City Council discusses school route project

Steven Barnum , Assistant News Editor

Before the committee, the city council held an open discussion about the “Safe Routes to School” project.

Public Works Director, Scott Coker, recapped that the project is designed to provide kids with a safe route on the way to and from school. Specifically, the city plans to replace the stairs on Grant Street with a ramp and add a nearby crosswalk. They will also add sidewalks to parts of Kelly Street and Grant Street in order to improve the accessibility to MacArthur School.

Several members of the public shared concerns about safety, taxes and snowfall.

One long-time resident of Grant Street feels that speeding cars on Ward and McArthur Street make it a dangerous path to travel. She wonders why the city has yet to put sidewalks in that area.

“I know a lot of students walk along the street on Grant, which is a risk,” she said. “I think it should be addressed.”

Coker says that the Macomb Police Department has identified the streets and walkways with the highest risk, but that doesn’t rule out new sidewalk projects in the future.

“It’s not addressed in this application, but it’s on our priority list,” Coker said. “We just haven’t had the funding.”

Another resident believes Macomb is becoming an expensive place to live.

“I’m not saying this doesn’t need to be done for the safety of the children, but Macomb has so many tax bodies,” she said. “You’re running senior citizens and other people who don’t have as much as public sector people out of Macomb.”

Addressing the financial concerns, Coker says the city hasweighed its options. “We’re trying to balance services versus having a safe environment,” Coker said.

“We’re trying to do this with grant dollars so that it will minimize the impact it will have on our tax payers.” City Administrator, Dean Torreson, says it was one of many tough judgment calls.

“The city council weighs these decisions all the time. Cost against benefit. That’s what they do. It’s not an easy job,” Torreson said.

Alderman Gayle Carper has empathy with the situation. “I understand what you’re saying because I’ve never had kids in this school district, but I pay taxes for this school district,” Carper said, “and sometimes we do that because there’s a community good there rather than just individual good.”

Torreson also shut down claims that sales tax has increased in Macomb.

“The city’s tax rate actually went down. You pay less money to the city this year than last year,” Torreson said.

The Macomb Municipal Code states that those who live near school routes must remove snow from their sidewalks. One resident doesn’t mind keeping kids safe, but she is frustrated when snow plows erase her progress.

“One of the unfortunate things about snow plows is that they do throw the snow and slush and sand quite a ways,” Torreson said. “It’s not a great system, but until somebody invents something different, I’m not sure what we can do.”

The grant has a $200,000 limit and Coker doesn’t anticipate the project exceeding that amount. The city council has approved the design work from IMEG Corp, an engineering consulting firm. Classroom and parent surveys show that more kids will walk or ride a bike to school once the city completes the project.

Mayor Pro Tem, Dennis Moon, opened up the committee of the whole meeting with a moment of silence for Melissa Inman. Melissa, the wife of Mayor Mike Inman, passed away Sunday.

The city council voted to put the purchase of a largescale printer and scanner for the community development office on next week’s consent agenda. According to Torreson, the city uses the machine to copy maps and put them on the computer. The plan is to buy a refurbished machine from “City Blue” for $9,400. Although a new machine would cost significantly more, this was an unexpected expense.

“This would pretty much drain the cash balance fund,” Torreson said.

Coker is looking for approval to join a mutual aid agreement. The agreement would group Macomb into a network of towns that could offer assistance to towns with unplanned water or wastewater facility issues. A total of 154 towns in the state of Illinois are currently in this network, which forces towns to reimburse those who send them money.

The agreement would not cost the city any money, and according to Coker, joining would not commit Macomb to helping anyone. City Attorney, Kristen Petrie, doesn’t see any potential issues with the agreement from a legal point of view. The agreement will be on the agenda in the next meeting.