Stephens, city fighting Statehouse closure

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

An area legislator told Vandalia officials on Monday night that he’s among the contingent of lawmakers pushing to keep the state’s historic sites and parks open.

The mayor told that legislator that he has formed a team that will lobby legislators for that action.

State Rep. Ron Stephens attended Monday’s city council meeting to present a $200,000 check for improvements.

After handing over the check, Stephens offered to take any comments or questions from city officials.

Mayor Rick Gottman’s comments about the pending closure of state historic sites, including the Vandalia Statehouse, prompted Stevens to say that he and other legislators are still working to stave off that action.

The Illinois House of Representatives has already taken such action, but Senate President Emil Jones has been saying that he will not call that legislative body back into session until November.

The historic sites were scheduled to close on Oct. 1, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s staff said on Tuesday that the closures have been delayed until Oct. 15. The closure of state parks has been postponed from Nov. 1 until Nov. 30.

Stephens said the decision to close historic sites, especially at this time, is inappropriate.

“Abraham Lincoln is still the most recognized president we have,” Stephens said. “People come from around the world to see where he served.

“What a shame for them to come here (and find that the Lincoln sites are closed). Some people plan their entire, one-time trip from around the world to see these sites,” he said.

“The damage that would be done by closing any one of those sites is a tremendous shame,” Stephens said.

Gottman agreed, saying that if the closures go off as planned, Vandalia will suffer long-term.

“Once you close sites like this, it affects the communities for many years,” he said.

The mayor said that the city is not willing to sit by quietly and let the closures happen.

The mayor noted that the city has put considerable effort and funds into helping promote the Vandalia Statehouse and the community’s history.

The latest evidence of that support, he said, are the Looking for Lincoln storyboards that are scheduled to go up either later this month or early in October. Gottman pointed to reproductions of those storyboards, which include Lincoln stories and artwork pulled together by local historian Dale Timmermann, which were on display in council chambers on Monday night.

As part of the city’s efforts to keep the Statehouse open, Gottman has formed a team of local residents that will, among other things, go to the state capitol in Springfield to lobby with legislators.

That team, Gottman announced on Monday, includes himself, City Administrator Jimmy Morani, Director of Economic Development and Tourism JoAnn Givens, Vandalia Looking for Lincoln Committee Chairman Bill Donaldson, Timmermann, Mary Truitt, Jim Staff, Vandalia Main Street Program Manager Dana Whiteman, Bill LaDage and Randy Edwards.

That committee will hold its first strategy meeting at noon next Monday at the Vandalia Country & Golf Club.

Gottman encouraged local residents to be a part of the effort to keep the Statehouse open. They can support the project by sending letters to state senators and representatives, especially Jones.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council approved the purchase of two raw water pumps for Vandalia Lake and agreement with its consulting engineers for assistance with that project.

The council accepted the low bid of $103,600 for the pumps. That total includes a bid of $81,000 from Haier Plumbing and Heating of Okawville for the replacement of existing pumps and a $22,600 bid from ADS Electric of Vandalia for electrical work.

The city also received a bid of $149,507 from Brotcke Well and Pump of Carlyle.

The city budgeted $360,000 for the pump replacement project, but that total included a new pump house. It has decided that a new pump house is not needed.

The acceptance of the bid for the pump replacement passed unanimously and with little discussion. The approval of an agreement with HMG, however, did not.

Alderman Chad Feldpouch voted against the contract with HMG.

Because of ongoing problems with the new raw water intake on the Kaskaskia River, Feldpouch said, “I would hesitate to go with another agreement (with them). It has never worked right.”

Alderman Larry Cable continued to defend HMG’s work on the project, saying that the problems with the intake are due to the river channel changing, not the engineering firm’s work.

The council also:

• Approved three more TIF (Tax Increment Financing) agreements.

Included was an agreement with Allen and Deb Hunter that provides a $7,500 grant and a 10-year reimbursement of 70 percent of new tax monies that will be created through the expansion of their business, Hunter Appliance, Heating & Air at Orchard and Fifth streets.

Also approved was a grant of up to $3,000 to Leo Murray Jr. for improvements to the building in the 400 block of West Gallatin Street that houses Nice Twice.

In addition to approving those agreements, which were recommended earlier this month by the city’s TIF committee, it OK’d an agreement the committee endorsed last year.

That agreement provides the Wehrles with 10-year reimbursement of 70 percent of new tax monies created through the rehabilitation of two buildings at 1505 Veterans Avenue.

That agreement with Mike and JoEllen Wehrle did not come before the council last year because the property was not yet on the tax rolls, Morani said.

• Approved an amendment to the city’s liquor ordinance that will allow two bars, Wiseguys and Thirsty’s, to fence off the area in front of their businesses for an outdoor event from 2-10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Under the amendment, no one under the age of 21 will be allowed inside the fenced-in area in the 100 block of South Fourth Street. For the event, which will include live music, liquor will be sold inside the bars, but may be taken out into the fenced-in area.

• The council approved an agreement with Al Oldfield Auto Sales Inc. that prohibits drilling for groundwater on city right of way in the area of the former Star station at Orchard and Fourth streets.

• Gottman reported that after speaking with Public Works Director John Moyer, he has asked the Illinois Department of Transportation to consider allowing the city to mow grass at the Vandalia interchanges on Interstate 70.

“It’s pathetic,” Gottman said, talking about the appearance of the tall grass, “and in some cases, it’s unsafe.”

• Givens reported that the Vandalia Tourism Committee is looking into moving the city’s welcome sign on the west end from its current location, on Randolph Street near Statewide Tire, to a spot at the western Interstate 70 interchange.

The move is being considered, she said, because many tourists who enter Vandalia at that interchange do not see the sign because they turn onto Veterans Avenue.

The tourism committee, she said, is also looking into improving the signage along Kennedy Boulevard for the Vandalia Chamber of Commerce Tourist Information Center.