Tensions increase over Marengo's plans for growth

MARENGO – With tensions swirling over the city's effort to grow, one Marengo alderman has again criticized the city administration, this time, for pushing a $298,000 fee waiver through the City Council.

Ward 4 alderman Dennis Hammortree said top city officials negotiated a water fee waiver included in a large conceptual development without giving the council enough time to digest the details.

But other aldermen, who recently helped pass the project by a 6-2-1 vote, brushed aside Hammortree's complaints, calling the former Marengo mayor hostile toward an administration and council majority focused on finally growing the small city.

"The only agenda I have is to do what's best for the taxpayers in the community," Hammortree said. "I don't see how ramrodding this through a meeting and dropping information on the day of a vote is a good thing. It doesn't seem right."

The development under scrutiny could eventually add senior and family housing spanning hundreds of acres to territory the city acquired from its ongoing effort to expand south and west.

With a sluggish housing market, the massive development may take 15 years to materialize, city officials have said.

Positioning for the development, the council last week held two public hearings on annexation amendments for the project before voting on the agreements and rezoning the territory.

Tucked away in the crowded agenda was a $298,000 water improvement fee waiver that Hammortree said City Administrator Gary Boden negotiated with the developers and presented to the council only hours before the meeting.

In exchange for the waived fees, the developer agreed to install water mains that would connect and loop the city's existing water system and put the pipeline in place for future development along the city's annexed territories.

The waived fees would happen only when – and if – the housing development occurs. It also prevents the city from paying more to do the future infrastructure work, Ward 3 alderwoman Nicole DeBoer said.

Hammortree's concerns don't make sense since the council started talking about this project in closed session nearly three months ago, she said.

The rhetoric represents his "anti-administration" views that were on display earlier this year when he railed against a $7,850 fee waiver that helped bring Sullivan's Foods to Marengo, she said.

"Quite frankly, he isn't working with our administration," DeBoer said. "If your reasoning is that you are not informed, then it's your job to be informed."

Although the plans were generally discussed months ago, the council didn't receive specifics on the rezoning and incentives tied to the conceptual development until hours before the vote, Hammortree said.

"I was elected by the people to look out for their best interests," Hammortree said. "I'm not against growth. What I'm against is doing it at taxpayers' expense."

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