Topics ranged from construction projects and spending priorities to term limits and chickens during the first of what O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach said he wants to become quarterly town hall meetings with residents during his administration.
Roach said the idea behind the town halls — in addition to evening meetings and Saturday mayoral office hours — is to “open up the lines of communication” between city officials and residents to hear their concerns.
“We need that input,” Roach said.
About 25 people, including six aldermen, were present for the informal meeting, held Wednesday evening, July 19 at the O’Fallon Public Safety Building. Roach and City Administrator Walter Denton gave updates on construction projects going on in O’Fallon, in addition to covering many other topics and taking questions from those in attendance.
Roach said there were rumblings when he was elected that many people in city hall were in fear of losing their job with the change in administration. Roach said he has had sit-downs with every employee. However, three months into his term, no one has been fired, and Roach said he has no intentions of letting anyone go.
“I told everybody, that’s not a fear they should have,” Roach said.
Results from a recently released special census show the city grew 7 percent since 2010, and O’Fallon’s population now stands at 30,440.
Roach said the city expects an additional 150 homes to be built this year from more than a dozen active developments.
“In addition to that, we have another couple developments people are looking to start on,” Roach said, though those are in preliminary planning states and nothing formal has been filed.
Denton said the largest ongoing project is construction of the new St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is on schedule to open Nov. 4.
The hospital has also sparked other developments along the Regency Park area, too, Denton said.
“That area is kind of a hot area right now,” he said. “People are excited about the hospital opening.”
Such development has included “The Blade” building, which is completed, a Marriott Hotel under construction, as well as planned restaurants, including Dewey’s Pizza and Sugarfire Smoke House BBQ.
Along Central Park Drive, Denton said the biggest news was that the Gander Mountain store, which will be re-branded as Gander Outdoors, would remain open.
Denton said the city is still actively recruiting Costco to come to O’Fallon.
“We are trying hard to get them to come. We are trying to convince them, but they have not committed to come,” he said.
In downtown, Denton said the city is in the process of trying to sell the former bank building at 200 S. Lincoln for use as medical offices.
“That will be a great addition to downtown,” he said.
The exit interchange at Interstate 64 and Rieder Road is set to open in the next year, Denton said.
Roach said he would like to pull in light industry and similar businesses to the area.
“That helps to diversify our economy… You don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” Roach said.
A resident asked about the future of Southview Plaza. Denton said a problem with redevelopment of the area was ground contamination for a dry-cleaning business. It was not known what it would cost to clean up the contamination, Denton said. Also, Roach said the current owner was looking only to lease, not sell.
“That cuts down the number of firms who really want to get involved in a re-development,” Roach said.
The idea of a Downtown Plaza that was announced as part of Destination O’Fallon over a year ago is being reexamined to take issues of parking, lighting and the event space, Denton said.
“I think you will see something soon about it. It’s just going to take a little longer than we previously thought,” Denton said.
Roach said the city has contacted the railroad to see if it would be possible to use any part of its easements for additional parking downtown, as well as the county for use of space where buses pull into downtown.
Roach said another “wrinkle” thrown at the city’s plan had to do with the proposed location of a gazebo.
“There happens to be a high-pressure gas line that runs right underneath that,” he said.
The gas line meant the location “was not a good place,” for an event space, Roach said.
“So we are re-thinking that location as well,” he said.
Work on Green Mount Road, near St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, will be done by the time the hospital opens, Denton said.
In the “Presidential Streets,” roadway and drainage improvements will be made to Washington Street and Adams Street, from Penn Street to Smiley Street, along with Orange Street and Hilgard Street, from State Street to Adams Street.
“So I think you will see a lot of improvement in that area,” Denton said.
But at least one resident was not happy with the scope of the project.
An attendee at the meeting, who lived in the 600 block of Adams Street, did not like the fact that planned improvements stopped short of his house.
Roach said the city planned to address all the issues in the area, but could only do so much at one time.
“You’ve got money for everything else,” the resident said, adding he felt, “like a second-class citizen,” to people who live in more affluent parts of the city.
More improvements are also planned for Second Street, Denton said, as well as resurfacing on U.S. Highway 50 this summer and reconstruction of Porter Road this fall.
Denton said the city will be conducting a survey of all city pavement and asphalt streets soon, rating their overall condition. The survey will help the city develop a maintenance plan and prioritize projects.
A resident asked about upgrades to Lincoln between O’Fallon and Shiloh. Roach said that was a county road, so it was beyond the city’s control, though he had talked with county officials about it.
Water & Sewer
Roach said the city was developing plans to repair or replace aging sewer and water lines within the city, some more than 70 years old, before they began causing issues.
Denton and Roach both talked about the need for future upgrades to the city’s sewer plant along Rieder Road as well.
“So far, we do have enough capacity, for the growth we have,” Denton said.
However, with more growth expected, an upgrade will eventually be needed. Technology upgrades could also help the plant run more efficiently.
“(The plant) is the biggest power user in the city, as far as electricity,” Denton said. “So we want to be sure it runs efficiently.”
Roach said new technology could also help mitigate the amount of sludge that has to be hauled off from the plant, which is costly.
“We are talking about $200,000-plus a year,” Roach said.
Upgrades to the plant would run in the $5 to $7 million range, Denton said. The city would be eligible for low-interest loans from the state to complete any such work.
Roach was asked about a campaign a promise to use city reserves in order to lower property taxes. He said he would be taking that up with the city council when it comes time for the city to submit its numbers to the county in December.
Roach said the city was currently exploring the following items:
▪ Creating a mobile phone app to allow easy communication between residents and the city, as well as upgrades to the city’s website to make it more user-friendly and easier to view on mobile devices
▪ establishing an ordinance to allow residents to keep chickens
▪ the return of a summer picnic or homecoming
▪ the possibility of spraying for mosquitoes
▪ setting term limits for the city’s elected officials