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Price going up for mall removal, downtown streetscape project
Posted By Staff On September 23, 2009 @ 6:09 am In Online Exclusives | 2 Comments
ν News and notes from the Sept. 21 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
The Rockford City Council’s finance & Personnel Committee recommended an amendment to an engineering agreement previously awarded to Homer L. Chastain & Associates in 2008. Per the amendment, Chastain is to be paid an additional $52,042 for its work related to the downtown streetscape project, which includes removal of the two-block pedestrian mall to restore traffic on that section of Main Street.
If approved during the Sept. 28 meeting, Chastain’s maximum award will reach $401,533 for design engineering and construction inspection related to the project.
Well before ground was broken, some downtown business owners warned the venture was sure to go over budget once the vaults were opened to reveal “a can of worms.” They were right.
“The original agreement did not include inspection and design engineering for the numerous vaults, to replace the water main, and provide new service connection to buildings along the two blocks of Main Street from Elm to Mulberry,” according to a fact sheet provided by the mayor’s office. “Typical for a project of this complexity, there have been several project issues once the subsurface environment was exposed. These issues have required additional redesign work and construction observation by Homer L. Chastain.”
Earlier this year, the council also approved a $1.9-million contract with Stenstrom Excavation for physical work related to the first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed in November. That chapter includes removal of the mall to restore two-way traffic, including on-street parking, and extra-wide brick sidewalks to accommodate outdoor café seating.
Landscaping, lighting and other streetscape accouterments have been delayed until next year because of budget constraints.
Comcast settlement sent back to committee
After an audit discovered Comcast’s predecessor, Insight Communications, had shorted the city for franchise fees over a number of years, a settlement agreement was reached for Comcast to repay the $440,000 the city is owed. Because that cost is likely to be borne by cable subscribers by way of an additional 35-cent charge on every bill for the next three years under Federal Communications commission (FCC) rules, aldermen opted to give the matter further review at the committee level.
Despite pending layoffs, TIF subsidies continue
Aldermen authorized the issuance of $2.7 million in general obligation bonds for “financing various economic development and government projects.”
Of the $2.7 million bond issue, $2,350,000 is slated for Spring Creek Development Group’s 50-acre Renaissance Corners development on West State Street, between Pierpont and Springfield avenues, within the Springfield Corners Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. In total, the city is committing $5,438,937 to the $65 million project, led by developer John Anderson, who is planning 275,000 square feet of space for a variety of uses.
The remaining $350,000 of the bond issuance is earmarked for a development agreement with ADV Partners, LLC, for rehabilitation of the former Johnson & Tillson Building, 202 N. Madison St., within the East River TIF District. The city will provide $345,000 in TIF funds toward the $1,336,875 endeavor.
The council voted unanimously to object to a proposed Winnebago County zoning map amendment, from agricultural to light industrial, at 7725 and 7779 W. State St. in Winnebago Township.
Aldermen passed committee reports recommending:
• The award for zone control valves be made to William Charles Construction, of Loves Park, for up to $1,689,633.72.
• Swinson Materials be awarded $189,600 for demolition of five commercial properties and one residence as part of the city’s ongoing West State Street corridor project.
• Approval of a professional services agreement with Independent Assessment and Monitoring (IAM), LLP, of Oakland, Calif., at the rate of $280 per hour. IAM will conduct an outside administrative review of the Aug. 24 officer-involved shooting death of Mark Anthony Barmore in a west-side church daycare. Barmore, an unarmed African-American, was shot by two white police officers. Reports from witnesses and officers differ as to what transpired, and IAM will work independently of investigations conducted by the Illinois State Police and the state’s attorney’s office. Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no.”
• Approval of $33,668.82 in awards from the Federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. The three-year awards were granted to the Salvation Army for $247,516; Careers, Etc. for $159,900; the Jericho Project for $72,263; MELD for $103,013; PHASE for $95,325; and Janet Wattles for $144,550. Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), a member of the Salvation Army’s Advisory Board, abstained.
• McGuireWoods Consulting, an international consulting firm with offices in Chicago and Springfield, be awarded a lobbying contract extension at a rate of $5,000 per month for September through December. The lobbying consultants are paid from the council’s budget.
• An agreement for participation in a city employee prescription benefit plan offered by Express Scripts/Flex Scripts for a three-year period.
• Approval to submit a $1.5 million, 20-year loan application to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) on behalf of Prairie Street Brew House, LLC, which plans a $10,207,913 development at 200 Prairie St., in the East River TIF District. The city would provide the loan to the developer at an interest rate of approximately 5 percent. Loan repayment is expected to be received through TIF funds generated by the project’s improvements. Additionally, the developer will be required to obtain a second mortgage and provide a limited personal guarantee. Presently, the property is valued $357,145, but the anticipated market value once the project is complete is expected to be $2.75 million. The development aims to include restaurant, office and residential uses, as well as a brew pub and banquet facility. Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no.”
Nancy Gdowski, a frequent critic of the Morrissey administration, particularly with regard to the MetroCentre, joined the chorus against 30 layoffs, effective Oct. 2, in public safety and public works, citing them as basic government services.
“Rockford now has the dubious honor of having the highest unemployment rate in Illinois. With high unemployment comes an increase in crime,” she noted. “The Police Department is already understaffed, and this administration wants to cut it even more. The Fire Department has been busier than ever with fire and ambulance services.”
If both departments are not running at full capacity, Gdowski said, insurance premiums are sure to rise for owners of homes and businesses.
“Who’ll want to live here?” Gdowski wondered. “Who’ll want to open a business here if this city cannot provide or depend on basic city services?”
She noted the Public Works Department plans to decrease its level of service as a result of the cuts, most noticeably affecting snow removal.
“We citizens will have to wait 4-6 days for cleanup,” she argued. “Police and fire will now have hazardous streets to navigate. This will cause extra response time to a call.”
Snow-covered streets would also hinder the ability of school buses to reach their destinations, Gdowski added, noting declared snow days are likely to increase.
“Our students will not be in the classroom learning,” she said. “It is amazing to me we have given millions of dollars to the MetroCentre, and millions more to cover their overspending.
“This administration has also diverted infrastructure sales tax funds, via the general fund, into the riverwalk,” she continued. “Taxpayers are paying for removal of a two-block mall to the tune of basically $1 million per block. Yet we have a more pressing need for the unsafe Morgan Street bridge, and that is being studied to death again.
“We’ve also expanded the city boundaries by annexing the county pockets,” she added, “yet we’re reducing basic city services.”
Gdowski warned, “If you reduce basic city services, there will be dire consequences.”
Versus library cuts
Denise Cacciapaglia, a Lewis Lemon Global Studies Academy teacher, pleaded with the council not to let the Rockford Public Library’s Lewis Lemon Branch close or to reduce library hours.
“While I understand that it is not the highest circulation branch, it is an invaluable asset to not only our school, but our community,” Cacciapaglia said, noting the branch also serves as an after-school safe haven for Lewis Lemon students.
“The Lewis Lemon Branch Library resides in an elementary school, which resides in a neighborhood which happens to be in a Weed and Seed area,” she added. “Our school is located in a neighborhood where most of us wouldn’t want to drive around at night, and all of my students live there.
“As well-educated citizens, we all know that to end the cycle of poverty, our children—and not just the children that live across the river, but all of our children in the entire city—need to be educated and literate,” Cacciapaglia asserted.
“I understand that there is a $1.5-million budget deficit, $800,000 of which is employee pensions,” she added, suggesting a solution. “I understand also that there’s a 32-cent levy and it is possible, if we just increase that 2 or 3 cents, it could help offset the costs of those employee pensions.”
Rachel León described proposed cuts to library pension funds as “devastating” to the community. As a result of the proposal, library assistants face layoffs.
“I’m not sure people realize how much the library assistants mean to our children,” she said. “They see them as friends, even as family. For some children, the librarian assistants may be the only source of stability in their lives. Parents bounce in and out, case workers change frequently and, every year, children start over with a new teacher. The library staff may be the one constant.”
León asked aldermen to consider how the council’s choice will impact these children, noting the summer reading program is also likely to be lost as a result of the pension funding cut.
“Our city and the legacy we leave our children will be defined by the choices we make today,” she added. “I don’t assume that the answers are easy, or that they can be made quickly, but I do think they can’t be made without getting all the information.”
She urged aldermen to review data related to the importance of public libraries, and to listen to the constituents who oppose the cuts.
“Taking the library pension from their already tight budget and cutting city jobs like police, fire and public works seems like a quick fix, but I don’t think it will solve the problem,” León concluded. “Every person that loses a job will only need unemployment, and may indirectly drain the city and state budgets in other ways.”
Pro-life activist Danny McCarty returned to council chambers to tout closure of the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, 1400 Broadway, as a cost-saving measure for the city.
After having petitioned neighbors of the abortion clinic, McCarty said residents reported they didn’t like the noise outside the women’s center.
The disturbances often result when protesters—most of whom are not from the neighborhood—and the building’s resident owner, Wayne Webster, wage shouting matches on days abortions are provided.
McCarty, a frequent protester at the clinic, said he’s been trying to work with the city to abate the noise problem. Regardless of who’s at fault for the altercations, police are typically on site to keep the peace between patients and protesters.
“Do you know how much that costs you?” McCarty asked aldermen. “You want this city to be a positive city? You gotta do positive things. Killing babies is not positive.
“Each baby that dies at that clinic two days a week, you’re responsible for,” he added. “It’s time to do your job.”
Sept. 26 was proclaimed Rockford Symphony Orchestra Day. The week of Sept. 21 was proclaimed Rockford Homebuyers Week.
Alderman Joe Sosnowski (R-1) and Bill Robertson (I-14) were absent. Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) presided while Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) is in China.
From the September 23-29, 2009 issue
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