News Report Staff

Effingham City Council on Tuesday approved a new business district for the south side of town and learned the construction schedule has been pushed back for a new north side grocery.

The South Banker Street Business District covers about 130 acres along the Banker Street corridor stretching from the railroad overpass to Hoffman Drive. The intent of the district is to generate revenue through a 1 percent additional sales tax on retail sales and any future hotel charges for the purpose of assisting commercial and infrastructure development on the city’s south side. This would be the fourth business district within Effingham.

The vote on the ordinance had Mayor Jeff Bloemker and City Commissioners Kevin Willis, Merv Gillenwater and Kevin Esker in support, while Don Althoff voted against it.

Two weeks ago, Althoff expressed his opposition to removing a commercial property for Bahrns Equipment from the district map. He said all commercial properties first proposed for inclusion in that business district should remain.

The council vote came about two hours after a public hearing at City Hall had one businessman in the district expressing opposition to the plan because it created an advantage for a north side business not subject to a business district added sales tax. (See the story on the hearing on this page.)

Some road work on Ford Avenue and Oak Point Street is a contributing factor to pushing back progress on the Meijer Grocery project by a year or more. Effingham City Engineer Jeremy Heuerman suggested one possible opening date would be in 2021.

Heuerman explained to council members that city staff and Meijer Stores Limited are working on a roadway development agreement that would widen Ford Avenue and add traffic signals at Ford and Oak Point.

Meijer engineers would complete design work while the city would complete construction. The city would be reimbursed up to $530,000. There was also discussion on restrictive covenants for conservation on wetlands near the future Meijer site. This conservation agreement would provide an easement on construction work covering about one acre of land.

In related matters on Meijer, the council approved scheduling a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19 for amending the Ford Avenue Business District Plan relating to realigning the boundaries of the Meijer project. The hearing will convene in the council chambers at City Hall.

In other business, the council approved a $25,000 contribution to the Effingham City/County Committee on Aging in support of the local Senior Center.

In another fiscal matter, the council discussed a resolution that would authorize a 12-month agreement with Opportunity Alliance for professional consulting services. The cost would be $2,500 per month.

Some changes in signage rules might be ahead in Effingham. Heuerman said the proposed amendment to sign rules could have an effect on many types of signs, both large and small, as well as banners and roadway right of way notices. The changes will be presented during the December 12 Effingham Plan Commission meeting in City Hall.

The council approved amending the Municipal Code regarding numbering of buildings. This would set higher standards on number displays for building identification.

America’s Groove Record Store was awarded a Business Appreciation Award. The store has a diverse collection of merchandise and was described in the nomination letter as “one of the bright spots in Village Square Mall.”

City Administrator Jim Arndt presented the Second Financial Quarter Report near the close of the meeting. He reviewed funds to show how the city was in good financial standing for the second quarter of the 2017-18 Fiscal Year, which ends on April 30, 2018.

Arndt noted the General Fund balance is down, but balances for tourism, as well as the police and firefighter pensions, were all up. Some deficits in specific funds related to the timing of property tax distribution to the city. The city’s debt is certainly affected by the $9 million borrowed for construction of the new Effingham Police Station, but the city has more than $6 million in reserves for the second quarter.

Christmas activities were part of the discussion when Tourism Director Jodi Thoele offered her report to the council. Wonderland in Lights at Community Park has drawn good crowds in recent weeks. City officials have completed judging for the Holiday Lights and Festive Sights contest. The public can join in the judging this week. For details, log onto the Effingham Tourism website.

Tuesday’s council meeting was the first for use of a new city council electronic document system for managing the agenda and votes by council members. Mayor Bloemker thanked city staff for making the system operational.