Farmers around Saline County have a new reason to closely monitor any burning of fields. If a fire gets out, they should not expect Harrisburg Fire Department's help after June of next year.
Harrisburg City Council voted Thursday the fire department will cease to respond to fire calls outside the city except in the case of mutual aid within other fire department's corporate limits as of July 1, 2013.
That vote puts the impetus on the Saline County Board either to reimburse the city for fire service or start a county rural fire protection district.
On Aug. 23 Harrisburg Police and Fire Commissioner Bart Schiff addressed the county board asking for reimbursement for the cost of out-of-city fire calls the city had incurred the previous six months — an amount calculated to be about $20,000. Schiff also supported a county fire protection district.
Then county board Chairman Jay Williams during that time said he would not support a county fire department that would raise taxes for all in the county to fund a small percentage of the Harrisburg fire calls. As of August Chief Bill Summers reported of the 19 fire calls to which the department had responded 10 were outside the city limits.
Schiff reported to council he knows the county board has established a committee to find resolution to the issue, but expressed exasperation at the fact no one from the county board has attended any city council meetings to update commissioners on any progress.
"I'm kind of disappointed in it. I mean, I really did think they taken the interest to at least to come out here and talk to us about it and obviously nobody is here again tonight. And this is the second or third time we've had it on the agency and they knew about it and nobody has shown up," Schiff said.
Later Schiff described the lack of county board participation as "kind of a slap in the face that somebody didn't show up to talk to us."
"I think we need to go ahead and set a target date, I mean I think we do it would be my opinion we give them to July 1, 2013. And their going to have to step up. You know if you look at Williamson County and what it's done for them it's tremendous and financially we just don't have it to continue on," Fearheiley said.
Currently the fire department charges out-of-city landowners $2,000 per fire call, but evidently that amount is insufficient to cover the amount of taxes city residents pay for firefighter salary, equipment and equipment maintenance.
Fire Chief Bill Summers said another issue is leaving the city without adequate fire protection in the event the department is on a fire call in the countryside.
"We can run as far as 20 miles south on the Pope County line and we take all our equipment or half of our equipment and the citizenS of Harrisburg that pay my salary and bought all those trucks are not getting any of the benefit. The county needs to get on board and take care of their people so we can take care of our citizens," Summers said.
City Attorney Todd Bittle said Saline County E-911 needs to be notified of the council's decision in time to change the city's contract for dispatching services which ends May 30, 2013.
Fearheiley made the motion to discontinue out-of-city fire calls.
"I will make a motion effective July 1, 2013, the Harrisburg Fire Department stop answering outside fire calls, but will continue to do mutual aid with surrounding cities as long as that mutual aid is within its corporate limits," Fearheiley said.
Commissioner Ron Crank seconded Fearheiley's motion and council members all voted in favor.
The county board has previously indicated there is not sufficient money to create a county fire protection district and that though grant money may be available to create one, that money could not be expected forever. Taxes would have to be raised for fire protection, an act the past county board members stated they were unwilling to do. The new county board was seated Monday.
The issue on the council agenda that brought the largest crowd turned out to be a non-issue. Several operators of liquor establishments were in the crowd, evidently anticipating council enacting a change to or eradication of Sunday liquor sales. Sunday sales are currently permitted between noon and 7 p.m.
Mayor Eric Gregg said Sunday sales were not his immediate concern.
"I'm not concerned about shutting down liquor sales on Sundays, that's not what I'm driving toward here. I am concerned about hours of operation on Sundays. I am concerned about establishments staying open until 2 a.m. on Monday morning … Sunday night into Monday morning," Gregg said.
When someone in the crowd asked for clarification, pointing out the ordinance already bans Sunday sales after 7 p.m., Gregg said he would be looking at all hours of operation.
He said there are other concerns of problematic activity within liquor establishments. Bar fights have been an issue in certain establishments.
"My concern is this, take care of that license, take care of your business. I'm not trying to tell you how to run your business, but understand this and I've said this all along, when it hits my desk and I have to deal with it, I'm going to and that's it," Gregg said.
Genny Craig of the Harrisburg Elks Lodge said she obtained information from her liquor distributor regarding Sunday liquor sales in the city. She told council Sunday sales amount to $1.8 million in sales a year at about $25,714 each Sunday. That amount accounts for $20,571 in sales tax for the city on Sundays alone.
Crank suggested paying close attention to "hot spots."
"We have businesses we never get a call at that we have no trouble with. Other businesses we've got, some of these hot spots, we are always having to go back down there. And that's going to have to be addressed," Crank said.
Feb. 29 tornado victim Les Wallace addressed council regarding his situation trying to get help from the Harrisburg STORM group finding a home since his rental apartment at 213 A Birch St. was destroyed.
Wallace said he had informed the group he was renting, but had been in the process of buying a residence. STORM helped him with the purchase of appliances, paying for a television, a refrigerator and a stove. The owner of the property he was intending to buy then decided not to sell the property and Wallace said his relationship with STORM took a change. The appliance store told him STORM had canceled the delivery of the television and a STORM volunteer has called him saying arrangements needed to be made to return the stove and refrigerator.
Wallace and his mother, Nina Vaughn, said what upset them most was a STORM volunteer stating Wallace had fraudulently represented his situation to STORM.
Wallace said he had explained his situation from the beginning and had never tried to take advantage of the charity group. STORM set itself the goal of providing new homes to all homeowners whose homes were destroyed by the tornado, but could not provide homes for renters.
Council said they would consult with the STORM group about the issue. The group was tasked with distributing the money donated to the city from throughout the nation for rebuilding the portions of town that were destroyed.
"What hurt the most is they called me and told me that Les had been fraudulent and they wouldn't tell me how," Vaughn said.
"I knew there had not been any money passed between the STORM team and him. After we cleared that up she told me he was fraudulent in buying the new furniture for the household, so I even made a trip down to The Appliance Store and talked to Mike to be sure what he told me had absolutely went on and Mike assured he did not get anything, that the lady picked out everything for him and paid for it there. And that was the main thing that hit because when it get out that your fraudulent, he works at Walmart, and things get around," Vaughn said.
Vaughn indicated their intent was to convince council and STORM Wallace was only acting on information STORM had given him without any intent to defraud the organization.
"He has nothing and was given something and it was really something to be given. And they've taken it back because they say he's fraudulent and we can't figure out how he can be fraudulent in anything that went on," Vaughn said.
During the meeting:
Council approved and Gregg swore in Deputy Treasurer Linda George as City Treasurer and voted to post an advertisement in the newspaper for a new deputy treasurer.
Gregg reminded council Shop With a Cop is 8 a.m. Saturday morning at Walmart with a breakfast served for the kids 7 a.m. at the Town and Country Lions building.
Council approved an insurance contract through Insurance Program Management Group at a maximum plan cost of $659,790 with an expected cost of $590,060. Renewal of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan was expected to have cost $817,403, according to insurance agent Steve Williams. The plan basically makes the city it's own health insurance provider and involves setting aside money monthly to create a pool without any administrative costs.
Council updated the ordinance regarding annual fees to contractors to work in the city. The annual fee is $50 and lasts until Dec. 31 of the year it was issued. Since the Feb. 29 tornado the city has required contractors working to rebuild renew fees monthly.
Council passed a resolution in support of high volume hydraulic fracturing as a method of natural gas extraction in the Illinois Basin at the behest of Kevin Reimer, a geologist from Harrisburg. Council members agreed the industry could create many jobs, bring a lot of money to the city and had the assurance of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson "that she was 'not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself' had affected water," the resolution states.