Paxton proceeding with downtown streetscape project

PAXTON — Sometime next year, the city is expected to begin revamping its historic downtown business district with the construction of a new street, curbs, sidewalks and street lights.

The city council reiterated its support for the proposed downtown streetscape project Tuesday, telling Mayor Bill Ingold to continue with his preparations for applying for financing through the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

The city is hoping to fund the project using the $1.14 million in funds that the city was required to return to the DCEO following the termination of the city’s revolving-loan fund. For the city to get the money back, the DCEO is requiring the city to file an application outlining its project so that the DCEO can determine if it qualifies as eligible.

Because the revolving-loan fund was a program of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) — with the DCEO administering it locally — the city’s project must meet at least one of HUD’s national objectives.

The streetscape project appears to qualify, as it helps in the “prevention of slums and blight” — one of HUD’s objectives. The downtown happens to be within a tax-increment financing (TIF) district, which could not have been created without evidence of blight.

While city officials are confident the city will get all $1,141,678 returned, they are not sure just how far that money will go. Ingold said it is quite possible only some aspects of the project can be completed using the DCEO funds, but he said the rest could be completed over time if necessary using other revenue sources.

Ingold said an initial estimate provided by engineers showed it could cost around $550,000 just to construct a new asphalt street surface on four blocks of Market Street, spanning from Orleans to Holmes streets. Ingold said he was still waiting on cost estimates for other aspects of the project, such as curb work, sidewalk replacement and the installation of new street lights.

Ingold said he would hopefully be able to provide the council with updated figures at its January meeting.

The city is allowed to complete up to two projects using the DCEO funds. Aldermen had contemplated using some of the money on improvements to the water and sewer system, but they agreed Tuesday that using all of the money on the downtown streetscape project would be the best idea, given that it does not appear the project can be funded any other way.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get the money otherwise to do it,” Alderman Rob Steiger said. “I don’t see the loan funds available. I don’t see the grants available. ... We could use some TIF money (to fund the project), but that’s not what we intended that for.”

Ingold said the project is “really something that needs to be done,” noting that Market Street is in poor shape in many areas, the downtown’s curbs vary in height and present a safety hazard, and the downtown’s sidewalks have seen better days.

City officials hope the planned infrastructure improvements lead to improved commerce. Business leaders attending the meeting supported the city’s plans.

“I think this is amazing and that you should go for it,” said Teri Hancock of the nonprofit organization Paxton PRIDE.

“Your downtown is your community, and that will be a reflection back on people looking to settle here,” added Ron Lenington, a local real estate agent.

Other business
Also during Tuesday’s meeting:

➜ The mayor said the annual meeting of the TIF district’s joint-review board would be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, at City Hall, 145 S. Market St. Aldermen serving on the joint-review board are Mike Wilson, Bill Wylie and Rob Pacey. Ingold said the city’s TIF consultant, Springfield attorney Dan Schuering, would be in attendance to give the group an update on the TIF district’s revenue and expenses.

➜ Pacey requested that a committee meeting be held in January to discuss dilapidated homes the city may want to demolish and potentially hiring a consultant to make updates to the city’s zoning map and zoning ordinance.

➜ Engineer Greg Gustafson of Urbana-based Berns, Clancy & Associates said that as a result of the one-year inspection of the city’s repainted water towers, “there was a photo cell out and the obstruction lights were not working.” Gustafson said, however, that the failed equipment has since been replaced, and “the lights are shining brightly just in time for the holidays.”

➜ The council voted unanimously to approve the city’s tax levy ordinance.

➜ The council approved an updated policy prohibiting sexual harassment by city employees. City Attorney Marc Miller said the only change in the policy when compared with the one the council approved earlier this year is that there is now a 300-day time limit, rather than a 180-day time limit, for employees to file a complaint related to being retaliated against for having filed a sexual harassment complaint.

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