Highland News Leader

Is Highland growing? A city audit says it’s on the right track

The water tower in Highland.
The water tower in Highland.

Highland received good news at recent city council meeting, as auditors Scheffel Boyle reported the city appears to be growing.

City Manager Mark Latham said the audit reflects signs of growth throughout Highland but said it won’t be clear if growth has actually happened until the 2020 census. He said the hope is that the census shows the city has grown by at least 3 percent.

“Things are looking up, as they mentioned in the audit, and we’ve seen quite a few commercial buildings go up and some homes being built as well,” Latham said.

The number of building permits issued has increased with a corresponding boost to equalized assessed valuation as new developments and improvements to existing properties continue throughout the city.

In 2018, the city’s total of commercial and residential building permits reached 11,263, up 2,672 from 2017’s audit.

The city saw a 2 percent increase in assessed valuation in the area, as well as a 2.5 percent increase in revenue from personal property taxes. The city’s revenue from sales taxes stayed the same.

Rate increases from years past and an electric rate increase in 2017 afforded a positive year for water, sewer and electricity revenue. Electricity saw a revenue gain of $353,663, water revenue increased by $221,472. However, sewer revenue decreased by $154,867.

The city’s fiber-optic service, Highland Communications, saw a 3.18 percent increase to revenue. Operational costs also increased by 1 percent.

The audit also reported the city’s total assets exceeded its liabilities by roughly $70.8 million. The city’s 2018 total asset amount was roughly $109.5 million, down from 2017’s $110.9 million. The city’s liabilities are at $34.6 million, down from $40.6 million last year.

City-wide revenue increased by $1.1 million and expenditures increased by $800,000.

Latham said the growth in the cities utilities supports investment into the repairing portions of Highland’s infrastructure. Currently, the city is putting $1.4 million toward replacing city water lines that are more than 80 years old.

The city also is upgrading its wastewater plant, repairing sewer lines and is in the design stage of beautifying Broadway. Latham said that’s just the beginning, citing more plans for investment in the city’s street and electrical infrastructure.

“The city’s audits have always been something that shows accountability to the taxpayers and the users of the city’s enterprise utilities,” Latham said. “We’re very pleased it came back positive.”

Other Council Action

The city council approved a request from the Highland Chamber of Commerce to once again hold its Lighted Christmas Parade. The parade will be held Friday. Nov. 23, and will end with the lighting of Highland’s downtown square.

Solar Farm Approved

The council unanimously approved a special use permit for a planned solar farm on the west side of town that will be constructed by Summit Ridge Energy, if and when the company is awarded funding through a state lottery.

The land is half a mile west of Highland Road and Hemlock Street. If the farm is constructed, the land will act as a home for a solar farm, where rows of solar panels would convert rays of sunlight into electricity, which are then added to the state’s power grid.

Water Main Improvements

Haier Plumbing and Heating, Oakawville, was awarded a bid to work on the roughly $1.48 million of water main improvements throughout the city. The work will replace water lines in the city that are more than 80 years old.

Last year, the engineering firm Hurst-Rosche performed a study to evaluate Highland’s aging water distribution system, which has many cast-iron pipes and undersized mains. The study found that 25 percent of the entire system required replacement.

The three mains are on:

Broadway from Illinois 160 to Poplar Street,

Illinois 143 from U.S. 40 to Troxler Avenue,

the “White City” mains along Deal, Cedar, Beech, and Monroe streets.

In 2017, the city had 25 water main breaks, half of which happened on critical mains. Officials estimated that each break costs, on average, $1,500 to repair in labor and materials.

The council also approved the purchase of water meters from Midwest Meter, Inc., for $25,000 and approved bid letting on the city’s planned improvements to the Water Reclamation Facility.

Codes, Contracts and Rezoning

Several municipal codes also were approved for an update at the meeting, bringing the city’s code to the most recent year applicable to the city’s needs.

Two authorizations of real estate purchase and temporary construction easements were approved for a roundabout. A rezoning request for property located at 38 Lincoln Lane from “R-I-C” Single-Family Residential to “C-3” Highway Business District. The council agreed that without direction on what the land might become, the zoning request will not be approved.

A contract for ambulance service with Marine Community Fire Protection and St. Jacob Fire Protection District also was approved.

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