Organization makes grant to help Urbana's sister city in Africa

Organization makes grant to help Urbana's sister city in Africa

URBANA — Sister Cities International will provide up to another $100,000 for community members to improve living conditions in Zomba, Malawi, an African city where the partnership has already provided toilets, showers and running water for people who did not have enough.

Urbana Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said on Monday night that organizers of the new project hope to improve solid waste disposal in the city. By the end of the grant, organizers will have cooperated with Sister Cities International to bring up to $215,000 worth of improvements to Zomba.

Urbana is one of three cities in the United States to have been awarded such a grant. The others are Denver and Asheville-Raleigh, N.C., according to a city press release.

"It may be bricks and mortar, and it might be bricks and mortar and have a lot of training aspects to it," Roberts said.

The first wave of funding helped organizers build toilets for students and an ablution block with showers and laundry facilities at the local hospital.

It might not sound like much by American standards, Roberts said, but it's an improvement for Zomba. The schools' toilets were falling apart and the town of 88,000 previously had one faucet.

"This is really a huge improvement," Roberts said. "We're pretty proud of that."

The second grant involves a third city: Haizhu District, Guangzhou City, China. Roberts said officials expect to be working in partnership with Chinese officials on the new project to improve solid waste disposal. The first grant was a partnership only between Urbana and Zomba.

In other city council business on Monday night, council members formally approved raises for the city's elected officials. City officials are required to approve four years' worth of salaries before the next term begins in spring 2013.

The mayor, city clerk and seven alderpersons will get no raise in 2013, a 1 percent increase in 2014 and then 2 percent increases in both 2015 and 2016.

Mayor Laurel Prussing has defended the raises as "modest increases" that are in line with how she expects city revenues to perform in the coming years.

Alderman Charlie Smyth, D-Ward 1, and Alderwoman Heather Stevenson, R-Ward 6, both voted against the increases.

"It's just another increase the city doesn't have money for," Stevenson said.