City waivers on project

EPA-ordered sewer work at risk from city commissioner's refusal to go into debt

CHRISMAN – Discussion about required improvements to the Chrisman sewage treatment plant was renewed at the Feb. 5 city council meeting.

Matt Johnson, an engineer with Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental, gave an update about the successful effort to obtain a $450,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“We have a fully executed grant agreement,” said Johnson, adding the council previously instructed him to wait until the grant money was in hand before applying for a United State Department of Agriculture Rural Development Loan to finance the rest of the estimated $1 million project.

Johnson explained at the meeting the grant agreement is as good a guarantee as possible. Technically, the city is supposed to pay the money upfront and invoice DCEO for the money, but Johnson said the more practical approach is designing the work contracts so contractors submit a request for pay with the understanding there is a 90-day period before the money is due.

The 90-day period allows Fehr Graham to send the approved pay request on to DCEO and when the money is released it is available to the city for a direct pay to the contractor.

“We are not taking any cash out of the sewer fund or cash flow,” said Johnson.

He asked the city council for direction about pursuing the Rural Development loan and the discussion took an abrupt turn.

“I’m not going to vote to go into debt,” said commissioner Rick Jenness.

Mayor Dan Owen countered there is more involved with the issue than a reluctance to assume long-term debt for the city.

“We have the grant, and we are under a court order to do something with the sewer plant,” said Owen.

Johnson expressed concern about how the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will respond if the city refuses to get a loan for the work now that a grant is secured for part of the project. He reminded council members the EPA granted the city a one-year extension to seek the grant again after the 2017 application was not funded.

“If you are not willing to go into debt and you are not willing to raise rates, it is going to come to a head at some point,” said Johnson.

Commissioner Jerry Hoult asked Johnson to review the cost of the project alongside the existing revenue of sewage rates to determine if the improvements can be done with the grant and existing cash flow. The council, Hoult said, needs to do some number crunching to find a solution.

Johnson agreed to put together a more detailed report while cautioning the commissioners time is running out. He said the effective date of the DCEO grant is October so the city must have a final plan of action before then.

During the reports section of the meeting, Commissioner Rodney Wolfe talked about the Paris Community Hospital’s plan to start its own ambulance service for transferring patients to other facilities. Wolfe is the city’s representative to the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Board, and he said a hospital-operated ambulance threatens a revenue stream for the local ambulance service.

The Northern Edgar County Ambulance (NECA) is a volunteer operation, but it still has expenses to meet. Financing for NECA is provided by voluntary payments from the city of Chrisman, the villages of Metcalf and Hume and Young America, Shiloh, Ross, Prairie, Brouilletts Creek and Edgar townships based on population in each of those communities. That totals $22,664 per year.

Additional funding is generated by Medicare and Medicaid payments when the ambulance transports residents at Pleasant Meadows Senior Living for emergency treatment. The ambulance has also received some money in the past carrying non-emergency patients from Paris Community Hospital to other hospitals.

Funding isn’t the only problem NECA is facing. Wolfe said when the service originally started more businesses were in town and EMTs could leave work for emergencies. He noted most people now work outside of Chrisman and those original volunteers are aging out, without younger people willing to get involved with the ambulance.

According to Wolfe, the ambulance board has considered hiring two full-time EMTs to staff the ambulance weekdays and continue relying on volunteers to cover the night and weekend hours. The problem is $22,264 is not enough to hire a single EMT.

“This system of volunteers has worked for 30 years but not anymore,” said Wolfe. “Your ambulance is suffering a little bit.”

He again expressed an opinion the future hospital ambulance service will be a detriment to the NECA operation and the board is struggling to find answers.

Owen encouraged everyone in the area served by NECA to become aware of the problems and find ways to support the ambulance.

“We don’t want to lose our ambulance service,” said Owen. “We can’t wait for the 20 minutes it takes an ambulance to get here from Paris.”

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944