STERLING – The City Council approved the payment of bills to its longtime environmental consultant Friday, but the future of that relationship is a work in progress.
The council, during a special session, unanimously voted to sign off on bills totaling $96,684.35 from Greg Hummel and his Chicago-based firm Bryan Cave LLP. The city had budgeted $100,000 for the firm in this fiscal year.
Hummel was there to answer questions and make a pitch for future work from the city. After the presentation, it was decided that Hummel should draw up a new engagement letter that would better protect the city from cost overruns.
Alderman Jim Wise suggested a new agreement after City Manager Scott Shumard told the council the existing pact is about 10 years old.
“I think we could review everything and eradicate some of our concerns in a new agreement,” Wise said. “We could possibly set a cap, and once we get there, we’re done.”
Hummel has headed up the city’s riverfront cleanup and remediation efforts for 20 years. Most of his work has been done at the Northwestern Steel & Wire site, but he is also working on the environmental process at the Stanley-National building.
The city has paid Hummel just short of $5.5 million during his 2 decades on the job.
Alderman John Stauter has consistently criticized the firm’s billing changes, which have taken a toll on other aspects of city government.
“Looking at these budget amendments for bill changes, we’ve borrowed almost $3.5 million from other funds to pay your bills,” Stauter said. “Every year, it doesn’t even come close, and if we did this in other funding areas, people would be livid.”
Hummel said projects as complex as the mill site are often thrown curves, but that he has never done anything without keeping the city manager and mayor in the loop.
Hummel, a Sterling native, said this project is special to him, which is why he has done pro bono work and plans to do more going forward.
“I’d love to do more work here because I’m passionate about it, and I believe in the volunteer spirit here – I’m proud to be from Sterling.”
Hummel argued that his work here has created tremendous value for the city. He said the city’s $5 million in payments to the firm have brought back benefits worth about a half-billion dollars. That includes Walmart’s $100,000 million investment in the distribution center, $38 million from Leggett & Platt for the Sterling Steel plant, $36 million a year in payroll from new jobs created, and millions more in riverfront cleanup and redevelopment grants.
Alderman Joe Martin, who was on the council when the mill filed bankruptcy and closed, said Hummel has earned his money.
“Back then, we thought the sidewalks would be rolled up and the city would fall off the face of the earth,” Martin said. “Because of Greg, we got Leggett & Platt and the Walmart Distribution Center, and the logistics were a nightmare.”
But for Stauter and Alderwoman Chris Wilen, the situation comes down to dollars and cents.
“We have pensions, employees to take care of, other vacant buildings, sewer and other infrastructure to deal with, all while we’re trying to keep taxes down,” Stauter said.
Hummel said he didn’t anticipate bills exceeding $100,000 in the next two fiscal years. He agreed to write a draft for a new letter of engagement and bring it to the council.
The City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, at City Hall, 212 Third Ave., in the first-floor Council Chambers.
Go to sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.