The city of Highland will launch two new incentive programs that city officials hope will help will spur new single-family home development.
"Lets give it a shot and see if we can build some new houses," Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said.
City Manager Mark Latham brought the subject up for the first time at a council meeting in February. He said the city's equalized assessed property value has not been growing at a healthy rate for several years. Latham relayed that there have been no new subdivisions approved in 10 years. Due to this stagnation, the city's utility revenue has flat-lined and school enrollment has also declined, he said.
Right now, Latham said the city is averaging about five new homes per year. A healthy growth pattern would be an annual EAV growth of 3 to 3.5 percent, according to Latham. To see this increase, Latham said the city needs to add at least 20 new homes annually, which is where the incentive comes in.
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The council rejected Latham's initial incentive proposal on March 5. The program would have given $4,000 to a developer upon completion of a new home. But the council wanted the Latham to rework the incentive to include builders, as well as cover both existing and new subdivisions.
Going back to the drawing board, Latham came up with two incentive programs that the council approved on April 2.
The first incentive will offer a $4,000 incentive to builders for up to 10 new homes on existing subdivision lots. The second incentive gives $4,000 to developers for up to 15 new homes on new subdivisions within city limits. The incentives will only go to homes that will be serviced by city electricity, according to Latham.
If the programs work as planned, Latham said the city's overall EAV will increase by 3.5 percent annually, or $6.25 million. He said this would bring the city about $100,000 in additional utility revenues and $40,000 in additional city property taxes each year.
Latham said the programs' cost is estimated at $100,000 a year. The program will run the next five years. It will be funded from tap-on fees and the city utility revenues appropriated to the Economic Development fund.
Councilman Aaron Schwarz was the only council member to raise multiple concerns about the initiative. In the past, Schwarz also spoke about his skepticism concerning the incentive, and proposed that the program should be more inclusive.
Schwarz's two major concerns were that the $4,000 incentive would not be enough to attract builders and developers. Secondly, he said he did not know if the incentive would help the city grow in the way they want it to.
"I get it. I see the pros of it. But I also see the cons," Schwarz said.
Council members Rick Frey and Bellm said they understood Schwarz's concerns and that they knew the program was still a risk. However, Frey said he was more in favor of the incentive, because similar programs have worked before.
"We moved some houses," Frey said.
Bellm said she was not sure if the incentive would be enough, but if the program worked, its benefits would outweigh the cost.
"It's also not a lot for us to put out there to see if it works," Bellm said.
In the end, the council ended with a unanimous vote in favor of the incentive.
Budget on display
The council also voted to put the proposed budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year on public display.
Overall, the budget projects a 20 percent increase in total expenditures, putting the city's spending at about $54.6 million next year. Capital projects make up about 31 percent of those expenses. The budget also shows total revenues of about $55.4 million, and that the city expects a surplus of $863,370, with about $1.9 million being transferred to reserves.
The public hearing for the budget will be during the April 16 council meeting. During this meeting, the council will also vote whether or not to adopt the budget.
The council approved an agreement with Loyet Architects, a Highland-based architectural firm.
The architects will continue designing the public safety facility project, and renovations to Fire Station No. 1. The project is estimated to cost about $7 million.
In 2012, Williams Architects, an architectural firm located in Itasca, Illinois, began the project.
In November, the council approved a new business district sales tax to help fund the project, without voter approval. A memo from Highland Police Chief Terry Bell said that the Public Safety Department believes the city will save about two-thirds of the architectural costs by switching to Loyet for the remainder of the project.
2018 'Rock-A-Block' Request
The council approved the eighth Rock-A-Block for Aug. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Square.
The annual event is hosted by the Apostolic Revival Church, located at 11656 State Route 143. Festivities include live Christian music, bounce houses, face painting, games, food and drinks.
Along with use of the Square, the church requested a presence from Highland police and fire departments.
IMRF agent authorized
The council approved a resolution to designate Ann Stoecklin as the city's authorized agent for the IMRF account.
In a memo to the council, Latham said the resolution allows Stoecklin the necessary authorizations to perform tasks associated with IMRF, on behalf of the city.
Stoecklin is serving as the city's interim director of human resources. The city's last director of human resources, Lisa Schoeck, gave her letter of resignation last month. Though the resignation is not effective until April 30, the end of the city's fiscal year, Latham said Schoeck will be on paid administrative leave until that time.
The council approved a $36,701 preliminary engineering agreement with CSX Railroad. The agreement will facilitate the development of a proposed traffic signal at the intersection of Hemlock Street and Frank Watson Parkway on U.S. 40.
The city has pursued this project since July of last year. Latham said the plan is part of the first step in finalizing a plan to submit to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Funding for the engineering will come from the non-home rule sales tax.
The council agreed to allow Mayor Joe Michaelis to apply for a community development block grant from Madison County. If the city receives the grant, the funds will be used to construct a new senior citizens center.
The center will possibly be located on the western side of the Korte Rec Center, according to Latham. He estimated that the project could be finished this summer, if the council approves it.
The council approved the demolition of two city-owned structures. The properties are located at 1311 Oak St. and 914 and 916 Deal St. The city acquired these properties through the legal abandonment process.
The council approved the disposal of 104 pieces of Highland Communications Services' surplus property.
The pieces of property were 49 set top boxes, 23 ONT boxes, six switches and 26 routers.
"The items on the list are broken and cannot be fixed," HCS's Director of Technology and Innovation Angela Imming said in a memo to the city.
Imming also said the items have no warranty and no value. They will be destroyed following guidelines from the state.