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Council declines to sign off on welcome sign

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

The city council voiced its sudden displeasure Tuesday with a proposed welcome sign for the city’s east side that would promote the city’s connection with SIU — despite, as one councilman noted, voting in favor of another measure supporting the same sign earlier during the same meeting.

By a 3-4 vote, the council rejected a $48,000 budget adjustment that would help to install a new “Welcome to Carbondale” sign along Route 13 on the east side of the city. Council members Jessica Bradshaw, Lee Fronabarger, Tom Grant and Navreet Kang voted against the measure.

The planned sign is the result of a partnership between the city and SIU. The “monument,” to use the word of several on the council, would be similar to the large signs at the entrances to the SIU campus. Three other similar signs have been planned for other major entrances to the city.

Private funding from the SIU Foundation forms the university’s commitment to pay for half of the project, according to the city.

The low bid for the work, in the amount of $68,355, was well over the city’s available construction budget of $30,000 for this fiscal year. Tuesday’s budget adjustment of $48,000 would have allowed the city to accept the SIU Foundation’s contribution for half the total cost, provide a little over $4,000 for the city to satisfy its half of the total cost, and free up about $10,000 extra to cover additional construction funds and contingency construction funds. The winning bidder for the project was Samron Midwest Contracting.

Fronabarger has consistently been against the expenditure and said the plan was simply too much.

“This entryway monument has a monumental price tag,” Fronabarger said. “This is way overblown for what we need for a welcome sign for the community.”

Fronabarger’s comments compelled similar comments from the audience, including from SIU assistant law professor Jennifer Brobst. The council’s final vote followed.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Adam Loos expressed shock with the vote and pointed out that earlier in the same meeting, the council voted separately for the easement to construct the sign.

While noting Fronabarger’s long disapproval, Loos also said the council had voted in favor of the sign when approving the city’s annual budget and the community investment plan earlier this year.

“I find it stunning,” Loos said after the vote.”We’ve all voted for it already!”

Loos also took issue with some of the public comments contending that the city could make better investments in the community by focusing on funding for the poor and homeless. He said the city already funds Good Samaritan Ministries and other social service providers at levels they request.

More than anything, he said, the sign is a part of a larger effort to make the city appear more inviting to potential students.

“Carbondale looks cheap,” Loos said. “It looks like a place that no one cares about.”

Fronabarger said he supports those efforts, but the gargantuan sign appeared to go “overboard.”

“We can accomplish the same goal at a much lower cost,” Fronabarger said.

Mayor Mike Henry said the issue will be reconsidered at a future meeting.

Council places cap on video gambling machines in town

Signs of an apparently even more undesirable sort partially compelled the council to place a new cap on how many video gambling machines are allowed to operate in Carbondale. The move was in an effort to combat the growing “negative image” some city staff say the machines, and the signs advertising them, have brought to town.

The council on Tuesday night created a cap of 100 gaming machines across the entire city. Currently, the city has 69 licensed gaming terminals operating across 17 venues, according to city documents. Four other locations have licenses pending with the state.

In March, the council rejected a different ordinance that would have capped the number of machines allowed in the city while also reducing the cap any time a business with a license was sold or closed.

The newly approved ordinance makes no such gradual reductions in the number of machines permitted and allows owners to transfer their gaming licenses in the event that they sell their businesses.

Since 2012, nearly $77 million has been played on gambling machines in Carbondale, according to figures from the Illinois Gaming Board, resulting in almost $300,000 in tax revenue for the city. 

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