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RANTOUL — Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh said mistakes were made in how the village handled the rerouting of a storm sewer line around a village board member’s property, but none of it was designed to deceive the public, and there was never any intent not to reimburse the village.
Addressing the village board at its monthly meeting last week, Fiegenschuh said he and other village officials were guilty of a lack of transparency with the procedure and that the matter was a learning process.
Fiegenschuh said the incident has caused “our staff to reevaluate and reconsider the policies and process that we have in place to assure transparency.”
Fiegenschuh responded to a Jack Anderson-authored guest commentary in the Rantoul Press that questioned the village’s actions.
The incident stemmed from the village board’s approval of a design contract for the Broadmeadow Road drainage improvement project with Burns & McDonnell engineers in February 2016. About three months later, village board member Chad Smith, not knowing a storm sewer easement straddled the property, bought two vacant residential lots on Quinlan Place in the Roessler Meadows subdivision for $25,000, intending to build a house there.
On behalf of Smith, the village Public Works Department asked the engineers if the storm sewer could be moved to the west side of lot five.
It was initially calculated that the cost to relocate the storm sewer around the lots would be about $39,000.
Fiegenschuh said he and public works staff were under the assumption that he could approve a change order to move the location of the storm sewer without board approval or notification. He later learned he was not authorized to make that change order.
The administrator said at the meeting it was always Smith’s intent to reimburse the village for the storm sewer relocation. The administrator said the village also erred by failing to document to the board Smith’s intent to make repayment.
Fiegenschuh said the engineering services associated with the storm sewer realignment were also associated with engineering efforts “related to paving feeder streets as well as a change in the planned construction methodology for Broadmeadow to Quinlan Place from pipe bursting to storm sewer to trench cut construction.”
He said retroactively, the board was informed of the planned change and that Smith planned to make reimbursement.
“Similar to the reimbursement agreement, it would be prudent to have brought this agreement to the board last summer to avoid any issues,” Fiegenschuh said.
Fiegenschuh said Burns and McDonnell determined final costs associated with the realignment would total $17,079.
Anderson said he challenged the “low construction reimbursement cost” that Smith originally was slated to pay, and the village increased the amount by about $4,400, but he said that amount is still “about $22,000 short” of where the original cost was originally set.
Anderson said it was explained to him that village officials would not recommend Smith be billed for the additional amount because a portion of the work will provide increased hydraulic capacity.
Fiegenschuh disagreed with Anderson’s statement that the village will be providing Smith a loan agreement to pay back the $17,079. The board member is required to pay the amount back within a three-month period, the administrator said.
“Although the village had considered several different terms for repayment based on the village attorney’s advice in February, it was determined that repayment would be due within 90 days,” Fiegenschuh said. “Despite what’s been discussed, there was never any financing plan discussed with Mr. Smith.”
Fiegenschuh said Anderson’s comments helped bring things out in the open and will help in future instances.
“They are useful in helping us to improve how we govern the affairs in our small town,” Fiegenschuh said. “They help us focus efforts and highlight concerns that we may have overlooked.
“I certainly want to ensure that in the future, when we advertise ‘My Rantoul means complete transparency,’ that we are truly practicing that.”