Wednesday, Feb. 26


Primary changes makeup of city council

[FEB. 26, 2003]  Although yesterday's Republican primary drew few voters to the polls, it will bring changes to the makeup of the Lincoln City Council. Two new aldermen were elected for four-year terms, defeating two incumbents.

In Ward 3, eight-year veteran George M. Mitchell lost a tight race to challenger Jonette "Jonie" Tibbs. Tibbs won by only four votes, with a final unofficial total of 129 to Mitchell's 125.

In Ward 5, incumbent Martha "Marty" Neitzel lost to challenger Derrick R. Crane. Crane polled 185 votes to Neitzel's 121. Mayor Beth Davis appointed Neitzel to the council in November of 2002 to fill the unexpired term of the late Joseph Stone.


However, because Ward 5 has another vacancy now, some observers speculate that Neitzel might be reappointed, this time to fill the unexpired term of Michael Montcalm, who resigned Feb. 8. Montcalm's term runs until April of 2005.

Incumbents in Wards 1 and 2 won handily over their challengers. Patrick Madigan, who has served one term in Ward 1, polled 123 votes to challenger Anthony "T.J." Swarts' 54.

In Ward 2, Steve Fuhrer, also a first-year alderman, polled 181 votes to defeat former alderman and mayoral candidate Stephan A. Mesner, who got 67 votes. However, Fuhrer faces another challenge in the April 1 general election. Leo Logan, 628 Seventh St., has filed as a Democrat for the seat. Logan is the brother of county board member Dick Logan and has served on the Lincoln Community High School board.


County board member Dick Logan congratulates Ward 2 Alderman Steve Fuhrer, who won another four-year term in Tuesday's election.

In Ward 4, only one candidate filed, Orville "Buzz" Busby, a former alderman from that ward. He will fill the seat vacated by Bill Melton, the council's only Democrat and its senior member. Melton has resigned because he is moving out of the city to a rural residence.


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[photos by Joan Crabb]
Only a handful of people came to the courthouse Tuesday night to watch election results come in on the computer screen.

Turnout for the primary was exceptionally low: only 994 voters in the city's 19 precincts, or 12.67 percent of the total 7,845 registered voters. The number of people at the county courthouse watching the returns come in was also low, only a handful, and Steve Fuhrer was the only candidate in the running to show up when final totals came in.

Fuhrer has pushed hard for a 0.5 percent increase in the city's sales tax, but he did not think his substantial win was a predictor of the outcome of the referendum that will be on the April 1 ballot. The voters turned down the tax increase by a ratio of 2-to-1 in the November 2002 election.


"I think the sales tax has a lot better chance of passing this time, but I don't think this election has anything to say about it. I think people are just becoming more educated about the need," he said.

Fuhrer and other council members say the new tax is necessary to give the city money to upgrade streets and other infrastructure, and the approximately $550,000 it would bring in per year must by law be used only for that purpose.

Dick Logan, a county board member, who was at the courthouse Tuesday night, said he didn't know why the turnout was so low this time. Usually a primary election would draw at least 25 percent of the voters.

"The weather might have had something to do with it, but apparently people are satisfied with the representation they have now," he said.


[Joan Crabb]

Sewer users can soon pay by credit card

[FEB. 26, 2003]  In an effort to persuade more Lincoln residents to pay their overdue sewer bills, the city is making arrangements for sewer bills to be paid by credit card.

At Tuesday night's city council meeting, City Clerk Juanita Josserand outlined the proposal for setting up a terminal so the city can accept Visa, MasterCard and ATM cards, and the council agreed that the plan should be tried.

Cost of setting up the terminal will be a one-time fee of $900, and the clerk's office has that much or more in its budget, Josserand said. Cost of using the system will vary according to the number of transactions but will never be less than $31.50 per month, she said.

The more users who opt to pay by credit card, the higher the costs will be, Josserand said, but she still believes the new system will save the city money. Right now the city has more than $40,000 on the books in overdue sewer charges, and the cost of trying to collect those charges can be high.

"We have to send certified letters to overdue users, and the cost is almost $5 a letter. Sometimes we send as many as 30 letters per month," she said. "There is also an $18 fee to file a lien against the property and another $18 fee to file the release of the lien. If the property is foreclosed or the user takes bankruptcy, we are out all charges.


"We hope this is a start on being able to help people get their sewer bills paid on time and avoid the $25 penalty for overdue bills," she added. The longer the user waits to pay the bill, the higher the penalty becomes, accumulating at $25 per month for each month the bill goes unpaid.

The city will not take credit card numbers over the telephone, she said, so people will have to come to City Hall to make their credit card payments. City Hall is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Josserand said she believes the credit card payment terminal can be up and running by April 1. She noted that Logan County accepts credit card payments for real estate taxes and circuit court fines.

Alderman Glenn Shelton, who said he is concerned about the problem of underage drinking, asked if the city could pass an ordinance that would prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from serving liquor. Although no one under 21 can legally consume liquor, 18-year-olds can serve it, and he believes the minimum age for serving it should also be 21 years.

"Let us not tempt our teenagers," Shelton said.


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City attorney Bill Bates said it would be legal for the city to pass an ordinance that is more stringent than state law, which allows 18-year-olds to serve liquor.

Shelton asked if the ordinance committee would take his suggestion under advisement. Steve Fuhrer, chair of the committee, said the committee would look at the suggestions, but he believed there would be objections to the higher age limit.

Police Chief Rich Montcalm passed out copies of a model ordinance concerning training bartenders and waitresses to improve safety by preventing customers from driving when they have been drinking and by not selling liquor to those under age. The ordinance committee will review the document.

Fuhrer also said he would like to see local stores selling ephedra and other supplements be required to keep the pills behind the counter. He noted that the state of Illinois is talking about an outright ban on ephedra.

Bates said the city is not in as strong a position to deal with ephedra manufacturers as the state is, and he suggested the council have Kevin Riggins and Logan County Coroner Chuck Fricke talk to them about the issue. Riggins' son, Sean, died after taking the herbal supplement, and Riggins and Fricke are campaigning to keep it out of the hands of young people.

The council also discussed ways to keep the city beautiful by setting up a time that "white goods," unusable stoves, refrigerators and other appliances, can be taken to the city dump. Don Osborne, street superintendent, said the Environmental Protection Agency will allow this as long as the appliances do not stay in the dump for a long time. He said in the past the city has made money selling white goods for scrap.

City engineer Mark Mathon said that since School District 27 is planning to take down the junior high school on Broadway Street this summer, the road work on Broadway from Logan to Union streets should be postponed until that work is done, to avoid possible damage to the new street surface.

[Joan Crabb]

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