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Washington's first business improvement grant still on a bumpy road

The parking lot at Countryside Banquet & Catering at 659 School St. in Washington need repairs. Business owner Kristi Cape is seeking a grant from the city to help cover the estimated $389,000 cost.
Steve Stein
The parking lot at Countryside Banquet & Catering at 659 School St. in Washington need repairs. Business owner Kristi Cape is seeking a grant from the city to help cover the estimated $389,000 cost.

The parking lot at Countryside Banquet & Catering in Washington is bumpy and pockmarked with potholes.

Kristi Cape, the longtime owner of the business, wants to have the lot repaired with a mill and asphalt overlay. The estimated cost of the project is $389,000.

After Cape learned early this year that Washington offers grants for business improvements outside the downtown TIF zone and there is $250,000 in that fund, she became the first business owner to apply for a grant.

Instead of considering her grant request Feb. 12, the Washington City Council opted to have city staff establish grant guidelines.

Cape expressed her disappointment with that decision at the council's Feb. 19 meeting. On March 11, council offered to fund 30% of her project up to $115,000.

Cape now wants to do the project in phases "to ensure that she can pay her share" if she gets a grant, said Jon Oliphant, the city's planning and development director.

The council decided Monday to wait to hear the details on Cape's new project plan before it makes a decision on a new grant amount.

Council member Brian Butler warned against city grants funding future phased projects.

"This project (Countryside) needs to be an outlier in our grant program," Butler said. "Each project that gets a grant from now on needs to be funded in its totality."

Cape's project most likely will be completed during the city's 2024-25 fiscal year, which begins May 1.

The city has tentatively budgeted $300,000 into the grant account for the 2024-25 fiscal year and several businesses have expressed interest in a grant, Oliphant said.

'Nothing positive' about Gov. Pritzger's grocery tax letter

Washington Mayor Gary Manier and City Administrator Jim Snider were critical Monday of a letter to the editor by Gov. JB Pritzker published Monday in the Chicago Tribune that chastised local government officials for criticizing Pritzker's proposal to eliminate the 1% state grocery tax that goes to local units of government as of July 1.

Washington officials predict the city would lose about $500,000 annually in revenue if the grocery tax is eliminated, which could force the city to raise its home-rule sales tax by .25% or cut $500,000 from the city's 2024-25 budget to make up the difference.

Manier noted the city's frustration in the state continuing to delay the reconstruction of pothole-filled Business U.S. Route 24 through town.

"The idea that state government is somehow starving township, city and county governments, as some mayors and county board members claim, is preposterous," Pritzker wrote.

Snider said he had "nothing positive" to say about Pritzker's letter.

Washington Park District's water discount request would cost the city about $16,200 annually

The Washington Park District is asking to be charged only the city's cost for water for the Washington Park Pool and LaHood Park splash pad.

City officials estimate doing that would cost the city about $10,000 annually to supply water for the pool and about $6,200 annually to supply water for the splash pad, and could open the door for other taxing bodies and residents to request a discounted water rate.
Snider surveyed seven area municipalities that supply water for community pools and reported Monday to the council that six of the municipalities -- Canton, Chillicothe, Havana, Morton, Roanoke and Tremont -- charge the regular water rate. Metamora fills its community pool for free.

Shocking news .. city to save on electricity costs

The city could save about $50,000 annually on its electricity costs over four years starting in 2025.

That's the result of a contract with Constellation Energy approved Monday by the council.

The city's current electricity contract for city facilities with AEP Energy expires in December.

With electricity rates dropping, Good Energy, the city's energy consultant, recommended the city secure bids for a new contract, which would go into effect in January 2025.

Constellation Energy was the lowest of three bidders..

While electricity rates change daily, Constellation Energy's rate of $.08361 kilowatts per hour as of the bid date Thursday would result in an estimated savings of nearly $200,000 over the length of the contract, according to Joanie Baxter, the city's finance director.

Expect lane closure when steel is delivered to downtown square restaurant job site

The initial delivery of steel to the Grist Mill restaurant construction site on the downtown square is tentatively scheduled for late this week, according to Oliphant.

The delivery will cause traffic issues.

"The eastbound lane of U.S Business Route 24 will be blocked periodically in front of the job site to allow the steel to be dropped off," Oliphant said. "The contractor will work with the Washington Police Department for traffic control."

Oliphant also said in his regular report to the council that the city's Planning and Zoning Commission will meet April 3 to consider a request by the Police Department to rezone Washington Fire Station parcels from R-1 to C-1 so the police's planned evidence building will be a permitted use.

Also, "staff continues to work with the owner of the Cherry Tree Shopping Center to begin implementing a plan to address the safety issues with the stairs leading to the upstairs units," Oliphant said.

Oliphant also said the annual Take Pride in Washington Day cleanup, a combined effort of the city and Park District, is no longer a day. It will be held from April 18-May 1 so participants will have more flexibility to do their cleanups.

In other reports Monday to the council:

Snider said he's reached out to Greg Longfellow, president of the Fire Department board, so negotiations can begin on a new contract with this city, but he hasn't heard back.

"I'd like to move this process along in a timely fashion," he said.

The current city/fire department contract expires April 30, but it can be rolled over until the end of August.

City Engineer Dennis Carr said work will resume this week on the Freedom Parkway extension project with traffic controls set up on North Cummings Lane where the new intersection is being built.

Police Chief Mike McCoy praised Washington officers who stopped an arrestee's suicide attempt with a properly secured seat belt during a jail transport, arrested an adult during a traffic stop for carrying a loaded handgun, knives and THC pens, and ticketed a motorist for driving 85 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone on U.S. Route 24 and Nofsinger Road.

Public Works Director Brian Rittenhouse said three street sweeper rental options, ranging from about $13,000 to $14,500 per month, are being considered to replace the city's sweet sweeper that was destroyed in a February fire at the public works/police evidence storage building.

"Staff will discuss the machines and speak with the insurance carrier to determine which option we go with," Rittenhouse said,

Rittenhouse said the city is expecting delivery of its new street sweeper in August or September.

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.