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Limestone and levy: City still has cleanup work to do, and council approves tax increase

The city will file two U.S. EPA grant applications to address environmental problems at the Limestone Building site. The city had hoped no remediation would be needed after the demolition of the building (shown here earlier this year), but the preliminary results from EPA testing indicated otherwise.
The city will file two U.S. EPA grant applications to address environmental problems at the Limestone Building site. The city had hoped no remediation would be needed after the demolition of the building (shown here earlier this year), but the preliminary results from EPA testing indicated otherwise.

ROCK FALLS – The Rock Falls City Council covered a lot of real estate Tuesday night, and property was the top topic – a property tax increase, property that needs cleaned up, and city property that investors have their eye on for possible development.

Limestone building

The city will file two U.S. EPA grant applications to address environmental problems at the Limestone Building site.

A public meeting for the grant applications was held at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The city had hoped no remediation would be needed after the demolition of the building, but the preliminary results from EPA testing indicated otherwise.

“The results came back on the soil and groundwater, which show elevated levels of VOCs and metals,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

VOCs are volatile organic compounds, gases that are emitted from solids or liquids. They include a variety of chemicals that can impact health, and some are known to cause cancer.

“It wasn’t a big surprise because there was a paint shop in the building that used lead-based paints,” Blackert said.

The public meetings are often called for grants, in part to demonstrate community engagement, but only one person was in the audience.

Mike Sterba, executive director of the Coloma Township Park District, spoke in both his professional capacity and as a resident.

Two areas, the lower dam and Bowman Park, could be affected by contamination at the Limestone site.

“The lower dam is the number one fishing spot here, and we wouldn’t want that closed to fishing,” Sterba said. “The park district wants to be a good partner to the city in the grant process, just as they have been to us in the past.”

As a resident, Sterba said he owns several pieces of property in town, and that any tax dollars spent to clean up the area and improve the quality of life is money well spent.

The applications will be submitted Monday, just ahead of the Nov. 16 deadline for the 2018 cycle. The city has a 20 percent match on each award. The awards should be announced in March or April.

Tax levy approved

The council OK’d a proposed 4.99 percent increase in the city’s portion of residents’ tax bills. The city’s levy is 17 percent of the tax bill. The largest percentage of the bill is the 55 percent that goes to the city’s high school and grade school districts, while about 10 percent is levied by Whiteside County.

Based on a $71,000 home, which is the median fair market value in Rock Falls, the city’s portion of the bill would cost taxpayers an additional $8.38 in taxes payable in 2018.

The city’s line item would be $516.77, an estimated increase of 0.211 percent to the overall tax bill.

The rising cost of funding police and fire pensions once again told the story at tax levy time.

“About 55 percent of this year’s levy is for pensions,” Blackert said. “The EAV was up 1.39 percent, but we were about $108,000 short with pensions.”

The city’s total unfunded liability is $6.5 million, down slightly from last year. The police pensions are about 53 percent funded, and fire is about 62 percent funded.

Developers looking at city property

The city took action on a real estate matter after going into closed session. A resolution was passed to enter a listing agreement with a broker, allowing them to offer 11 acres of city land to an interested local investment group.

Mayor Bill Wescott said he wasn’t authorized to disclose any details about the group or its plans for using the property along state Route 40.

“They want 11 acres, and they’ve looked at the Schmitt property and Glen’s Garden Subdivision near the interstate,” Wescott said. “The 11 acres could be on either side.”

Per the agreement, the potential investors will have 90 days to make an offer on the city’s property.

NEXT MEETING

The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.

The agendas will be posted at rockfalls61071.net and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5.

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