W.F. railroad crossing work to commence later this month


Union Pacific Railroad crews will be in West Frankfort later this month to make repairs to railroad crossings at Cleveland and St. Louis streets. The work will begin Jan. 21, according to Street Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers.

Fasol-Chambers told the West Frankfort City Council that the work will result in the roads being blocked for five hours on that date, unless the weather prevents the work from being done then.

At the first city council meeting of the year Tuesday night, commissioners also discussed the next steps in the electric aggregation process. West Frankfort has joined with eight other Southern Illinois cities to buy electricity as a larger group. Bids for the electricity are expected today, and Mayor Tom Jordan will be participating in a conference call about them with the mayors of the other cities involved. The council continued its meeting to 10 a.m. Thursday to hear from Jordan about the bids.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Approved the payment of city bills totaling $144,762.07.
  • Approved a payment to Larry Grimm Auto for $2,145 for tire and brake work on one of the city’s ambulances.
  • Approved a payment of $2,900 for roof repairs at the city’s Public Service Building. Commissioner Jerry Harkins said the repairs fixed some leaks in the roof that were occurring around the building’s heating and air conditioning units.
  • Agreed to spend $2,026 to replace 2 front tires on one of the city’s backhoes and 2 front and 2 rear tires on a second backhoe. The low bid was from Hammer’s Tires in West Frankfort.
  • Approved a building permit for Brandon Smith, who wants to add a 22×24 office addition to the former dance studio on East Main Street that he is converting into an auto body shop.
  • Fire and Police Commissioner Jerry Harkins commended the West Frankfort Police Department and Chief Jeff Tharp for the active shooter training the department conducted recently at Frankfort Community High School.
  • Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers reported that progress is being made on a project to extend sidewalks for three blocks on Ninth Street where children walk to Central Junior High School and Frankfort Intermediate School. The owners of the final home that must grant an easement for the sidewalk have been located. Fasol-Chambers said they are amenable to the project, and she is working with City Attorney Mike Riva to wrap up easement paperwork. The next step in the process will be leveling the area out – a big undertaking, she said.
  • Commissioners discussed the condition of the former Ken Gray Museum in the Heights. Fasol-Chambers, who lives near the building, said that the recent snow and rain seems to have taken a further toll on it. The front of the brick building bows out toward Main Street. City Codes Inspector Ed Hammonds told commissioners that he had been in contact with the building’s owner, and would talk with him again about the building’s condition. Fasol-Chambers expressed concern that the building would fall into Main Street at some point. Hammonds quipped, “It’s not going to fall; it’s going to explode.”
  • Mayor Tom Jordan said work with the school board on a proposed land swap in the city is ongoing. The city will be scheduling public hearings about the land swap soon.


West Frankfort finishes fiscal year with surplus

In the same manner that most of us want our household to end up at the end of every pay period, the City of West Frankfort finished the fiscal year with more money coming in the door than went out.
An audit report accepted by the West Frankfort City Council at its Thursday night meeting showed a surplus of $139,000, according to Fiance Commissioner Mike Simpson.
Mayor Tom Jordan called the audit “pretty good,” but said he wished it could have been better. He noted a decision to change worker’s compensation providers in 2012 had resulted in savings to the city, and that the city would continue to look for ways to cut expenditures.
One area of concern mentioned was a loss of $7,800 in the water/sewer department. Jordan said the council may need to look at a rate increase in 2013.
In other action, the West Frankfort City Council:
  • Reported that the city will begin the process of buying energy under electric aggregation on Friday morning, when supplier responses are due to Select Energy, the company West Frankfort is using as the energy broker. These responses will be studied by the company before the next phase of the project, according to Mayor Jordan.
  • Approved a bid to Randy Pearce Construction for a handicap ramp at the Veteran’s Memorial and Museum. Pearce Consruction was  the low bidder. The 5-foot wide  by 60-foot long ramp will allow handicapped persons access to the Museum located next to the railroad tracks.Approved paying routine bills of $372,532.55 for the month. This included payment for liability/workman comp insurance premium of $ 202,000.
  • Voted on a provisional approval to transfer the liquor license from the current owners of Tom’s Mad Pricer to the new owners, pending sale believed to be completed in January.
  • Approved final payments for the Mainline Road project.
  • Approved a payment of $3,935 to Grimm Auto Repair for brake work on a fire department vehicle.
In commissioner reports, both Street Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers and Finance Commissioner Simpson praised work done by Street Department crews to clear city streets following this week’s blizzard. Fasol-Chambers said that they were hampered by having two members of their five member crew off work.
Finally, an end-of-the-year problem will necessitate a special council meeting on Monday, Dec. 31 at 3 p.m. Local tavern owners have requested a 2 a.m. closing on Monday night for New Year’s Eve. However, the request was not made in time to get the item on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting. The Council will take up both New Year’s Eve bar hours and Super Bowl Sunday bar hours at the meeting on Monday.

New tenant expected at West Frankfort business incubator


City officials say they have a verbal commitment from a business expected to occupy 75,000 square feet at West Frankfort’s Business Incubator.

West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan announced at the Dec. 11 city council meeting that Irwin Industries had toured the portion of the facility once occupied by Raytech Machining and are interested in moving into the space.

The energy industry construction conglomerate is based in Long Beach, California. West Frankfort’s central location near Illinois Basin coal mines is attractive to Irwin’s division that sells, repairs and maintains long wall jacks, Jordan said.

Though specific numbers are not available yet, Jordan said that Irwin’s move into the facility would create jobs.

Irwin Industries makes the third new tenant at the business incubator in as many months. The council also voted to spend $2,150 for office construction expenses for J&J Gaming, another of the incubator’s new tenants.

In other action, the West Frankfort City Council:

  • Approved the city’s annual tax levy ordinance, effective May 1, 2012 through April 30, 2013. The ordinance includes a 5 percent increase in the tax levy. Mayor Tom Jordan said the city’s tax levy, which is largely used to pay for police and fire pensions, represents about 10 percent of the city’s $12.7 million total annual budget.
  • Designated three street parking spaces on the east side of Emma Street, south of Oak Street and north of the alley, for the exclusive use of Morthland College. Street Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers explained that because of tight parking in the area, the college, which has recently moved into the old First Christian Church / Grace Baptist Fellowship building, had requested some designated spaces for a few staff members with health issues, and for loading and unloading. Signs will be erected denoting the restricted spaces.
  • Approved no parking signs for the block of Mulberry Street between Oak and Elm streets. Fasol-Chambers said that because the street is narrow, residents have trouble accessing their driveways when street parking is allowed.
  • Added Sam E. Ward and Christian M. Whittington to West Frankfort’s auxiliary police force, at the request of Police Chief Jeff Tharp.
  • Approved the transfer of Lake Lot Lease No. 84 from James and Jean Reeder to Glenn and Kay Bridewell.
  • Proclaimed December as Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month in West Frankfort, as part of a national campaign sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
  • Approved a calendar of city council meetings for 2013. The council will continue to meet at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, with the exception of the second meeting in December. It has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 23 to avoid conflicts with Christmas Eve.
  • Approved a payment of $11,713.29 to Brown & Roberts Inc. for 2012 motor fuel tax program engineering.
  • Approved change order No. 4 for the Route 37 water main relocation as part of the road construction project there. This change actually decreased the contract amount by $32,867.09.
  • Approved the final payment of $5,000 to KPS, Inc. for the Route 37 water main relocation.
  • Approved a payment of $2,302 to Frank Tresso for repairs of two pieces of Street Department equipment – the jet truck and the 580 backhoe.
  • Approved a new sign for Pup’s 212 Tavern.

The next regular meeting of the West Frankfort City Council will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 27 at City Hall.

West Frankfort settles union grievances


City officials have announced that four grievances filed by Laborers Local 773, which represents West Frankfort’s Street Department workers, have been settled.

Street Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers detailed the settlements at the conclusion of this week’s West Frankfort City Council meeting.

In the first grievance, union workers said they were required to use their personal cell phones for work purposes, and requested $40 per month reimbursement from the city for the use of their phones. The union also requested 16 months of back pay for the phone use. In the settlement, the city will pay for eight months in arrears – $320 each for four street department employees. The city has purchased prepaid phones for the workers to be used for work purposes going forward. In addition, street department employees have been instructed to limit personal cell phone use to emergencies only while on the clock. The city was already paying for cell phones for the Street Department superintendent and foreman.

The second grievance related to a change in the time the lunch hour is given. Fasol-Chambers said employees had typically taken lunch at 9 a.m. The workers’ shift starts at 7 a.m., and by the time equipment is started and moved to a particular work site, it is often 7:30 or 7: 45, which does not allow much time for morning work projects before lunch, so the lunch hour had been moved to 11 a.m. The union dropped the grievance, and employees will take lunch at 11 a.m.

The third and fourth grievances were related to disciplinary actions taken with a particular street department employee. The city has agreed that a written record of verbal warnings regarding threatening language used and tardiness would be removed from the employee’s file. The city will issue a memo to all city employees reminding them that they are required to arrive prior to their scheduled start time and call in to their supervisor if an emergency warrants a late arrival.

Fasol-Chambers said that the city had also agreed with the union on a more open policy of communication.

“Everyone trying to work better together in the future might resolve some of these issues before they get to the grievance stage,” she said.


Railroad to fix rough crossings in W.F.


Repair crews will begin patching rough areas on the railroad crossings at Cleveland and St. Louis streets within the next two weeks, according to West Frankfort City Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers.

After fielding calls from local residents complaining about the tracks and potential damage to vehicles, Fasol-Chambers met with Union Pacific Railroad officials, who conducted an inspection of the railroad crossings in the city. The railroad company is responsible for maintenance of the tracks, not the city.

Although the concrete areas surrounding the tracks are periodically inspected, repaired and replaced, Southern Illinois weather is not conducive to their long-term condition. The cycles of freezing, thawing, heat and moisture cause areas to weaken and crumble under normal traffic patterns.

Following the inspection, commissioner Chambers announced that repair crews would be patching the affected areas in the next week or two. The patching should be enough to keep the crossings intact throughout the winter. Next spring, additional reconstruction work will be done on a larger scale.

The crossings at Cleveland and St. Louis streets will be blocked on a short-term basis during the work when necessary.

West Frankfort official to meet with railroad about rough crossings

Rough railroad crossings have been a concern for drivers in West Frankfort for some time, and now a city commissioner says that while the matter hasn’t been resolved as quickly as she’d like, progress is finally being made.

“Efforts to have several of these crossings addressed for maintenance has gone on for a number of months now but I finally have a meeting set with representatives for Union Pacific and I’m confident getting them here to walk the tracks and talk about improvements is a good first step in the right direction,” Streets and Public Improvements Commissioner Tara Fasol-Chambers said. “Unfortunately, there isn’t much the city can do about railroad tracks. We can’t fix them and the railroad has easement on the actual roadway adjoining the tracks, as well. What we can do is ask and urge them to make needed fixes, and that’s what we have been doing.”

Fasol-Chambers said the meeting just before Thanksgiving Day should secure the necessary steps for getting the tracks fixed. She said she also hopes it is a step toward a better working relationship between the city and Union Pacific.

“This hasn’t been the ideal situation, by far, and I’d really like to create a better line of communication so that problems in the future can be handled in a more timely fashion,” she said. “We all learned a hard lesson a few years ago when efforts to have stop arms installed dragged out for more than a year and were only met after the death of one of our residents. That can never happen again. We must have the ability to contact them when needed and them to contact us when needed so that safety concerns are met quickly. We need the ability to be proactive about our approach to addressing those concerns. These are more than just ‘rough’ crossings as they have been labeled, in my opinion. They are a danger to motorists and that’s not acceptable.”

Fasol-Chambers said she is happy to see progress moving forward on efforts to have the tracks fixed and asks that residents continue to be patient and cautious in the meantime.

West Frankfort crews hang holiday decorations

Roger Stanley supervises as Jimmy Edwards and Jeff Woolard hang decorations with the help of Kent Earnheart and Foreman Larry Presley operating the backhoe.

On Tuesday, West Frankfort Street Department crews began the task of hanging Holiday decorations throughout the downtown area. The city took over the decoration duties from the Chamber of Commerce earlier this year.

Volunteers had traditionally put up the decorations early on a Saturday morning. Workers are expected to meet this Saturday as well – if needed.

“The Street Department is trying to help volunteer efforts by getting an early start, this year,” said Street Dept. Commissioner Tara Chambers. “Our city has owed such debt to those who turn out on a traditionally cold morning to work hard so that others may experience the lighted scene down Main Street.”

— Bruce A. Fasol

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