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CHARLESTON -- City officials received Council support Tuesday to move forward and apply for a grant that would pay for the demolition of some local abandoned properties.

Also, Charleston Mayor Brandon Combs touched on the fire and police pension issue, which made an impact on this year's levy.

The city is applying for an Illinois Housing Development Authority Abandoned Property Program grant. With this grant money, a little more than $64,000, city officials hope to be reimbursed for four demolition projects from last year and tearing down two structures in 2019, both of which were abandoned after fires, said Steve Pamperin, city planner.

The grant would cover the whole of these projects. Pamperin explained this was a competitive grant and the city's first attempt at nabbing it. City officials are expected to know if they were awarded a grant in spring and start work on two demolitions in the fall.

The city has been making an active push at removing blighted abandoned properties. Outside of the work on those four abandoned structures in 2017, the city recently assisted in demolishing a long-vacant building on Madison Avenue.

Mayor touches on pension issue

Also in the meeting, the city's tax levy, the amount of money the city asks for in property taxes, was approved. Following its approval, Combs, prompted by a question from the audience, addressed pensions in the city or, more specifically, fire and police pensions.

"It is not necessarily something we like to discuss," Combs said. "It is one of these things that the State of Illinois does. We have no control over it."

Although these pensions are operated through the Charleston Fire and Police Board, minimum requirements and the pension process as a whole is operated through the state.

The JG-TC reported Tuesday that the city's proposed tax levy this year depicts a familiar trend for Charleston and the state as a whole, specifically with fire and police pensions. The city's projected contribution to the firefighter and police officer pension fund is expected to see another increase and, as a result, other funds using property taxes have been reduced significantly to compensate.

"We basically had to zero out (general fund line items) to make room for the pensions," Charleston Comptroller Heather Kuykendall has said.

These include corporate, fire protection, police protection, garbage, audit, street and bridge, civil defense, school crossing guards and ambulance funds. Only $1,000 are levied for each fund in the proposed tax levy.

"We will just have to fund that with other revenue sources," Kuykendall has said, possibly such as sales taxes, she added.

This year, the city is asking for $4.8 million including bond funds, $2.8 million of which will go to the police and fire pensions. Last year, the city levied for about $4.6 million, with $2 million for pensions.

Combs noted that city staff, namely City Manager Scott Smith and Kuykendall, have been keeping an eye on the fluctuations in the pensions and reacting accordingly.

"This is going to make things tighter," Combs admitted.

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter

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Reporter

Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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