Council debates tax fund spending

Marianne Gillespie

The Chillicothe City Council discussed and, at times, argued about how to spend the city’s Hotel/Motel tax funds at Monday night’s meeting as well as the procedure for any expenditures.

Prompting the discussion was a motion for the council to pay no more than $2,500 to Alex Grieves for the Tri-County Riverfront Action Forum lunch/cruise.

The Spirit of Peoria will dock at the foot of Walnut Street Thursday morning for the forum’s cruise and lunch. Around 250 people are expected to board.

Alderman Troy Childers said it used to be council approval was needed before a project could be done, but now, as long as the project is in the budget, the money can be spent and then be approved later.

“That didn’t used to happen in the past,” said Childers. “I don’t know why it’s happening now.”

Mayor Gary Fyke said he understood that the Chillicothe Marketing & Tourism Commission, an advisory committee, was given a budget by the council which was approved. The commission then decides how to spend the money, he said, and seeks the approval of the economic development committee.

Each time a visitor stays the night in Chillicothe, the city, like many others, tacks on a tax to the hotel room. By state law, the city may only use that money for promotion/advertising.

Economic development and finance committees chairman Jim Thornton said the motion came before the council because Childers asked for it when it came in the city’s bills for discussion, not necessarily for approval.

Thornton said, as of right now, the commission meets and decides how to disburse the funds, but it was OK with him if the council wanted to oversee the funds instead.

Childers asked how Fyke wanted to handle the issue.

“It appears to me that this council saw the wisdom of creating this commission for the purpose of promoting all of the events within Chillicothe within the amount of dollars allotted by the council,” said Fyke.

“Once that committee has been given the authority to decide those issues and make the choices of how they will spend that money, if it’s within the budget authorized by this council, it would be only logical that they would simply determine which of those events they would fund, submit it to the committee to which they answer, which is appointed by this council, and the council approves it. I don’t see why you would question that committee.”

Childers said Fyke already signed the contract. Fyke said he did so because it was already approved in the budget.

Alderwoman Judy Cantwell asked if the commission’s budget is like the Shademakers Beautification committee or another committee.

Thornton said he has not seen much of the commission’s budget, as he has not attended all the meetings. The meetings are run by economic development director Lisa Burnett.

“When they make a proposal that they wanted to make those expenditures in the past, they have been approved by that group and have been paid for and listed in the bills,” said Thornton. “Troy questioned that about four meetings ago.”

“Yeah, I did,” said Childers.

Thornton continued, “And I said, ‘OK, Troy, if you want to, we will bring that and put it into the bills,’ which is different than what we have done ...”

Cantwell said she understood Childers asking questions because, in the example of the Shademakers, who receive budgeted funds, their projects are brought to the council for approval.

Childers said he just wanted to know what the “ground rules” were and said it is not the same as previous years.

Alderman Chris Boyer asked city attorney Mike Seghetti his opinion.

“If you’re spending city money, it should come back to the council to be approved before it’s spent,” said Seghetti.

“And I will say that when we talked about the boat docks, we had a conflict in policy because Denny (Gould) was upset because we spent $3,000 on an ad that once (all is said and done), we’re going to ticket people who stop here,” said Cantwell. “And I said, the council did not approve that — allowing boats to dock overnight. So, they basically spent $3,000 that they shouldn’t of when we just passed an ordinance stating that they can’t dock overnight.”

Cantwell said the point is that the expenditures should be brought to the council. “Why is Marketing & Tourism any different?” she asked.

Boyer read from the city code book on the approval of council about the advisory committee, which stated that the Marketing & Tourism Commission had “no authority to act on behalf of the city.”

Thornton said, based on Seghetti’s comments, that he thought the commission should list its projects and submit them to the finance committee for the budget, and then for approval by the council.

“The committee has been operating since before I was elected under this fashion,” said Fyke.

He was met with many voices of nos and nevers.

Cantwell said this is a “perfect example” of “not enough communication.”

Fyke said he understood, from Burnett,  this was how the commission operated.

Burnett, who was not at the meeting, could not be reached for comment.

The motion for the cruise was approved, 5-2, with Cantwell and Childers voting against the measure. Gould was absent.

After the vote, Fyke said the finance committee would look into the issue.

The council also approved paying CB&I Inc. $74,559.71 for the final payment of the water tower project. The work includes the one-million-gallon tower, located in RiverSound subdivision, and pedestal.

City engineer Ken Coulter said the water tower has contained water for almost a year, but has never been full, as the controls still need work.

The council also paid Walker Excavating Co. Inc. $5,972.09 toward the water system controls improvement. Coulter said the Internet is being hooked up at the site currently, which should allow for better operation.

Once work is completed, Coulter said the city may want to sell off the 50,000 gallon water tower on Santa Fe Avenue.

In other items, the council:

• heard Cantwell thank Al Ginger and Cecilia Stapleton for helping her and her husband clean up the gazebo in Chillicothe City Cemetery over the weekend for an upcoming memorial. She also said the blacktopping on Sixth Street leading to the cemetery looked nice.

• heard finance chairman Thornton say that in preliminary reports, the budgets for city departments are in good shape, other than the fuel price fluctuations. City clerk Sharon Crabel said rock salt is expected to triple in price this year.

• heard Greg Hurd, standing in for Chillicothe Fire Chief John Myers, remind the council of the Fire Chiefs’ Community Prayer Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 2 at Shore Acres Clubhouse

• approved a notice for special event held on public property for the Illinois Valley Central High School student council to use and close Second Street from Cedar to Elm streets from 3 to 4 p.m. Sept. 26 for the IVC Homecoming parade

• approved for American Legion Post 9 to have live entertainment in the legion’s outdoor pavilion Sept. 27 and extend the playing of amplified music from 11 p.m. until midnight

• approved paying All Traffic Solutions $3,800 for a radar speed device for the police department. Boyer said previously, the city borrowed a speed sign to monitor traffic. The device also collects data that the department can download later for reference.

• approved a notice for special event held on public property for the Art Jackson Memorial Benefit to use City Park from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Sept. 27. Jackson was the city cemetery/parks supervisor. Proceeds benefit Jackson’s wife, Joyce, this year. Grandson Josh Jackson wrote on the application that the event may become an annual event, with the proceeds going to a community group in need

• approved three sidewalk program applications for Kenneth Cluney of 821 Bradley Ave., with the city’s share of $562.40; Joanne Irani of 1024 Hushaw, $532.80; and Larry Stewart of 620 Hushaw, $800. Balance in the program is more than $13,000, which aids homeowners with sidewalks.

• approved paying Walker Excavating Co. Inc. $87,456.15 for the Leonard Street water main project

• approved a Project Facelift application of $825 for Virginia Smith of Aunt Marge’s, 930 N. Second St.

• and authorized Burnett to contact the Illinois Department of Transportation to request signs recognizing the achievement of the IVC baseball team finishing second in the Class 2A State baseball championship. The signs will be installed at the north and south entrances of the city.