RANTOUL — The days of residents being alerted to approaching storms strictly by weather siren, TV or radio are long gone.

The village police department is implementing a software program that alerts residents in additional ways and can test and activate the sirens more easily.

Rantoul police Lt. Justin Bouse outlined the changes at last week’s village board study session.

“Right now we have to have somebody at the police department to push a button to activate sirens,” Bouse said. “This (new system) allows us to remotely access” the siren activation, either by cell phone or at the police station or via National Weather Service.

Most of the times, remote activation won’t be necessary because the village’s ESDA director (Danny Russell) will be in town and can activate the warnings.

The new system will cost $12,800.

Bouse said improvements have also been made in the way the National Weather Service alerts certain areas. Under the old system, entire counties were alerted to a storm that would likely hit just one part of the county. Now, NWS is able to pinpoint more precisely where a storm will hit “so it can be more geo-specific.”

Residents will also be able to receive notification of approaching storms through texts (if they sign up) or social media.

Bouse said Rantoul has several storm sirens located throughout the community with a wide age range — the oldest one being installed in 1970.

The sirens will be integrated into the new WeatherWarn system being purchased by the village. He said the older sirens can’t be tested with the software but they can be activated in the event of a storm.

“The change will be seamless,” Bouse said. “There are no issues with activation. The only issue lies with the diagnosis and testing.”

He said the 1970 siren, which was refurbished about six years ago, will have to be replaced in the next few years.

There are several ways people can be alerted to pending bad weather besides the sirens — NOAA weather radio, National Weather Service wireless emergency alerts on cell phones, TV newscasts and radio.

When the new system is in place, the public will be notified how to sign up for emergency alerts.

VACANT PROPERTY PURCHASE PROGRAM

Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said the process has been completed in the first phase of the Vacant Property Purchase Program in which village-owned property was made available for purchase by the public. The property was first made available to property owners living directly adjacent to the land and then later to other local residents at a cost of $151 — $100 for the land and $51 to record the deed.

Eisenhauer said the village is putting together a list “of the next round of vacant lots we would like to see taken off our hands and put onto the tax rolls.”

He said the first phase took longer than anticipated, but only because “we were new in the game.” He said he believes subsequent rounds will “move smoother.”

CHICKEN ORDINANCE

Building Safety Manager Scott Morgan said the ordinance that allows chickens in Rantoul recently passed its one-year anniversary. Six residents have chickens on their property. All properties were inspected, and no issues were found.

Morgan said he wants to add language to the ordinance to coincide with wording in the village’s three-year rental inspection program.

After a license allowing chickens is issued, the property will be inspected after one year, and the license will be good for another two years after that.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

In the public comment portion, resident Debbra Sweat said after reviewing information received via a Freedom of Information Act request, she learned current and past village committee appointees had not completed required Open Meetings Act training. She said she hoped committees that were appointed last month would complete the training, and she or the attorney general’s office, at her request, will follow up to verify compliance.

Sweat said she hoped a closed session scheduled for that night’s meeting was only to consider the selling price or the setting of a price for the sale or lease of price on the former locker room on Enterprise Drive to the Pentecostal church. She also asked if the village has a potential buyer for the four hangars that were going to be purchased by a Los Angeles businessman — a deal that fell through.

She said the village board has an obligation to ensure “an open and transparent” government and that proper procedures are followed. She said the Open Meetings Act requires all proceedings, except those excluded, be in open session. However, public bodies are not required  to close those meetings.

“Citizens of the community demand transparency and accountability,” Sweat said. “We want to be part of the process to be informed, from the conception, on all planned sales acquisitions of public property, economic ideas, plans or any future enterprise plans for this community by holding public hearings for input. ...”

Sweat said on May 24, 2018, the first of four scheduled town hall meetings was held. But three other planned town hall meetings never happened.

“What happened?” Sweat asked. “Why has the leadership in this community been pandering to the 1 percent and the powers that be?”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com