By Todd Wineburner
At last night’s Pontiac City Council meeting, council members approved an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation that will move the Pontiac depot renovation project forward. Mayor Bob Russell says the planning phase was held at 30 percent of completion while waiting for the council’s vote. After last night, the project moves forward. “They’ll go to 50 percent completion on the plans, I would guess, within a month,” Russell says. “We’ll look at those, we’ll make any changes and then they’ll proceed. “ Russell says the goal is still starting the project this fall. During discussion of the agreement, council member Kelly Eckhoff was concerned that the city would have to fund the project with full reimbursement promised within 60 days. Russell says that provision is standard with rail improvement agreements, and that the money is coming from federal sources and the rail industry, so there should be no issues with payment. He adds that if the agreement had been with Illinois agencies, the city wouldn’t accept a promise of later payment. City Administrator Bob Karls says the city has entered into these types of agreements before, and there’s been no delay of payment.
In other actions, the council approved new equipment for the parks and recreation department, and expenditures on new trees for landscaping. There was discussion of zoning for tattoo shops in Pontiac, that concept coming to the table because Livingston County is considering lifting its current ban on tattoo facilities. City Administrator Karls said preparatory work had to be done to have zoning regulations in place should the ban be lifted. Tattoo artist Raimin Bohm addressed the council, explaining that as a longtime Livingston County resident, he’d prefer to operate and contribute revenue to his home. He further appealed to the council to create ordinances that wouldn’t relegate his business to remote areas of the community. The council expressed appreciation for Bohm’s appearance and referred the question to the planning commission.
The meeting also featured a public hearing on the electric aggregation, and a council vote approving the plan of governance for aggregation. Steve Smith of Bloomington’s Farnsworth Group fielded questions, including several questions from council member Scot Schickel, whose concerns were raised by a letter from area resident and county board member Carolyn Gerwin. In that document, Gerwin talked about a provider called Homefield Advantage, a corporation that was created by Ameren energy and remains closely aligned with the parent company. Smith says his company is aware of Homefield, but that his company has never done business with them, and that their penetration into areas served by Commonwealth Edison is very slight. Other suggestions included an accusation that aggregation plans were masking a larger agenda for collecting money through surreptitious means. Smith denied that accusation, saying that Farnsworth Group routinely advises municipalities to avoid looking to aggregation as a revenue stream. City Administrator Bob Karls said at the hearing that Pontiac had heeded that advice and was not a financial participant in the aggregation plan, and that it was pursued as a way of saving Pontiac residents money. Smith added that his company is not paid by the City of Pontiac, but takes its fees from the company that ultimately becomes Pontiac’s electricity provider. Pontiac residents should see more information coming to their homes in the next several days.