By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

It might have been bitterly cold outside during Tuesday’s Effingham City Council meeting, but some figures on Wonderland in Lights warmed some hearts in the council chambers.

Tourism Director Jodi Thoele presented figures showing the annual Christmas lighting display at Community Park set new records once again on donations and visitors traveling through the route.

Thoele said the monetary donations collected this year totaled $7,106, which was about $3,000 more than last year’s figure. There were also 2,000 more vehicles carrying visitors to the park. The total for 2017 was 7,654.

“We had excellent volunteers,” Thoele said. Volunteers at the end of the route do help encourage donations from visitors.

It undoubtedly helped that Effingham had a snowfall on Christmas weekend, which certainly puts families in the Wonderland in Lights mood. The annual Christmas event keeps people coming to the park and enjoying all the entertaining displays.

During the regular business section of the meeting, the council approved a liquor license for A-1 Food Mart at the corner of Fayette Avenue and Fourth Street, and asked about the details on a liquor license change for Quick Stop Package Liquor on North Route 45 near Rickelman Avenue.

A-1 Food Mart is expanding and the change to a P-1 or “Pour” liquor license will allow tastings of wine or beer in the facility. All council members approved that change.

B.J. Hom, owner and operator of Quick Stop Package, located south of the Pilot Truck Stop, is also seeking a P-1 license for his business. When he reviewed the reasoning behind the change he noted his intent to offer video gambling in the liquor store. The P-1 option and other liquor licenses allow video gambling for qualified establishments under state law. But the council has been wary to approve some proposals on liquor license requests that seem to be setting up gambling parlors.

“It sounds like you’re wanting to get this liquor license for the video machines,” City Commissioner Merv Gillenwater asked Hom.

“My priority is liquor,” Hom said, indicating the video gambling would be beneficial to drawing customers.

This produced questions from Gillenwater and Commissioner Kevin Willis on how the Pour license rules apply in a gaming environment. Willis wanted to make sure Hom understood that the new license would not allow a tavern-like atmosphere.

“You understand they can’t drink five beers and leave,” Willis said.

Mayor Jeff Bloemker said the city staff will make sure Hom understands the parameters of the P-1 license before action is taken on the request. The council will take action on the final request during a future council meeting.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance amending the city personnel policy manual to comply with a recent state mandate aimed at sexual harassment in government. The amendments changed wording on policies already in place, including no retaliation against employees reporting harassment or explaining how incidents are reported. Other local government bodies, including the Effingham County Board, have approved similar amendments to their existing policies against harassment.

Council members also approved a resolution approving job descriptions for the economic development specialist and engineering technical assistant positions. These descriptions are part of the city’s organizational development.

During discussions of future action on ordinances or resolutions, Effingham City Attorney Tracey Willenborg noted recent litigation in Illinois means municipalities can take action to declare abandoned gas stations as public nuisances, which could lead to the elimination of these potential eyesores.

The commissioners were agreeable to allowing Pro-Lube of Effingham an extension of time to complete its work on its structure through a Tax Increment Financing agreement. Some unforeseen delays were the reason for the request. The council will consider action at a later date on the extension for completing painting, signage and other outdoor improvements for Pro-Lube.

Public Works Director Steve Miller reviewed two projects — lift station maintenance and detention basin work —  with costs of $20,000 each. Vandevanter Engineer will handle the lift station, while bid letting on the Four Seasons Detention Basin is scheduled for January 9.

Residents are reminded that Christmas Trees collection will start at 8 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 8. Residents can leave their tree by the curb for collection by Street Department crews. The collection will continue through next week. Please remove ornaments from the trees.