Newton has been offered a lot of cash for accepting closure of a railroad crossing, but local firefighters want to make sure that doesn’t create a bottleneck for fire vehicles.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is offering the city $215,000 to allow Indiana Railroad to close a rail crossing somewhere along the railway that cuts through the city. Some crossings have been discussed, but no decision has been made yet, Mayor Mark Bolander said during the Feb. 18 Newton City Council meeting to several firefighters present that night.

Wade Fire Protection District Fire Chief Gary Lindemann said routing of the fire trucks are already restricted due to traffic concerns on some narrower streets. The firefighters must also have hydrants available beyond the tracks, too, Chief Lindemann said. Firefighters want to make sure the street that is closed for the railroad will not add to access problems for fire vehicles.

“Our concern is getting on and off different streets with our truck. And we don’t want to be laying hoses across the tracks,” Lindemann explained. Another effect could be with fire insurance rates in the city because reduced access for firefighters would add to safety concerns.

“If that affects the ISO [fire insurance] rates then you could anger some residents in town,” Lindemann said.

Mayor Bolander said the council is not certain it will close a crossing, but he said $215,000 from ICC could fix some problems in Newton.

“You can understand why we’re considering this. We could do a lot of things with that much money,” Bolander told the firefighters.

The city agreed to a few crossing closures before, but even those were hard to decide at the time. No resident or business likes being by a dead-end street.

“There really are no easy answers on this like there were with the past closures,” Councilman Dave Brown noted.

Later in the meeting, the council agreed to a stipulated agreement with ICC for grading and adding crossing gates on Scott Avenue. This action is separate from the closure request. The vote on the motion was unanimous with Council members Mayor Bolander, Brown, Marlene Harris, Eric Blake, Gayle Glumac, and Rob Reisner answering roll call. Larry Brooks was absent.

The city was in the spirit last week for offering two more Class E or restaurant liquor licenses to a pair of businesses.

Two new licenses were approved on the restaurant-use liquor option, which increases the Class E total from four to six. The licenses will be sought by a new bistro restaurant, opening soon under local ownership, and Pizza Man in Newton. This type of license only allows alcohol sales and consumption at the restaurant with no package sales allowed.

The city council also authorized an intergovernmental agreement with Jasper County officials and the local 911 board on setting the costs and responsibilities regarding the purchase of equipment for the Starcom radio communication system. The city will be responsible for $53,816 for the police radios, a figure equal to the costs for its deputies, while the 911 board will pay $12,657.

The total equipment list from Motorola includes 10 mobiles, chargers, accessories, services, ranging from enhanced data to smartphone operation, and headsets, based on documents available during the council meeting last week. The Starcom system will improve overall communication between the officers and telecommunicators, especially during emergency situations.

In addition, the council agreed to purchase eight mobiles and four portables refurbished Starcom radios for $6,000 for emergency use. This will be covered by a fund related to drug arrests. Newton Police Mike Swick said the city has already gained $20,000 for the new radio purchase and it has applied for another grant that could provide $25,000 more.

Boy Scout Scott Ethan Yost will be working on benches for placement along the Eagle River Trail, Councilman Rob Reisner said. Trail benches offer a chance for rest for walkers or runners and a chance to enjoy the scenery by the Embarras River.

City residents will get a break on electric rates with the council agreeing not to raise power bills for Fiscal Year 2020-21.

The citywide cleanup is scheduled for May 15 and 16. Pulling out all the clutter and junk is good exercise. Just remember to lift with your legs or recruit an energetic teenager for help clearing your house or garage.

Mayor Bolander wants to stop heavy truck drivers from taking detours in neighborhoods, which causes property damage. He said stricter enforcement or more signage might stop the practice when railroad crossing work starts in the city. It was also a problem this month when traffic was restricted along Van Buren and East Jourdan as wide equipment loads passed through the city headed east to the refinery in Robinson. Other truckers not tied to the wide loads just pulled off the truck route wherever they wished.

“People are tired of their yards getting cut up,” Bolander said.

The time is approaching for the city accepting employee applications for the Aquatic Center at Peterson Park. Check with Newton City Hall.

Council members met in closed session to decide on whether minutes from previous closed discussions should be open to the public. This periodic review is required by the Illinois Open Meeting Act that also restricts what subjects can be considered in closed session by governmental board.

The council also decided to erase or destroy audio tapings of closed session minutes from meetings between Feb. 26, 2018, and July 17 of that year.