The Murphysboro City Council spent a great portion of its time Tuesday night asking questions about submitted bills and proposed expenditures, including a bill from E-Z Rental Center for more than $600 for rental of equipment that didn't work, and a $8,000 bill from Illini Asphalt for sealing the roadway on 20th Street.
Mayor Will Stephens told the council that he had been talking to E-Z Rental Center in Carbondale for about a month and a half about their bill for the city's rental of a bucket truck.
"When the Hometown Christmas folks were decorating Tower Center Park, they asked me and I approved getting a bucket lift to get the lights higher in the trees, but once we got it here, it didn't work," Stephens said. "I've been talking to E-Z Rental and they agreed to reduce the bill to $165, about one-quarter of the original amount.
"They didn't know they were renting a bad piece of equipment," he said. "And I feel like I've squeezed all the blood out of this tomato."
Council members also debated a bill from Illini Asphalt for work on 20th Street laying down slag seal, a type of chip sealing surface treatment that used black boiler slag, a byproduct of coal power plants.
"Illini Asphalt had a bad day that day," Stephens said, "a really, really bad day."
The product did not go down as smoothly as it should, council members were told -- so much so that a worker had to "hang off of the bucket of slag and scrape it out as they went," the mayor said. The city also had to clean up nearly 70 tons of the excess material.
"It did seal the road, and it was not a total material loss," the mayor said, "since we can reuse part of it in our cinder and salt spreading this winter. But there were problems with equipment, and we did not get the product we should have. Even the Illini folks admitted that a lot of things went wrong that day."
Council members talked about grooves and cracks in the surface of the road that they were afraid would hold water, freeze and be made worse.
The mayor said he had met with representatives of Illini Asphalt -- who also do all of the city's oil and chip work on roads -- and asked them for some concession on the $8,000 bill for the 20th Street project. They offered to reduce the bill by $500 for a total owed of $7,500.
"They say that just reimburses them for their costs," Stephens said. "I think they were being honest about their lack of wiggle room in the cost."
But council member Bratton disagreed, saying that he believed, as a retired businessman, that the city should only offer to pay half of the original bill or $4,000. A motion was made and the council voted to offer Illini Asphalt $4,000 to settle the bill for sealing the road.
CITY WELCOMES TWO NEW POLICE OFFICERS
Murphysboro Police Chief Chad Roberts introduced the council to the two newest members of the force, Joseph Maeser of Herrin, who has already started working for the city; and Chase Rednour, who started Jan. 15 after completing training.
Both men thanked the council and the chief for the opportunity to serve and both said that being a police officer was what they had always dreamed about.
HOLDING PATTERN ON UNION PACIFIC
Mayor Will Stephens asked City Attorney Ed Heller for an update on the on the recent correspondence between his office and the Union Pacific Railroad concerning a portion of North 23rd Street.
The council was informed during the Sept. 26 meeting that the railroad was claiming part of North 23rd Street as its property, and that the residents along that road would have to pay the railroad $84 per month to use that part of the road to access their homes.
At that time, Heller told the council that if the city could show it had been maintaining the road for 20 years, the city could claim prescriptive easement, which is a limited property right earned by regular use.
At the Nov. 28 meeting, Heller told the council that he was working on a letter to Union Pacific Railroad that would ask for the railroad's records of maintenance for that property, and include copies of the city's maintenance records. The letter was written and sent, giving the railroad 30 days to respond before further action.
"There are nine days to go on that 30 days," Heller said.
"So, we're in a holding pattern until then," Mayor Stephens asked, to which Heller nodded in agreement.
HOMEOWNER BRINGS FENCE DISPUTE TO COUNCIL
Regina Webber, the daughter of one of the neighbors involved in a property line dispute on Division Street in Murphysboro, brought her complaints to city hall last month in an effort to resolve a long-standing and contentious disagreement with her mother's neighbors over property lines.
A survey, commissioned by Webber, shows that a fence recently installed by the Jacobs family, her mother's neighbor, violates the city ordinance that establishes offsets, or the distance allowed between structures on adjacent properties. In addition, city officials confirm that a permit to build the fence was not requested until the fence was already being installed.
Complicating the matter is the fact that the survey has revealed that each neighbor has erected buildings that also violate the zoning codes of the city. The survey shows that the Webbers' carport is a foot on their neighbor's property, city attorney Ed Heller said, and the Jacobs' shed is too close to the edge of their land, in violation of the city's setback code.
Council members agreed that the Jacobs should be issued a ticket for zoning violations, including the lack of a permit when the fence was installed and for violating the city offset ordinance, and ordered that the ticket be issued immediately.
Heller advised council members that the city would have to take civil action against the Webbers to compel them to remove the fence.
Mayor Stephens said that for this meeting, the agenda item concerned the fence and not the shed or the carport, but that he believes this should be taken care of right away.
"We need to issue this ticket tomorrow," he said. "I also believe that we should file suit to compel the homeowners to remove the fence. We should do this because it's the right thing to do. This fence is in violation of city ordinance, and if we don't respect our own ordinances, no one will."
A vote was not required to order the issuance of the ticket, although there was unanimous agreement to do just that. The question of whether or not the city will take civil action was tabled until the next meeting.
THANK YOU TO STREET DEPARTMENT WORKERS
Just before the Murphysboro Council adjourned for the night, member Dan Bratton asked for a few minutes to thank all of the city employees who had spent "a lot of long, cold, hard days and nights" working on the recent waterline breaks in frigid January temperatures.
"My thanks go out to you all," he said.