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New tow ordinance on agenda in Morrison

City also seeking grant for sewer line project

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 9:16 p.m. CDT

MORRISON – A discussion on a possible new tow fee proposed by the chief of police and a public hearing on a proposal to seek grant money for work on the city’s main sewer lines are on tonight’s City Council agenda.

Police Chief Brian Melton is asking the council to amend city code to allow the department to impose a tow fee of $200, plus fines, towing and storage fees, when a vehicle must be impounded. That fee applies even if the owner later is found to be not guilty of the infraction for which the vehicle was towed, but not if the vehicle was stolen at the time it was impounded.

Any and all owners will be able to request an administrative hearing on the merits of their tow.

The fee is administrative, like a “user fee,” and not punitive, like a fine, Melton said.

According to his proposal, all fees collected will be deposited in the Police Vehicle Fund and will be used only for expenses related to police vehicles. All expenses from the fund also will be paid, documented and approved by council members.

“There will be no other separate fund, or ‘checkbook,’” Melton said in his memo to the council.

“This is an excellent opportunity to have those ‘using’ police services pay a portion of those costs, rather than only local taxpayers supporting these costs,” Melton said in the memo. “This revenue also will support our fleet program, which currently does not have funding to meet its needs.”

The tow ordinance, which also specifies under which circumstances a vehicle can be impounded and towed, is up for discussion, but not for a vote.

A similar fund was created by the Ogle County board in 2011. It gave Sheriff Michael Harn unfettered discretion over how the money was spent, and Harn came under fire recently over expenditures that included buying a new vehicle, flowers for Secretary’s Day, a tent at the county fair, and $4,000 to manage the department’s Facebook page.

In the wake of the ensuing controversy, the board took the tow fund out of the sheriff’s hands, and has since agreed to have it forensically audited. Harn also lost his bid for re-election.

A public hearing on a proposal to seek a $450,000 state Community Development Block Grant will be held at 6:30 p.m., right before the regular meeting at 7 p.m..

The grant, which is funded by the federal government and administered through the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, is needed for “rehabilitation of the city’s wastewater system to address issues that currently pose a threat to the health and safety of the city’s residents.”

In essence, the city needs to reline several main sewer lines to reduce the amount of stormwater that’s leaking into them. It ties into the new sewer plant project, Mayor Everett Pannier said.

The city plans to use $150,000 from its water/sewer fund to help pay for the $600,000 project.

Then, at the council meeting, the engineering firm Baxter & Woodman is scheduled to give a presentation on the layout of the new $23 million sewer plant, construction of which is set to begin next spring and conclude in mid-2016 on a 30-acre site on the west side of state Route 78, just south of the Morrison Institute of Technology.

Plans also are on file at City Hall for anyone who wants to view them.

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