The Village of Hutsonville has a new trustee, and the village board is weighing the cost of water in times of an emergency.
During Tuesday night's meeting Jim Sikorsky was named to fill the unexpired term of former Trustee Ryan Terry, after Terry resigned because of moving out of the village. Sikorsky has been a resident and homeowner in Hutsonville for around 10 years, and works in the information technology/computer industry. He has served on several organizational boards, but this is the first time he has served an elected position.
Sikorsky was selected from several candidates who had expressed interest in the position by Mayor Tina Callaway, and approved by the remaining trustees.
Auctioneer Bill Burke gave the board a brief presentation on his efforts to hold a surplus equipment auction for local municipalities in the coming months. Burke had recently presented the idea to the Oblong Village Board, and is making the rounds to other local governing bodies. Callaway said she would discuss the idea with the village employees to see if there were items that might qualify. She did note the village has an automobile that could be included.
The tragic fire that destroyed the home of Pam Lawhead on Dec. 22 has raised an issue the village has not had to deal with before - the cost of the water used to fight a fire. On the night of the fire, village employees used metered flow, calculated estimates and loss rates to estimate that around 96,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire, at a cost of $563.
In the past, before the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency required the village to find a new water source and to connect to the Robinson-Palestine Water Commission system, water cost in such an emergency was little more than the cost of electricity to run the pump. However, now the village is billed for all water going through the meter, and has seen two rate increases in the past year.
Trustee Bruce Callaway said the village runs on a tight budget when it comes to the water department and cannot really afford to absorb the cost of such a large loss of water. At the same time the board feels a strong sense of obligation to provide water to all residents in the time of an emergency.
It was also pointed out that the village does bill the Hutsonville Fire Department $500 annually for its water use to cover hydrant flushing, training, truck fill up and fire fighting. The Lawhead fire, however, is the largest fire the village has seen in recent history, and since changing to the new water system.
It was also noted that some municipalities bill residents for water and services following an emergency as part of the general insurance coverage. Again in the case of the Lawhead fire, there was no insurance on the structure that might cover this cost.
The mayor also dispelled rumors that the village did not have enough water to fight the fire and that the water tower was emptied. She explained that the water tower is on a three to four day cycle that allows the water level in the tower to drop to a certain point before refilling, keeping the water fresh. At the time of the fire the tower was on a refilling cycle. Combined with the refilling, the fire department opened two hydrants on the line that fills the water tower to fight the fire.
Village employees monitored the main water lines to ensure pressure was maintained and were in contact with the assistant fire chief about the water situation. It was suggested the fire trucks shut down for a brief time, if possible, to allow the water tower to partially fill. At no time did the village run out of water, Callaway said.
The question remained should the village bill the customer for the water usage, and what should future policies be. As there are no current policies, the board agreed that they cannot send the customer a bill.
The board did also agree that new policies need to be in place for the future, and with regard to several other situations such as fire clean up, storm clean up, other disasters and how and when the village should be directly involved. A rough draft is expected for the next meeting.
In other business the board heard a report on repairs to the sewer plant at a current cost of $10,117. The meeting time and date will remain the second Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the village hall.
It was also noted the village has had several Freedom Of Information Act requests regarding village trustees and the upcoming election from organizations outside of the local area. The mayor said village information is available to anyone who asks for it.
Callaway also mentioned an upcoming discussion at the Crawford County Board's next meeting with regard to property taxes and encouraged trustees, and any other local taxing body to gather information and attend the meeting.
The next scheduled meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 12.