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Council OKs bid for roundabout project

Without grant, city will have to dip deeper into sales tax money

STERLING – The financing plans have changed, but a new roundabout at Lynn Boulevard and LeFevre Road should be completed this fall.

The City Council, in a special session, approved the low bid of $942,021.14 from Martin & Co. of Oregon to build the roundabout. That total includes about $100,000 for Douglas Park stormwater sewer improvements. The drainage goes to Lynn Boulevard, so a larger drain will be installed under LeFevre to handle additional flow from Douglas Park.

The bid was to be approved at the May 20 council meeting, but the city delayed action after learning 3 days earlier that it would not get an Economic Development Program Grant it had applied for from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The grant could have been worth nearly $500,000.

The city will now have to make up the difference with additional sales tax money, shifting those funds away from other road projects on the wish list.

The application was tied to a recently announced warehouse expansion project in the Meadowlands Business Park. The name of the company has yet to be disclosed, but the project is expected to create 150 jobs initially and 300 eventually.

The EDP grant targets road projects that are needed for access to new or expanding industrial, manufacturing or distribution businesses. The allocations are tied to job creation and retention numbers from the new or expanding business.

“The warehouse would immediately create 150 jobs and we could have received $30,000 for every new job, so that would be about 50% of the project budget,” City Manager Scott Shumard said.

City officials were perplexed when told that its application had been denied because certain criteria had not been met. The decision to delay the council’s vote on the bid was made to give the city more time to argue its case. Shumard and Mayor Skip Lee sought help from the offices of state Rep. Tony McCombie and state Sen. Neil Anderson last week.

“They said there has been no progress yet, and there are no assurances we’ll ever get the grant money,” Shumard said.

The city, however, was not in a position to wait for long. The special meeting was necessary to approve the bid before the end of May – the deadline for getting the roundabout finished this year when the company begins operations in the warehouse.

Even if the city did get the grant, it learned that even though the roundabout will be at an existing intersection, it would have to go through a 6-month environmental survey process, followed by the state signing off on results, which would rule out starting the work this year.

“At this point, I think we’re stuck going low on this one,” Shumard said.

The importance of the warehouse project, however, should be looked at as an investment that could pay for itself many times over, Alderman Jim Wise said.

“This project could have far greater reach than just the warehouse,” Wise said. “The southwest quadrant is the most economically distressed in the city, and this could elevate the west side to the standards of the east side.”

The roundabout will also improve traffic safety and increase assessed valuations on that side of town, Wise said.

“Although we have to bite the bullet now, our money can be recouped 20 or 30 times the investment in the future,” Wise said. “This can help keep residents’ property taxes in check.

The low bid on the roundabout project came in 11.4% below the engineer’s estimate.

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