Rob Steiger, Rob Pacey and Kamalen Johnson Anderson

Paxton aldermen, from left, Rob Steiger, Rob Pacey and Kamalen Johnson Anderson discuss business during the city council's Nov. 12 meeting.

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PAXTON — Paxton residents can continue to burn their leaves after all — and with no restrictions.

A month after lifting a yearlong ban on the burning of leaves within the city, aldermen considered putting some restrictions on leaf burning back in place during the city council’s Nov. 12 meeting.

However, the proposal to allow leaf burning during daylight hours only and not on specific holidays was rejected via a 7-1 vote.

Alderman Rob Steiger had suggested the proposal during an Oct. 29 meeting of the council’s public works committee. Steiger, the committee’s chairman, said it was meant to be a “compromise” to balance the concerns of both residents who want leaf burning allowed and those who do not.

After a 15-minute debate on Nov. 12, however, aldermen were nearly unanimously against the idea, including Steiger himself.

“I don’t think we need to revisit it,” Steiger said. “I think (the council’s opinion is) pretty clear.”

Aldermen said that following the Oct. 29 meeting, a number of residents voiced opposition to the proposal. Alderman Eric Evans said some residents felt that allowing leaf burning from dawn to dusk on every day of the week would do little to address concerns among residents who experience health issues that can be worsened due to exposure to smoke. Alderman Deane Geiken said some residents felt that banning leaf burning on holidays, meanwhile, would be “over-legislating.”

Steiger, at first, stood by his proposal, noting that it would be less restrictive than allowing leaf burning only on certain days of the week or during certain months of the year.

“And as for the holidays, honestly, I’d hate to have (a neighbor) fire up a big bonfire of leaves right next to (my home) on one of the days I’ve got my family over and we’re all out in the back yard,” Steiger said.

A resident in attendance pointed out, however, that many people in town work full-time jobs during the day and, especially during the fall when leaves are coming down, may not get home until after it is already dark outside. Under Steiger’s proposal, the resident said, most working residents would only be able to burn their leaves in the daytime on weekends — and that is assuming the weather cooperates — or instead would need to start burning their leaves in the morning on weekdays and then leave the fire unattended while they are at work.

No one in the audience spoke in favor of the proposed restrictions.

Alderman Rob Pacey recommended the council either continue to allow leaf burning with no restrictions or ban it again entirely.

“It’s black-and-white — you burn or you don’t,” Pacey said.

Only one alderman — Kamalen Johnson Anderson — voted in support of the proposal. Voting “no” were Steiger, Evans, Geiken, Pacey, Susan Satterlee, Mike Wilson and Justin Withers.

The council’s decision last month to repeal the leaf-burning ban — which was in effect since summer 2018 — was a result of difficulties among residents in disposing of their leaves in an alternative fashion.

With no leaf-removal service provided by the city, some residents had been trying to mulch their leaves, while others had been taking them out of town to burn. Then there were others who were paying a leaf-removal company to pick up their leaves, with one resident saying he spent $300 to do so last fall.

In the months following the ban’s implementation, the council discussed buying leaf-removal equipment and having city workers go around town and pick up leaves using it. However, aldermen agreed that the cost would be burdensome.

The cost for a new leaf vacuum is around $65,000, Mayor Bill Ingold said. Also, operating the equipment would require four of the city’s public works department employees, plus two trucks, Steiger noted.

Yet another issue is the fact that the city has no place to deposit or legally burn residents’ leaves. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency regulations prohibit the burning of leaves at the city’s brush pile on Pit Road south of town, and the Ford County Public Health Department also has notified the city that it intends to revise the county’s nuisance ordinance to address the issue of burning. In a letter sent by the health department to the city in August, the agency recommended the city “begin thinking about alternatives to burning at the burn pile.”

“That’s why we’re looking at (allowing the) burning (of) leaves again — because we don’t have the machinery and equipment, we can’t afford it, and we don’t have a place to put (the leaves),” Johnson Anderson said.

Other business

Also at the Nov. 12 meeting:

➜ The council voted 8-0 to approve the city’s tax levy ordinance, showing a projected $671,915 in property taxes to be collected next summer.

➜ The council voted 8-0 to approve a resolution authorizing the city to levy a tax for the maintenance of the Paxton Carnegie Library at a rate not to exceed 0.02 percent of the value of all taxable property in the city.

➜ The council voted 8-0 to approve an ordinance abating the city’s tax levy for general obligation waterworks and sewerage refunding bonds issued in 2011. Wilson, chairman of the council’s finance/budget committee, said the levy is no longer needed because the city is collecting funds to pay off the bonds through bimonthly water and sewer bills.

➜ Reg Ankrom, president of Quincy-based Simec, updated the council on the city’s electrical aggregation program. Under a contract with the city, Simec recently sought bids from alternative retail electric suppliers interested in replacing the existing electrical aggregation contract the city has with Homefield Energy, which ends next June. Four firms submitted bids, Ankrom said. He said the “best bid” — from Homefield Energy — calls for a fixed supply rate of 4.584 cents per kilowatt hour — which reflects “a substantial decrease” from the existing electrical aggregation rate of 6.285 cents and also is lower than Ameren Illinois’ current “blended rate” of 4.7 cents. “Of the roughly 625 communities in Illinois that have electric aggregation, this rate is the lowest,” Ankrom said. About a month and a half before the new rate kicks in for the following two years, Ankrom said, Homefield Energy will notify residents who are already participating in the electrical aggregation program, or who are eligible to participate in it, of the new rate and the program’s terms and conditions. They will also be notified of their right to “opt out” of the program, Ankrom said. Those residents who had already opted out of the program within the past year and chose to stay with Ameren Illinois as their electric supplier — as well as those who already have signed up with other alternative retail electric suppliers — will not be notified, Ankrom said.

➜ Evans announced that the Paxton Area Chamber of Commerce and PRIDE in Paxton have offered to donate $10,000 and $12,000, respectively, toward the city’s upcoming downtown streetscape improvement project. “They do a lot for the community that I think a lot of people don’t see,” Evans said, “and when they offered this up, we wanted that to be known, that they’re helping out and it’s something they don’t have to (do).” Mayor Bill Ingold said he has discussed with the two nonprofit organizations the possibility of using the $22,000 toward the construction of a brick sign — 7 feet long, 2 feet wide and 4 feet tall — where Market Street turns into Ottawa Road south of the downtown. The $25,000 sign would say something like “Downtown Paxton” or “Welcome to Paxton’s Business District,” Ingold said.

➜ The mayor said a letter was sent the previous day to the attorney for Scott Schertz, owner of Hudson-based Schertz Aerial Service Inc., advising him that within the next two weeks, the city intends to start proceeding with the sale of the Paxton Municipal Airport to Atlantic Ag Aviation Inc., a firm owned by David Hrupsa of Roper, N.C. Schertz, one of Hrupsa’s competitors in the aerial crop-spraying industry, has reportedly threatened to sue the city if it sells the airport to Hrupsa. Schertz’s attorney reportedly has claimed that because the airport is located within a tax-increment financing district, the city can only sell it after first publicly soliciting requests for proposals for its redevelopment — which the city never did.

➜ The council approved an ordinance authorizing a one-year agreement with the Illinois Municipal League Risk Management Association (IMLRMA), effective Jan. 1. City Comptroller/Treasurer Tammy Jensen said that under the agreement, the city will pay a “minimum/maximum premium” that should save the city about $10,000 when compared with paying a traditional premium.

➜ Withers, chairman of the council’s community committee, reminded the public that Paxton’s annual Christmas Parade will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Also, the annual tree-lighting ceremony is set for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, at the intersection of Market and State streets.

➜ Johnson Anderson announced that her son Victor’s animated Christmas light display — featuring more than 140,000 multi-colored lights, all synchronized to music broadcast over a low-power FM transmitter — will be returning to the Johnson home at 332 W. Patton St. for the holiday season starting on the night of Thanksgiving, Nov. 28. The mayor said the light display brings “an awful lot of people to Paxton,” adding that “it’s really well worth anybody’s time to drive and go sit up there (to see it).” The mayor asked spectators to park their vehicles on the north side of Patton Street while watching the display, so that everyone can get a view of it on the street’s south side.

➜ Geiken, chairman of the council’s economic development committee, said the Paxton Inn — a motel next to Interstate 57 on the city’s west side — has a new owner. Geiken said that Manish Puri recently purchased the motel. The mayor said that Puri, a Champaign resident, has indicated that he plans to make some changes at the motel, which are expected to be finalized around Dec. 1. Ingold said he recently drove Puri around town, including to two of its schools, and Puri, who has a 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old daughter, was “really impressed with those facilities” and said he would be interesting in not just doing business in Paxton but also living there.

➜ The council voted 8-0 to authorize the city to reimburse two companies for the redevelopment of their respective properties located within the city’s tax-increment financing district: Food Fight Enterprises, which will be reimbursed $5,736 for improvements to The Humble Hog restaurant; and Paxton Hotel Group LLC, which will be reimbursed $39,029 in eligible redevelopment costs associated with the construction of the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites. Subsequent reimbursements to Paxton Hotel Group LLC will be made in upcoming years. In December, the council will consider reimbursing a third company — Scaggs Properties LLC — for some of the redevelopment of the building at 102 S. Market St., now occupied by The Harvest Ale House. The mayor said $397,930 is to be reimbursed to Scaggs Properties LLC by the time the TIF district's lifespan ends.

➜ Johnson Anderson said she was working to create a map of Paxton that would show the locations of stop and yield signs. She said having such a map would allow aldermen to see the traffic patterns in the city when considering the installation of new traffic signs, for example. “Sometimes, I think, we just put a Band-Aid on things because someone complains about it, and I think we need to study the effect of some of these decisions before we make those decisions,” she said. “I think it’s easier to look at a map and visualize it and then discuss it.”

➜ The mayor said he expects a monitor to soon be purchased for use in the city council chambers at City Hall. “We’d be able to use that to show whatever we want (during meetings); it would save us a lot of paper, a lot of time,” Ingold said.

➜ Ingold said Dana Bergandine will be resigning from the Paxton Carnegie Library board and that Hillary Sawyer has agreed to take Bergandine’s place on the board. Ingold said the council should be prepared to vote on Sawyer’s appointment in December.

➜ Ingold thanked the volunteers who maintain Majestic Park downtown, including Dorothy Engdahl, Nancy Dewey, Sandy Ashmore and Pam and Bob Reber. “Those people go out there and really work at this,” Ingold said. “They really do a great job, and they don’t get any pay; it’s just for their own satisfaction getting that done.”

➜ Ingold said one of the public works department’s trucks was getting a new bed installed on it in Danville, and another one was in Champaign being repaired. As a result, “we’ve been scrambling trying to get the snow plowed and salt put down and everything else,” Ingold said, adding that city workers have also been dealing with “a couple of very good-sized water issues.”

➜ Steiger said a tower at Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative fell down the previous morning, causing an interruption to WPXN-Radio’s broadcast and Internet services at Paxton-Buckley-Loda schools. “Was it (caused by) wind?” Johnson Anderson asked. “I don’t know,” Steiger responded.

➜ Pacey, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said Paxton-based Brust Tuckpointing has finished making repairs to the brick on the Paxton Emergency Management Agency’s building on West State Street downtown.

➜ The council voted 8-0 to authorize the mayor to sign an interagency user agreement with Illinois State Police.