THOMASBORO — The village of Thomasboro must stop its practice of mowing the state right-of-way between Church Street and U.S. 45, Illinois Department of Transportation representatives told the Thomasboro Village Board at its May meeting last week.
“You probably haven’t gotten a letter from us to quit mowing because we haven’t gotten to you yet,” Roadside Statewide Maintenance Manager Stephanie Dobbs said. “That letter’s coming.”
Not complying, Dobbs said, could put state funding to the village at risk.
“Let’s take this opportunity to partner and turn it into something nice for your community,” she said.
Public works employee Gary Rosenbeck, who is a retired IDOT employee, had warned the board last month about changes in IDOT mowing practices and arranged for the IDOT representatives to address the board.
“This right-of-way that I guess the town is mowing, we would like to see go back to prairie area,” District 5 Roadside Manager Scott Hall said.
The village has been mowing the right-of-way for years, primarily due to concerns about appearance, though there has also been concern about safety at intersections.
Changes to mowing practices is part of Operation Habitat, IDOT’s response to a federal mandate to create, preserve or protect habitat areas for pollinators, particularly those listed or proposed to be listed as endangered species such as the rusty patched bumblebee and the monarch butterfly. Hall said 80 to 90 percent of plants would be lost without pollinators. And, habitat improvement benefits birds as well as pollinators, Dobbs said.
“Before 2014, we mowed fence to fence,” Hall said.
Under the new mowing rules explained in an Operation Habitat handout, IDOT mowing crews make one pass, generally 15 feet along all state roads two to three times a season. Some areas are mowed wider in the final fall mowing to prevent snow drifting or drainage problems. Some limited mowing is also done to control invasive or noxious weeds or to control volunteer tree and brush growth.
“I know there are concerns (about appearance),” Hall said. “Properly managed and taken care of, (the rights-of-way) do not get overrgown and the native seeds will take over and shade out all the invasives.”
It takes about two years to establish prairie. Existing vegetation is killed and seeds planted the following fall.
“It looks kind of crappy for a couple of years, but you can put up signs saying “habitat under construction,” Dobbs said.
Within a prairie area, Hall and Dobbs suggested, wildlife trails or educational signs could be installed. Some conservation groups have grant funding available toward signs or other costs.
“We have talked about making that into prairie grass and making a trail out there,” Trustee Tony Grilo said. “It would be neat to sit down with you guys and make a plan.”
Dobbs said the process would require permits and an intergovernmental agreement that would extend for a number of years “so you would be protected, too.”
“What about the dead trees to the north end?” Grilo asked.
Because dead trees harbor the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat, both endangered species, removal must wait until fall, Dobbs said.
Grilo also asked about safety at intersections.
“In the past few years we have had an issue with the median at our intersections. It was three feet tall and you couldn’t see across,” Grilo said.
He wanted to know what the village should do if such concerns arose in the future. Dobbs said safety remains a primary concern, and IDOT has continued to mow intersections to maintain visibility.
“We didn’t change mowing (practices) for vision clearance and safety,” Dobbs said.
She suggested the village contact Hall if the grass appeared to getting too tall.
PUBLIC WORKS VACANCY
In other business, progress has been made toward filling the full-time public works vacancy. Trustee Dustin Rhodes said he, Rosenbeck and Trustee John Curry had interviewed five candidates. Rhodes asked the board for direction.
“I have not heard from anybody about anything,” Rhodes said. “I’m not sure where the rest of the board is on that.”
Mayor Tyler Evans said he thought the entire board would want to participate in second interviews and suggested scheduling a special meeting. But
Trustee Kyle Henegar said the board has decisions to make first.
“We’d better have starting salaries and benefits in place before you sit someone down for an interview,” Henegar said.
Grilo said he thought the salary to be offered would have to be more than what was paid to former Public Works Superintendent Tyler Martin.
“I think we were under market value before. To get somebody in here and do things right and hopefully stay, I think it’s going to cost us more,” Grilo said.
“All of that stuff needs to be on paper so there is no question,” Henegar said.
Another question was about requiring the new hire to live in town. Not all of the candidates are Thomasboro residents.
“If you meet expectations, I don’t care where you live,” Evans said. “To me, it’s about response time. But if you live out of town, the truck doesn’t go with you.”
But, Rhodes asked, how would response time be enforced?
Trustee Trent Sage pointed out that living in town doesn’t guarantee length of response time, either.
Evans asked trustees to send their recommendations to Rhodes by the end of the week. Rhodes was asked to contact candidates for availability for second interviews so a special meeting can be set.
Thomasboro resident Jim Richardson was frustrated.
“Tyler left in December. Why don’t we have someone?” Richardson asked. “This is costing me (taxpayers) money.”
Evans said it wasn’t until April that the board decided to hire a full-time employee. Between December and April, the board considered contracting water operations out to Illinois American Water or hiring a part-time employee. Both were found to be temporary options.
“I’m with you on this,” Evans told Richardson.
But Evans said while special meetings have created an additional cost, overall the delay has saved the village money. Instead of paying out a full-time salary and benefits, the board has contracted Martin to perform minimum water management tasks and employed Rosenbeck part time to cover some water-related tasks and other public works responsibilities.
Richardson also wondered about previous board discussion about the possibility that the state Environmental Protection Agency may put into place rules that would prohibit hiring an unlicensed candidate to work under the supervision of a licensed water operator.
“That’s hypothetical,” Evans said. “We can’t make decisions on what-ifs.”
In another hiring matter, Interim Police Chief Mike Martinez told the board he had received one resume for part-time patrolman and planned to interview the candidate later in the week.
The board approved 4-2 to renew the contract with Republic Services, Inc., Urbana, for trash collection and recycling. Term of the renewal is three years. Rates remain the same. Curry and Trustee Ronda Scott voted against renewal. Both said they had wanted to request bids from additional companies.
During a report from the streets and alleys committee, Rosenbeck proposed building up the surface around manhole covers with concrete to avoid catching the edges with the snowplow.
“Boy, they’re terrible on plows,” he said.
Rosenbeck said he could handle the job in-house. Evans, who owns and operates a concrete company, offered to “send some guys to help to get it done.”
In another committee update, Rhodes said he planned to order three picnic tables and a bench for West Side Park, with an option to order a fourth picnic table if it appears to be needed. A Thomasboro Improvement Association donation will cover the cost of one table and the bench. But tree planting, Rhodes said, will continue to wait until the ground dries out.
Three building permits were issued, Grilo reported. Two were for fences and the third for a garage. The garage permit caused Grilo to raise a question about maximum height of a secondary structure.
“At one time we talked about not allowing secondary structures to be higher than the primary structure on the property,” Grilo said. “This one dwarfs the primary property.”
Grilo pointed out this permit will stand, but wondered if the board should finally amend the village ordinance to establish a maximum height for the future.
“I agree with the height thing,” Evans said.
There was no mention of when or how the matter would be pursued.
SWORN INTO OFFICE
Curry, Rhodes and Grilo were sworn into office. Rhodes and Grilo were re-elected to office in April. Curry was elected for the first time. He had been appointed to office in February to fill an unexpired term.
Mayor Tyler Evans made the following committee appointments:
• Waterworks/sewer – Henegar and Sage
• Personnel – Rhodes and Curry
• Building permits/liquor licenses – Grilo and Henegar
• Health/sanitation/public relations – Scott and Grilo
• Streets/alleys – Sage and Grilo
• Civil defense/parks – Rhodes and Scott
• Police – Curry and Scott
The board entered closed session to discuss an employee matter. No action followed.