Hard surface planned for hiking/biking trail

A hard surface awaits the second half of the Sangamon River Bridge bike and hiking trail, with completion scheduled by winter.

The Monticello city council on Sept. 24 approved a resolution to set aside $160,000 in Motor Fuel Tax proceeds to fund the work, which was included in this year’s budget.

The first .6 miles of the path, which crosses the Sangamon River, opened in 2010 and was changed from crushed rock to concrete in 2013. The second half of the current path – from County Farm Road to Applewood Drive – opened in 2014. Concrete was chosen for the latest segment to provide consistency and provide a long-lasting covering for the west side trail.

“Concrete gives us the most life expectancy of any of the paving options. Asphalt is a maintenance item,” city Capitol Improvements Projects Manager Brett Baker told the council. “You have to continually seal it, so we get the most bang for our buck because of the life expectancy of the concrete.”

Concrete typically has a higher cost, but City Administrator Terry Summers said it was not appreciably more costly when it was compared to asphalt during the 2013 surface work. He added it is also difficult to get asphalt laying equipment onto the trail due to the tree canopy.

The new surface is also part of the city’s bicycle transportation master plan, approved three years ago. The ultimate goal is to have dedicated bikeways between the westernmost edge of the Sangamon River Trail through town to the mile-long East Prairie Bicycle and Walking Path.

Summers said the next bike trail project will likely be to extend the Sangamon River trail from its easternmost point at N. Railroad Street toward the swimming pool and eventually to connect with a planned pedestrian crossing of Market Street at Washington Street. There is no timetable for that trail extension, which could include both on- and off-road sections, but the pedestrian crossing is set for construction next year.

That project also includes a wider sidewalk along Market Street between Washington Street to Main Street so that bicycles can travel the proper direction in order to get to the downtown business district.

The city applied for but was not awarded an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant in 2016, which would have paid for 80 percent of work that would include enhancement of both the East Prairie and Sangamon River trails. Without grant funding, projects will be done as part of other street work as money allows, said Summers, who feels such quality of life enhancements are important for smaller communities like Monticello.

“There are a lot of articles out there about out-migration. People are leaving rural America, rural Illinois, and not coming back. So to offer things for people to do is almost as important as running water, sewer, fiber optic now,” said Summers.

Budget requests
Representatives of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce and Monticello Main Street organizations both appeared before the city council for their annual budget requests.

Main Street Director Stefanie McLeese is asking for a $10,000 increase to $30,000 in 2019, partly to build a database and other technology-based infrastructure for the group.

“Currently those records for us are sitting in my office in a manilla folder, hand-written. We don’t have a proper method for managing our membership database, volunteer database, member benefits, those kinds of things,” said McLeese. “If we’re going to revive our historic downtown, and now feels like the time to do it with a full (Main Street) board of 13, it’s time to invest in some of those basic organizational things.”

Main Street Board President Samantha Koon complimented past director Kerry Redshaw for stabilizing the organization, and said the group has since expanded its base and has members ready to “step our game up from here.”

McLeese said adding qualified people to the volunteer pool has given them a “deep bench” that they plan to rely on. If the budget is expanded, she said additional stipends may also be paid to those who take on larger roles, for instance a $500 one given for the planning of last weekend’s Monticellobration.

A separate budget of $15,000 for downtown facade improvement grants is also being requested, as compared to $12,500 for the current fiscal year.

Main Street activities include Monticellobration, the Reds of Christmas, Whites of Spring and the Thursday afternoon Farmer’s Market.

Monticello Chamber of Commerce Director Denise Flaar asked for a $1,000 increase in city funding for operations to $13,500, with a tourism and promotion request of $19,500 being the same is 2018.

A good chunk of advertising has shifted to more digital media platforms that target areas at least 30 miles outside of Monticello in order to reach potential tourists. Flaar said those efforts are getting approximately 23,000 views per month.

“This is one way we have found to get feedback,” she said of the digital marketing studies that are generated. “We have digital marketing videos playing for eight different entities in Monticello,” including Allerton Park, the Monticello Railroad Museum, some for local restaurants, the Monticello Family Aquatic Center, and for the chamber itself.

Some of the activities planned each year by the chamber include the Christmas parade, Frosty’s display, Lunch with Santa on the Train, and member lunch meetings every other month.

Financial consultant
Audience member Steve Shreffler encouraged aldermen to hire a financial advisor, something that has been advocated by council member Joe Brown.

“I think it’s a good piece of advice,” said Shreffler. “I realize you’re all smart and that you all have wisdom, but I seriously doubt that anybody amongst us has the type of wisdom that a professional financial advisor could offer.”

Summers said at the Sept. 10 council session that he was finding it difficult to get quotes from potential planners, which at this point would likely prevent an outside advisor from giving advice on next year’s budget.

Alderman John Miller suggested the financial advisor, which could cost between $10,000 and $30,000, be budgeted for in 2019 to help with the 2020 budget if the council desires.

Some aldermen were hesitant to spend the dollars for a service they felt current city staff could provide. Brown countered with his opinion that an outside contractor could help in long-term financial planning.

The city has started its budget planning for the year that begins Jan. 1. Summers said he plans to have a preliminary budget proposal to the council at the Nov. 13 or Nov. 26 session, which could be approved on Nov. 26 or Dec. 10.

Aldermen did authorize Summer’s to keep next year’s tax levy request at less than 105 percent of last year’s so that a Truth in Taxation hearing would not be needed.

In other action, the council:
–heard in Mayor Larry Stoner’s report that two new businesses are scheduled to open in Monticello in upcoming months: Heartfelt Books and The Soap Bubble;

–was told an informational meeting of the Sangamon Valley CEO program for area high school students will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Bement Lions Club Community Center;

–was informed by Summers that four proposals have been received by potential garbage haulers, and will be reviewed at the Oct. 22 council session. A possible vote on awarding the town’s waste hauling services to one company is set for
Nov. 13;

–heard that a presentation on how a business district could be formed is scheduled for the Oct. 9 council session; and

–was told the city planning and zoning board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15.

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