CHAMPAIGN – Champaign City Council member Marci Dodds took a split second to celebrate after the council Tuesday unanimously approved borrowing about $25 million to finance drainage improvements in several parts of the city during the next few years.
It is likely that residents of two city watersheds will do the same when they hear the city has appropriated funds to correct flooding problems that have plagued their properties and invaded their basements for decades.
"It's not time yet to cut the ribbon on this project," said council member Michael La Due. "But what an auspicious beginning."
The movement for drainage improvements began in 2008 when remnants of Hurricane Ike floated up the Midwest and soaked Champaign.
Resident Jim Creighton said he took his cell phone and knocked on his neighbors' doors, asking them to call the city.
On Tuesday, Creighton said he was "ecstatic" that the council had approved the funds to construct the improvements, an action past councils were relectant to take.
"It's extraordinary that in the middle of a recession everywhere in the country that we are both enabled to do this and committed to doing this," La Due said.
Residents of the drainage neighborhoods gathered themselves months ago to lobby the city to find the funds for the improvements, and "thank-yous" from both sides were aplenty before and after the vote.
"I don't know if we should be congratulating ourselves as much as the people who had faith in us to address this," La Due said.
The appropriation comes about a year after city staff began working with residents, council members noted.
"This is the way government should work," Mayor Jerry Schweighart said.
About $17 million of the bonds will finance improvements to the Second Street reach of the Boneyard Creek, a project already in progress.
The rest will go toward paying for improvements in the John Street and Washington Street East watersheds. Improvements to a third, the Washington Street West watershed, has proven more difficult to design and finance.
The next step for improvments to Washington West will be the release of a storm water utility study, Creighton said. Because Tuesday's bonds stretch the city's debt capacity to near its maximum, city officials must find an alternate way to finance further improvements.
A storm water utility fee, a charge to all the city's property owners, would create a fund to pay for drainage improvements in the future.
"There already are other areas that need repair," Creighton said.