residents.

Under the originally proposed resolution presented Monday, if more than 10 members of the public wanted to speak, then they would have had to enter a lottery for one of the 10 slots.

For much of the past year, people have spoken to the board about an amended wind farm ordinance the board will consider, but rarely has that actual ordinance been listed on the agenda.

Ten residents attended Monday’s meeting, and five spoke to the board about either increasing proposed setbacks for wind turbines or ending wind farm construction in the county altogether. They were each limited to three minutes under the board’s informal rules.

Mary Ann Harris of Mary Ann’s Country Kennels told the board she has been in business for 40 years. Harris said her kennel building lies in the middle portion of her property, some distance from her home. Proposed setbacks would be measured from the primary structure of a property, her home. But Harris said that could site turbines too close to what she called “the dog house,” stressing the dogs and perhaps sickening them.

Harris said such issues could lead to her customers taking their business elsewhere and leaving her nine employees out of a job. Harris urged the board to make setbacks from the property line and not the primary structure.

Patty Meunier brought and set up a scale model that included a turbine sized like the ones built in the county already, along with a proposed 650-foot-tall turbine and a house. Meunier marked out the recommended evacuation zone for current turbines but noted that there is no such recommended zone for the taller towers proposed. Meunier included a model of the St. Louis arch, demonstrating that the 650-foot tower would be taller than that.

Karen Wright asked the board to “refigure,” accusing the wind farm companies of “sneaking in” and the board not keeping the public in the know. 

“Money isn’t everything,” Wright said.

Greg Phillips told the board he hoped it would listen to Ford County taxpayers and not outsiders.

Emily Lattz told the board that her husband, a retired Champaign fireman, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  They live in Garber, and Lattz told the board the shadow flicker from turbines could be problematic for her husband.

One resident said after the meeting that she is in favor of wind power but did not speak up. She said she was taking notes for her own use.

No representatives of wind farm developers attended the meeting.

Berger told the board he will want at least a full two weeks after the zoning board of appeals takes any action on the proposed changes to the wind-farm ordinance for county board members to review the zoning board’s decision and all public testimony. Berger said the board will then likely hold a special meeting to vote on the changes. The next zoning board of appeals meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the courthouse in Paxton, and the zoning board may meet again after that.

Also Monday, finance/budget committee Chairman Chase McCall of Gibson City said a proposed budget for the next fiscal year has been prepared and is available in the county clerk’s office for review. McCall said he projects a $6,000 deficit, which he said makes the budget practically balanced.

A year ago, McCall projected a $250,000 deficit. That has not materialized, and McCall said he foresees a cash carryover as of Dec. 1.

McCall said the deficit has been eliminated through responsible spending by department heads; a dramatic increase in jail boarding income, especially increased use by the U.S. Marshals Service; and the shortened period between due dates for property taxes this year that had many residents opting to pay their entire bill at the first due date.

Other business
Also Monday night:

➜ The board approved the Ford County Public Building Commission’s property tax levy of $225,000 for the 2018-19 budget year.

➜ The board appointed Thomas Townsend as a commissioner on the Ford County Public Building Commission to serve an unexpired two-year term.
 

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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