Athey: helping Villa Grove put its best foot forward

By Tony Hooker
In part one of our interview with Villa Grove city administrator Jacki Athey, we discussed the city’s new community building and highway 130 bridge projects.  In the conclusion of our interview, Athey discusses the conclusion of our water plant project and other future endeavors.

Moving forward, we’ll see the demolition of the old water plant in the near future, correct?
The EPA considers this the second phase of the water plant project.  However, because of their own finances and reporting, they split it into another quote application.  The application for this project has a better reimbursement for this project than the plant itself, so we’re going to get a better deal, money-wise than we would have gotten the during the first round.  Right now, the paperwork has been submitted, and we’re waiting to hear and once they give us the go ahead, we’ll prepare the documents to bid out the demolition and where we’re going to go with those water lines through McCoy.  

Do we have a timeline for when that might happen?
I don’t.  I know that they have asked the engineering firm for a little bit more information after they had submitted their initial information.  I want to say that it took 4 to 6 months total after we had submitted our original paperwork on the water plant, and they came back and asked for additional information.  We had submitted the original numbers and they wanted a current report to substantiate the numbers we had submitted as a double check, because they’re using taxpayer money as well so they’re always going to be careful with what they’re doing as well.

Do we have a timeframe for when we’ll be ready to turn dirt on the community building?
I talked to the grant manager a few days ago and we are waiting for the sign-off from the higher officials in DNR.  We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do to complete the award, so once someone in the local department and the acting director, Colleen Callahan, has signed the documents and returned them to us, we will be on the two-year clock. 

How much overlap will there be on the three projects?
Potentially a lot! <smiles> We know the IDOT bridge project is scheduled to last into a second construction season, so if the weather cooperates and they’re able to start in early spring, they anticipate it going past the spring of 2021.  I would hope that they would complete it before a second school year, but they have the say on that.

I want to clarify something.  The bridge is a state project and not a city project?  
Absolutely.  

The water plant demo, McCoy subdivision waterline project, and the community building are city projects?
Right.  They come from different pots of money and they’re being overseen by professionals who know what they’re doing.  We are always doing projections and follow-up on our finances on a monthly basis, so we know where that’s going.  We also have to do a little work on our own bridge with the grant money we got from the county, somewhere in the middle of all that.  Who knows what else will fall in our lap?

For many years, the city has done a great job of maintaining our finances, and now it’s time to update and modernize processes and facilities. Is that an accurate assessment?
I think so.  For a lot years, we had cut our labor force because there were other projects that previous councils wanted to focus on, and now I think we’ve got a good balance where we have more hands on deck to provide services and keep the town looking better, it’s been noticed and commented on.  We also know that we have to plan and strategize for the bigger projects in the future while figuring out what our priorities are, not only for the next year, but for the next five or ten years, for the long term.

 Or even fifty years down the road.  It sounds like you’re saying that we need to be proactive rather than reactive?
I think that’s the best strategy to have, because if you’re constantly reactive, you’re like the dog chasing its tail.  It’s never getting anywhere.  If we can set some things down and the public is supportive in growing and wanting to grow in a positive direction, we can do so in a positive way.  We’re always looking for input from the community.  We’re getting ready to work on a strategic plan that’s an official directive for the city.  I’ve got a tentative timeline set down and they’ve built in several forums that include input from business owners, residents who are more actively involved in the community and also have a public forum for anyone to come and have a say in how the city’s projects are being done.  They’ll be given an opportunity to speak and say what they think.

The streetscape is another future project.  Would you like to go into more detail about that?
We’ve had a couple initial meetings with an engineer. We use Fehr-Graham, out of Champaign, but streetscapes aren’t the wheelhouse of the Champaign office, but it is a focus of their Rockford office, so we’ve had a face to face meeting with personnel with that office and we’ve had other meetings with them electronically.  We’ve given them our input and they’ve shown us samples of other projects they’ve done.  The came and walked the entire street with us and took notes and pictures to try and get a feel for what we have and for what it is that we’re wanting.  They’ll come back with a few different ideas of how we can accomplish that while preserving what our existing businesses need and hopefully making it more attractive for potential new businesses.  Hopefully, that will be a good TIF project for us.

Is there anything that you would like to add?
We’ll be putting word out for input, so if anyone has any ideas or suggestions or if people want to know what’s going on, they can call or drop in.  If I’m not available, they can set up a meeting.  I know all of the council is open to that as well.  We’re all busy, but we’re also receptive to serving our community as best as we can.  

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