The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 4, 2013

Dam vote delayed to 2014

Officials need to find $1.6M to balance budget

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — Aldermen, city officials, audience members and Illinois Department of Natural Resources representatives spent about two hours at Tuesday night’s city council meeting talking about the potential removals of two dams in the city and the changes on recreation and Walnut Street erosion issues.

Aldermen agreed to postpone a vote on the dams.

The IDNR has allocated $2 million-plus funding for the removal of the Ellsworth Park Dam on the North Fork of the Vermilion River and partial removal of the Danville Dam on the Vermilion River behind the Public Safety Building.

Ward 1 Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. is not able to attend the Dec. 17 city council meeting, when a final city council vote was expected, and requested the vote be postponed so he can vote against the removals.

A majority of the city council agreed to postpone the planned vote.

A second public hearing lasted about 10 minutes at Tuesday night’s city council meeting on the proposed 2013 city tax levy.

Aldermen learned that budget discussions for the city’s 2014-2015 budget that goes into effect in May will start earlier than usual because city officials now project $1.6 million needed in new revenue or city budget reductions to balance the budget.

“We have a lot of work to do on that budget,” city comptroller Gayle Lewis said.

Sales tax revenues could help lower that number, but any increased revenues won’t be known for months, Lewis said.

Final action on the tax levy still is expected on Dec. 17.

In a first for the city, the 2013 property tax rate, payable next year, is estimated to be more than the $2 per $100 equalized assessed valuation mark. The levy would decrease by 0.35 percent, from $5.98 million in 2012 to $5.96 million in 2013. The property tax rate, however, is estimated to increase from $1.99 per $100 assessed valuation in 2012 to $2.06 per $100 assessed valuation. This is partly due to an estimated 3.5 percent decrease for 2013 in the equalized assessed valuation of property in the city. EAV is estimated at $289,000,000 from 2012’s $299,497,000.

The actual EAV decrease and property tax rate won’t be known until May.

At the public hearing on the Vermilion River and Ellsworth Park dams, eight audience members spoke. All were against removing the dams. The audience members largely asked the aldermen to listen to the public and leave the dams alone.

One person suggested a water wheel be installed, while others support a rock ramp or nothing be done. They said the dams are an “acceptable risk” to leave in place due to only about five deaths occurring there over the years.

Danville urban services Director David Schnelle warned aldermen that doing nothing with the dams doesn’t solve the problem with the northeast abutment with the Vermilion River dam and the Walnut Street bank stabilization that is needed. That cost is estimated at $500,000 to $750,000.

Schnelle said the area near Walnut Street will continue to erode and the city will need to “address the urgent situation, regardless, and soon.” The partial removal of the dam would fix the issue, Schnelle said.

IDNR officials also reminded city officials that because the dams are city owned, the city is responsible for any cleanup and liability damage with any dam failure.

Ward 7 Alderman Bill Black also asked city officials for one more “true public hearing” on the issue that would not be in the city council chambers and that would have a third party overseeing the meeting.

“I think it would help all of us,” Black said, about making the best decision.

Members of the city council’s Public Works Committee already voted against partial removal of the Danville Dam behind the Public Safety Building.

Some aldermen believe other alternatives, such as a rock ramp spillway, would be better for local fishing.

The committee was split on recommending full removal of the Ellsworth Park Dam on the North Folk Vermilion River.

The full city council now is expected to vote on the issue on Jan. 7.