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Washington police evidence will need to be boxed up and moved following fire

Washington City Council member Brian Butler makes a point during Monday's meeting while fellow council members Bobby Martin III (middle) and John Blundy listen.
Steve Stein
Washington City Council member Brian Butler makes a point during Monday's meeting while fellow council members Bobby Martin III (middle) and John Blundy listen.

A fire Feb. 9 in Washington's combined police evidence and public works storage building has left the two departments scrambling to move evidence and replace equipment, City Council members learned Monday.

"The building isn't a loss. It can be repaired. The fire was extinguished quickly," said Public Works Director Brian Rittenhouse.

Police Chief Mike McCoy said none of the evidence stored in the building was damaged by the fire.

"We're lucky. The fire wall saved us," he said.

While the evidence wasn't damaged, McCoy said, it will need to be re-boxed in 460 new boxes and moved to a temporary facility he secured "not far from Washington."

He described the facility as a warehouse with a Morton building inside that formerly stored medical devices, and an office.

"Security was our top priority in looking for a place to temporarily store the evidence," McCoy said. "We'll be there as long as we have to. We'll either move back into the building we share with pubic works when it's ready, or move into our new evidence building."

A new $1.8 million evidence building, which will be constructed near the Washington Fire Station, will be built later this year. Grants are providing most of the funding for the building.

The Public Works Department's street sweeper and a work truck were severely damaged by the fire, Rittenhouse said. Two mowers used in Glendale Cemetery and an asphalt roller also were in the building at the time of the fire.

Rittenhouse said he's looking to lease or rent a street sweeper before a new street sweeper that was purchased by the city is delivered later this year.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Rittenhouse said.

'We can't give out $250,000 a year without rules'

The council learned in December that no applications had been received in nearly two years for $250,000 the city had budgeted in its economic development/tourism fund to help businesses outside the downtown square TIF district with improvement projects.

So it asked the city to publicize the grant program.

Kristi LaHood Cape, longtime owner of Countryside Banquet & Catering at 659 School St., was the first applicant for a grant.

She applied Jan. 15 for assistance in paying for an estimated $389,000 mill and overlay of the business' well-worn parking lot.

Instead of considering Cape's application at its Feb. 12 committee of the whole meeting, the council asked Jon Oliphant, the city's planning and development director, to develop guidelines for the use of the economic development/tourism funds and how the amount of funding for a project would be determined.

That didn't sit well with Cape.

"To say I'm disappointed is an understatement," she told council members Monday. "Why did you ask for grant applications if you weren't ready to accept them? I thought these applications would be considered on a case-by-case basis, not with cookie-cutter restrictions."

Council member Mike Brownfield, who was not at the Feb. 12 committee of the whole meeting, said the council "looked foolish for putting the cart before the horse."

"Shame on us for asking for grant applications without any guidelines," said Mayor Gary Manier.

Council member John Blundy said he'd like to see Cape's grant application considered after the city gave financial help recently to two of her competitors.

He mentioned the $350,000 in TIF funding for the event space that will be built in conjunction with the downtown square Grist Mill restaurant, and the $600,000 that Five Points Washington won't have to pay the city over the next eight years. That money was as part of an agreement to help the city cover the cost of a $5 million building bond for Five Points.

While the council will have more discussion about grant details -- Oliphant put together a detailed, three-page document with options -- there was a consensus that the grant money should be used only for exterior improvements at businesses owned by area residents.

Still to be determined by council is whether to have a maximum grant amount or use a percentage of a project's cost to determine a grant amount.

"We can't give out $250,000 a year without rules," said council member Brian Butler.

Will excessive braking noise ordinance produce sounds of silence?

The council put the brakes Monday on an ordinance that would prohibit excessive braking noise by trucks -- except in an emergency or if the truck has an adequate sound-muffling system -- inside the city limits along U.S. Route 24.

The North Cummings Lane intersection with U.S. Route 24 would be impacted by the ordinance and so would the Nofsinger Road intersection with U.S. Route 24 after work is completed there.

If the ordinance is approved by the council, the city would place signs in the area where excessive braking noise was banned. The fine for a violation would be $75. The Illinois Department of Transportation must approve the location of the signs because it oversees U.S Route 24.

Complaints by residents prompted the city to propose the ordinance.

McCoy was asked by the council at a previous meeting to check with area communities that have a similar excessive braking noise ordinance in place and see how it's working.in their town.

He said he contacted six area communities and learned none of them issued a ticket for excessive braking noise in 2023.

A motion Monday by Blundy to waive the second reading of Washington's excessive braking noise ordinance so it could go right to a vote was approved 4-3, but a 2/3 majority was needed for the motion to pass, so it failed.

"We need to have more discussion about this ordinance and determine our risks before we make a decision on it," said Butler, who voted against the waving.

City buys parking lot near the downtown square

The city's purchases of an approximately 40-space parking lot at 105 S. High St. near the downtown square for $72,000 and a vacant lot at 107 S. High St. behind a single-family house for $23,000 was approved 6-1 Monday by the council.

Each property was owned by Francis Boley.

In a related transaction, Boley plans to sell a building at 104 S. Elm St. to Cana Lutheran Church, which holds its services there.

The church wants to make sure its members and guests can park in the 40-space lot from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.
It can put up signage stating that at its own expense, however vehicles parked in the lot during those times that are not connected to church services will not be ticketed or towed.

"That's very confusing at best," Blundy said.

"The church just wants to guarantee parking, not restrict it," said council member Bobby Martin III.

Council member Lili Stevens cast the no vote on the purchases, but said she was opposed only to the purchase of the vacant lot.

General fund money will be used for that purchase because the vacant lot isn't in the downtown square TIF district. The parking lot will be purchased with TIF money.

April opening expected for Culver's

Oliphant said Monday in his regular council report that a building permit for the remainder of the Grist Mill project has been issued, and he's been told that the Culver's restaurant under construction at 115 N. Cummings Lane should be open in April.

"Staff has been working with the adjacent property owners, developer and contractors to ensure the Grist Run project runs smoothly," he said.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.