Russell Ehlers

Russell Ehlers

ELLIOTT — Residents again filled the Elliott Village Board’s meeting room on Tuesday, April 9, to voice complaints about the village’s water and about the board’s chosen priorities.

The meeting concluded with resignations from Trustee J.B. Daughenbaugh and Board President Russ Ehlers, although neither resignation was tied to the complaints.

Ruth Reiners, a former village treasurer, criticized the order of decisions by the board, saying that water quality should have been taken care of before cosmetic fixes to the town’s water tower. Reiners likened the board’s actions to a cat chasing its tail, emphasizing that “the tail is in front of the cat.”

Trustee Jerald Harris reacted to Reiners’ criticism by standing up and telling her that she could have his seat before he abruptly left the meeting.

Reiners said she thought that such a large and costly project as repainting the water tower — with a $198,200 price tag — should have been placed on an election ballot for residents’ approval before being pursued.

Ehlers disagreed and said the board had publicized a meeting on the project, but only two people attended. Most of those present indicated they were not aware of the meeting notice.

Amid criticisms of the board’s failure to communicate adequately, resident Tasha Kessinger wondered why the board had not communicated its intentions to residents via interim water bills regularly going to each household.

“It would have been very easy to do at no cost,” Kessinger said.

New engineer’s presentation

Ehlers introduced Lee Beckman, a professional engineer and partner with Milano & Grunlough of Effingham. Following up on a previous suggestion from David Hudson, a soon-to-be Elliott resident now employed by the Dewey water department, Ehlers said he had talked with southern Illinois firms involved in low-cost water-system development.

Beckman said his firm specializes in water systems and has been successful in securing grants for small rural communities. Beckman said that in 2018, all of the firm’s seven submissions were awarded grants. In 2017, the firm’s record was 11 successes in 12 submissions, Beckman said.

Beckman reviewed funding possibilities available for low-interest long-term loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. There could be some forgiveness of loan principal through the EPA, but he emphasized that neither is a grant and some or all monies must be repaid.

According to Beckman, the village’s “best bet” would be to seek an infrastructure grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Amounts of up to $500,000 could be received for each of two years, with separate annual (instead of previously bi-annual) project requests.

Beckman estimated $500,000 from each grant would cover installation of new water lines and construction of a new water tower.

Resident Ed Godsey, who formerly served as the village’s water operator, said he believes from his experience that new water lines would also improve most water-pressure problems.

The deadline for this year’s grant applications is Aug. 28, and Beckman cautioned that potential projects for grants would have to be shovel-ready — with plans and engineering done in advance — and the village would have to meet requirements of having 51 percent of residents be of low-to-moderate income.

“It’s a lot of work,” Beckman said of the grant submission, which his firm provides at no additional cost.

However, Beckman said he believes work could be completed for this year’s grant cycle and if funding is received, work could begin sometime in 2020. His firm would apply for the grant only if it feels the project would qualify.

There would also be a cost to the village of $100,000 per project for engineering plans and construction supervision. However, Beckman said his firm would not charge engineering fees if the grant is not approved.

Resident Ryan Clements said he would not mind an increase to his water bill if it paid for actual improvements to the water. Most of those present agreed.

Only resident Howard Rutledge disagreed.

“It’s going to cost you a lot more than you think,” Rutledge warned.

For a new water tower, the village would also have to secure a new location so that water could continue to be provided during the new tower’s construction.

Trustee J.B. Daughenbaugh questioned Beckman’s cost estimates based on a similar $2.3 million project that nearby Ludlow is undertaking.

Beckman said there could be any number of project differences to account for the large price variance, but he stood by his estimates of $500,000 each for the two potential Elliott projects.

Painting contract terminated

In followup action from a special meeting held March 21 to review the water tank repainting contract and the cost to terminate it, the five remaining board members voted unanimously to terminate the contract with Viking Painting of Omaha, Neb.

The amount it will cost the village to cancel the previously signed contract could be as high as $27, 755.

Joe Pisula, a professional engineer with Donohue & Associates of Champaign, the firm retained to engineer the water tank repainting, handed out copies of a potential change order to terminate Viking Painting’s contract as of April 9.

Details of the change order showed that Viking Painting is requesting a termination fee of $27,755 to cover labor and materials it has already expended plus lost profit on the project. That total represents approximately 15% of the overall contract of $198,200.

Pisula said the board can either accept that amount or seek to negotiate a lower fee. Board members agreed to seek a lower amount. Ehlers appointed

Trustee Josh Rouley to join Pisula and possibly himself in a prompt followup conference call with Viking Painting.

Final action will need to be taken at the board’s May 14 meeting to approve any amount to be paid to Viking Painting.

The board will also have to pay engineering costs expended by Donohue & Associates on the water tank project and fees owed to KingS Financial of Monticello for securing financing on the project.

Village Treasurer Cherie Daughenbaugh confirmed, however, that a previous board-approved $205,000 loan from the Bank of Gibson City has not been executed.

Pisula said the engineering done for the tank repainting project was specific to the tank only, such as determining the interior condition and specifications for the painting project. That work would not be applicable to the next potential project of laying new water pipes throughout the village.

Board president resigns

Ehlers told everyone present that the April 9 meeting would be his last. He said that he and his wife, Diana, will soon be moving to Indiana, where they have already put an offer on a house near her parents.

“You’ve been good to me and I’ve tried to be good to you,” Ehlers told residents.

Ehlers said he is also looking at severe health concerns from a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis. He is currently taking stem cell treatments, but the disease most likely will lower his life expectancy.

Ehlers appointed Trustee Josh Rouley as mayor pro-tem. Rouley is expected to serve in that position until the next local election.

Ehlers has served as president of the board since being appointed to the post in 2010 when Tracy Mott resigned.

Many improvements have been made during his nearly 10-year tenure. Those improvements include tearing down a dilapidated former grocery store and clearing the lot, fixing alleys and streets, adding a veterans’ memorial and landscaping to the park, refurbishing and refurnishing the Village Hall, and acquiring a new village tractor.

Other board positions to fill

J.B. Daughenbaugh said the April meeting was his last meeting as a trustee, as well, because his family will be moving to Gibson City, where they have purchased a home.

Daughenbaugh is employed at the home office of Alliance Grain Co. in Gibson City.

His wife, Cherie, said she would not vacate her dual roles as board secretary and village treasurer until a replacement can be appointed and trained. The two positions do not need to be held by the same person.

With Rouley’s move to take the president position, there is also a need to appoint a second trustee. Godsey and Hudson indicated interest in becoming trustees, but no further appointments were made during the meeting.

The president and clerk positions each pay $1,800 annually, and the treasurer’s position has a $2,000 annual salary. Trustees receive $40 per meeting attended. All must be village residents.

Cleanup days set

Volunteers are needed to assist with the annual park cleanup set for 8 a.m. April 20, and the annual village-wide cleanup day scheduled for May 11.

The park needs mainly to have sticks picked up, and residents can bring household items to the site across from Village Hall except for tires, batteries, electronics and paint.

Residents are asked to haul their own trash if possible, and volunteers are needed to help unload at the site or to pick up for those who cannot haul.

Ehlers said too often it is only board members who volunteer.

“You need to start giving back to your community,” Ehlers told residents. “It’s a nice place.”