Columbia shares updates

Last Wednesday, Columbia city officials and department directors addressed members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce to provide a “state of the city.”

Columbia Mayor Bob Hill said Columbia is improving in several ways. He began by noting the increased sales tax revenue in the city over the past year will lead to improvements in infrastructure and parks in addition to helping keep the city’s tax levy lower.

Furthermore, Hill said about 30 new businesses have opened in Columbia this year. He also reported the Bob Brockland Buick GMC automotive dealership at 580 Old Route 3 is planning a significant expansion to create room for electric vehicle sales.

Hill also assured attendees the city “will do everything it can to protect your businesses and homes” if the city sees an uptick in property crimes when the no-cash bail system as part of the SAFE-T Act is implemented in Illinois beginning Jan. 1.

Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon also spoke on upcoming implementation of the SAFE-T  Act. 

“We’re not going to change what we do as far as our aggressiveness toward crime,” Donjon said, adding the Columbia Police Department and Monroe County Sheriff’s Department have a reputation for being tough on crime and following through with subsequent prosecution.   

Donjon also thanked the community for its support of police, which allows Columbia to attract quality police officers to the force. 

“Hopefully, we’re getting ready to hire the 20th officer” at the police department – a staffing level which has been a goal for several years, Donjon said.

Additionally, Donjon said the CPD will be adding a third K-9 officer in 2023.

Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey updated Chamber members on the progress of the city.

He said Columbia is “pretty well on target” with the number of commercial and new home permits issued in 2022.

“Even in light of the current global financial situation, there’s no reason to think (development) is going to slow down,” Dunakey said. “Columbia remains a community that’s in demand. People want to be here.”

As far as the ongoing year-long comprehensive plan project which will guide city development goals for the next 25 years, Dunakey said it will be available in its “final form” in early 2023.

When the comprehensive plan is completed, Dunakey said the city will then begin to revise its zoning and subdivision code. 

Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith gave an update on upcoming road and infrastructure projects in the city. 

In 2023, work is expected to begin on the GM&O Heritage Trail extension from Cherry Street to Centerville Avenue. 

Work is also expected to begin on Valmeyer Road from the Carr Creek Bridge to Route 3.

Columbia has also received about $1 million to improve Ghent Road. Smith said he would like to see the first phase of work from the Palmer Creek Bridge to Christina Court completed in 2023.

Improvements on Ghent Road will also coincide with a planned new roundabout at the intersection of Quarry/Palmer and Ghent roads – located just west of an existing roundabout installed this past summer. 

Smith anticipated a best-case scenario of summer 2024 for roundabout completion, with the project being finished no later than summer 2025.

The latest roundabout will help facilitate increased traffic on Old Route 3, Smith said, referring to a future I-255 interchange installation near Dupo. 

Smith said the city has already begun realigning water lines and other infrastructure ahead of future interchange construction.

In other city news, the Columbia City Council on Monday night voted to approve  Hill’s recommendation to appoint former funeral home director Michael Lawlor as the replacement for Mark Roessler, who had resigned as alderman last month.

Lawlor will represent Ward II and be seated at the Dec. 5 meeting. The remainder of the Roessler’s “unexpired” term will be up for election on the April 4, 2023, ballot.

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Scott Woodsmall

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