Getting Newton Police Department radio communications updated to a satellite system will be a costly effort, Newton City Council members learned during their Sept. 17 meeting.
One figure estimates each new satellite radio communication device will cost $6,000 or more. The change is needed to comply with new communication requirements on 911 and other emergency networks. Having reliable communication with agencies on the local, regional and state level is considered vital for responding to emergencies nowadays. Quick, reliable communications can save lives.
NPD has asked the council to hire the South Central Illinois Regional Planning and Development Commission to seek grant funds for the more advanced radio units. In addition to a price tag of $48,000 for six devices, there would be monthly costs on the different features of the network.
On another law enforcement subject, the council briefly discussed possible actions by the city regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana that starts in January across Illinois. Some communities are considering restrictions on cannabis-related businesses, other than medical use, and possible taxes on sales of cannabis. Unfortunately, there are many questions to be answered before the city considers what action it will take. More information the city’s options, which cannot overrule state law, will be reviewed well before the first of January, Mayor Mark Bolander said.
Mayor Bolander was optimistic when he reviewed information provided by Vistra Energy on the future of the Newton Power Station
The coal-fueled Newton facility was spared closure by Vistra, a Texas-based corporation last month. Now, the question is how the energy company plans to convert Newton and similar stations to solar and battery storage in the next few years. Four plants in the Vistra Illinois system will close in coming months and another upstate coal-fueled facility will also be closed by 2022.
Bolander believes Jasper County could benefit through the conversion if solar and battery storage are installed here. He acknowledged that jobs will be reduced at the power station due to the switchover, but that figure is not yet clear. A county board member earlier this month estimated a majority of the 80 jobs at the station could be lost.
Final payment was approved for $5,825 to Hanfland Painting Contractors, Sigel, for the South Tower painting project. The contract totaled $116,500, including power washing, priming and other coatings plus lettering and logo. There were retainage costs on paint that spread to some parked cars near the tower.
The roll call vote on the painting payment had all council members in favor, including Marlene Harris, Eric Blake, Larry Brooks, Rob Reisner, David Brown and Gayle Glumac.
Mayor Bolander wants residents to ask questions or seek information they wish from city government. But he cited an example where a Freedom of Information Act request on a change in the deposit amount on street cutting work appears to set up a “gotcha moment” for city officials.
“We’re trying to do the right thing here,” said Bolander in explaining the change to encourage contractors to complete cleanup work on streets with the ability to get reimbursed if that work is done. “We’re not trying to make a lot of money from these deposits. I don’t think we’ve cashed a check that I can remember on these deposits.”
Alderman Dave Brown asked if the city could seek more quotes on plans for curb and gutter work. He agreed the legal limit on accepting only quotes is $25,000 and the estimate on the project is about half that amount. The city prefers to seek local bids on work that have qualified contractors in the community.
“I’m not trying to push any buttons on this, Mayor, but I don’t believe we should go with only one quote,” Brown said.
Bolander asked Brown to come up with a couple other names of contractors to compare prices.
In other business, council members set the Halloween Trick or Treat Night for Oct. 31. The ghosts, witches, ghouls, superheroes and other characters can make their rounds from 5 to 8 p.m. that night. Bad weather will move Trick or Treat to Nov. 1. Contact Newton City Hall for questions on the rain date by calling 783-8478.
Flu shots will provide to all part-time and full-time city employees to help keep the “bug” away through the fall and winter.
There was also a discussion on the possibility of raising aquatic center concession prices next season. Rob Reisner said the city has always tried to make the prices low for the benefit of the kids and their families.
Another cost concern is how increase in the minimum wage through state law will affect seasonal employees. More information on the concessions and the wage rates will be considered at a future meeting.
Council members discussed the success of the Fall Festival the previous weekend. All agreed there was a good turnout and plenty of community involvement with a huge parade and 40 floats. Grace Free Methodist Church offered 1,000 bottles of water free to the public, which was appreciated due to the heat that September day. There was also plenty of food stands on the Square.
The council met in closed session to consider litigation and a possible sale of property. No action was taken after council members returned to open session before voting to adjourn. The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 1 at City Hall.