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Voters may see a pair of advisory referenda on the April ballot as the Piatt County Board seeks opinion on two issues: Urging the state to allow concealed carry of firearm in Illinois, and reducing the minimum acreage requirements for rural home-building.
Concealed carry in Illinois could actually be on the way within the next sixth months after a federal appeals court last week overturned the state’s weapon ban.
An advisory-only referendum to send a message to Springfield has been discussed by the county board for several months. Despite the fact it could become reality without the pressure from several counties who have approved similar referenda, board member Richard Wilkin felt a local ballot question is still a good idea.
“Seeing as the court ruling gave the state six months to decide what they’re going to do and come up with legislation within six months, I think this is very pertinent at this time. It is exactly the right time to put it on the ballot,” said Wilkin.
The ballot would ask voters if they feel the Illinois General Assembly and governor should “enact legislation to allow trained, certified and licensed law-abiding adult citizens to carry firearms for lawful purposes?”
Board member Kathleen Piatt suggested the referendum push include an educational program to alleviate safety concerns of residents prior to the vote.
“I have receive emails about how the law would change, and what would be permissible under the law; and that children are still protected, and that people are still safe,” said Piatt.
Such an education program would need to be taken on by an entity other than the county board, which by law needs to remain neutral once the question is placed on the ballot.
Minimum lot size
County Board President John Lyons also pushed for a second ballot question that would ask if voters favor lowering the 20-acre minimum needed to build a home in rural areas of the county. At a meeting in July, Lyons felt the limit smacked of too much government regulation. Last week he added his opinion that it also held back residential development, especially in the southern end of the county.
“I think if we went to three acres we would have more building in the county, and building brings in revenue,” said Lyons.
The issue had been referred to the Zoning Board of Appeals, so Randy Keith questioned why it should go to an advisory-only ballot in April.
“Are we going around the zoning board here?” said Keith. “I am uncomfortable with going forward unless we get something from the zoning committee.”
Lyons responded that “I don’t think we’re going around them. I think we’re helping them” by providing input. He also said he would touch base with all ZBA members to net their input.
Audience member Jim Smith of Cisco felt the issue should also go through the zoning board, and questioned if any county board members would gain individually by a reduction in minimum lot size.
Lyons said he does own rural land but intended on keeping it as a farm. Fellow board member Mike Wileaver said he had “nothing to gain by this,” but supported smaller rural lot sizes because “people have assets and should be able to control them.”
In a survey of several central Illinois counties last summer, County Zoning Officer Trish Gale found rural lot size minimums ranged from two acres in DeWitt and Woodford counties up to 40 acres in Tazewell and DeKalb counties.
The Piatt County Board would need to formally approve the idea of an advisory referendum by Jan. 22 in order for it to be eligible for the April 9 ballot.
The board also gave a commendation to former county board member Jerry Brazelton, who served for 10 years before being defeated in the November election.
“He has been conscientious, able, and dedicated in carrying out his duties and obligations,” said Lyons in reading a proclamation issued in Brazelton’s honor.
“We commend Jerry Brazelton for the excellent services rendered to the County of Piatt and the people of Piatt County,” said Lyons.
“This is very nice. I enjoyed working with you all,” commented Brazelton.
Replacing a boiler at the Piatt County Office Building and an air-conditioning ‘chiller’ at the county nursing home will cost around $130,000, but maintenance supervisor Scott Stephenson hopes grants will pay for about $50-60,000 of the overall cost.
He added it will make for more efficient systems that will save the county money in utility bills.
In other action, the board:
• approved the use of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor for the county, at a cost of about $7,000 a year. State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades said it is used by the office each year, and is included in her budget for the year;
• approved an intergovernmental agreement to share the cost of the fiber optic cable project. The estimated cost for engineering and installation to make various parts of Monticello ready for higher-speed data/internet is $40-$50,000 for each of the four entities involved.
• announced a special use permit hearing to consider the Norfleet landing strip has been changed to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17.
• made the following appointments: Larry McClure to the Grandview Mutual Drainage District; Robert Heidkamp, Willow Branch Drainage District #5; Bruce Stoddard, Goose Creek Drainage District #2A; and Laura Murphy, Economic Development.