What’s Next For The Newest City In The Metro East? Here’s What Its First Mayor Says
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
On May 6, when new city leaders will be sworn in, the communities of Alorton, Cahokia and Centreville will officially merge to become Cahokia Heights.
Centreville Township Supervisor Curtis McCall Sr. will become the first mayor of the new town after running unopposed along with other candidates under his New Vision Party ticket.
McCall discussed next steps for the consolidated city, including the future of Commonfields of Cahokia and Centreville Township, in an interview with the Belleville News-Democrat last week.
What happens now?
McCall said his top priority is to find resources to fix sewage infrastructure in the area. In January, the three cities applied for a roughly $22 million FEMA grant that’s designed to address those infrastructure issues. McCall said he feels confident that the grant, if awarded, would help alleviate flooding problems that residents have faced for decades.
“So number one is to get raw sewage from going into people’s backyards, (getting rid of) the stench that they have to smell when walking outside their door. Residents voted for change. They voted for action, and to me, that’s what that vote meant yesterday. Those people that live there have a right to have a decent home and decent community, and they have a right to feel the way that they feel, to feel that the government has abandoned them, and in many cases, the government has abandoned them.
“So I’ll go from the sewers being our first priority then to our roads. Many of our roads are in bad condition. Public safety is also a priority.”
He expects to be notified of the application status in June. He said the matching fund to apply for the grant was $2.2 million, an amount that he says would’ve been difficult to afford had resources from the towns not been combined due to the merger.
“….So I believe, right there, the consolidation is paying off for the citizens of Cahokia, and I think that would be the case in many future projects to come.”
When will the work to get the cities officially merged take place, in terms of personal addresses and signage for businesses?
“A lot of that is going to take time. Clearly, we’re not going to be going to businesses and telling them that they have to change their name to Cahokia Heights right now. We’re going to give people time to do that. People are well aware that this is new, so there’s going to be some growing pains for myself, as the mayor, and for residents and business people, but we’re going to work together with them to work those items out, and I think by working together will get those name changes straightened out.”
Is there a time frame for when those things will be completed?
Although McCall doesn’t know an exact date for completion of those projects, he said the work starts with appointing a zoning and ordinance board, which he says he’ll do on his first day in office. He said members of the board will work with business owners and residents to establish a timeline.
“I think that it has to be a community approach, so I’ll be going throughout Cahokia Heights and asking people to serve on various committees: the zoning board committee, the police commission committee, the code enforcement committee, the infrastructure committee. I’m going to be reaching out to members who are having problems with the sewers and the streets and asking them to serve on these committees. I believe that we can have titles that says this and that, but what better expert than the people who live with it every day?”
What happens to Commonfields?
On Election Day, residents in the three towns voted to dissolve Commonfields of Cahokia. The water and sewer district serves over 7,000 customers in the area. Only those who are in Commonfields’ jurisdiction were allowed to vote on eliminating the district, according to the St. Clair County Clerk’s office. The vote was 1,306 yes, 280 no.
McCall is board chairman of the district and said he and other board members could vote to be incorporated into the new water and sewer department of Cahokia Heights. However, he isn’t completely sure of those plans.
Will employees who worked for Commonfields work for whatever the new water utility of Cahokia Heights will be?
“Everybody will have to re-apply. Commonfields is dissolved. Cahokia is dissolved. Centreville is dissolved. Alorton is dissolved. So all of these people will have to re-apply for new positions. We have old debts that need to be looked at. I’m going to be looking at closing the debt, which means that everybody will not get hired. Everybody will also take some sort of pay cut, that’s from the police all the way down to the custodian. We’re looking at items across the board.”
When do you think a new water utility will be established?
“It’s going to be a transition on that. I would imagine that the state statutes are going to play a part in the ways that you can dissolve Commonfields, and now the board will have to figure out what outstanding debts are left with the company, what resources are left with the company, so it will probably be over a period of time, maybe over the next five months, six months, maybe even a year before it’s dissolved. Voters have spoken, and it will be dissolved.”
What happens to the police forces of the three towns?
McCall said he plans to move the new police headquarters to Centreville City Hall. The mayor’s office will be at Cahokia’s City Hall.
“The state law states that the only individuals that are required to be brought over into the new city are paid policemen and fire departments. We do not have paid fire departments in Cahokia Heights. They’re volunteers, so we only have paid policemen. They are the only employees required to be brought in. Everyone else is subject to being re-hired.”
So what exactly will happen to the fire departments?
“The fire departments are on their own. They will stay as they are now.”
Is there a time frame for when you’d want to have this transition process completed?
“Everything else will be scheduled according to the time frame that the zoning board comes up with. This is going to be an inconvenience for people, so we’re going to be very relaxed in listening to businesses’ and others’ concerns about changing addresses. Those things are just going to be over a period of time. It may be six months. It may be a year. We’re going to gradually go into that.”
“ I think that the first thing that is important that people see is that when police cars pull up to their homes, they’re going to see Cahokia Heights names on it. When people see our public works department, they’ll see the name Cahokia Heights. That will be the beginning of people seeing that this is a new city.”
“We’ll get with the state of Illinois to change street and highway signage to Cahokia Heights. It’s going to take time to get this done.”
Is there a financial aspect tied to this transition process and will that be coming from residents?
“I think it’d be minimal cost. If you have a driver’s license that doesn’t expire until next year, I don’t think that a law enforcement officer is going to write you a ticket because it says Alorton, Centreville or Cahokia. We’re all aware that it’s going to take time to get this done. As far as business people, our zoning committee will work with them on changing signage of their building. Anything we can do to assist our business people, we’re going to do it.”
“Of course there’s going to be some cost in any transition. We won’t know what that cost is until it’s finished. I think the biggest cost to the citizens will be savings in the end. When we start talking about going from over 50 elected officials to about 11 elected officials, eliminating some businesses, I think that we’re going to be able to hopefully by the end of the year, eliminate the township. That’s a taxing body that’s going to be eliminated. I think that when it’s all done, it’ll be a savings of about $400 a year for the average homeowner in Centreville Township.”
Given that the township is planning to dissolve by the end of this year, what’s the role of people who were recently elected to govern it?
Clinton Lovett was elected as the new Centreville Township supervisor last week. Other positions include Erma Millard for township clerk; Marty Crawford for township highway commissioner; and Donna Myers-Corley, Charles Rattler, Darrell Bolden and Lena Edley-Dye for township trustees. All races were unopposed.
“Those elected officials will just be the ones to govern the townships and be in the place knowing that the township will be going into a final phase of disillusion by the end of the year. Their jobs will be eventually gone.”
McCall said that although he understands public distrust of local leaders in the area, including himself, he knows that people voted for a change and hopes to serve residents in the best way that he can as the new mayor of Cahokia Heights.
“I’m here to serve (the people). I’ve been a public servant now for practically all my life. That’s all I know. I live where they live, and I’m here to serve them. I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m willing to do the best job that I possibly can. I think that my number one concern is the sewer issue, even though those people have every right to be upset and even feel distrust in government. For over half of a century, the government has failed those people, but, at the same time, I’m seeing optimism in the vote for the initiatives on the ballot. To me, that is their way of saying that they want to see change.”
DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.