City Manager previews Rochelle’s 2022 plans

The City of Rochelle’s 2022 plans include working to bring a housing development to town, finalizing the Hickory Grove project with demolition and development of the site, collaborating with other local organizations and finishing renovation of its new building on the south side and beautifying that area.

Hickory Grove, south side of town among priorities

ROCHELLE — The City of Rochelle’s 2022 plans include working to bring a housing development to town, finalizing the Hickory Grove project with demolition and development of the site, collaborating with other local organizations and finishing renovation of its new building on the south side and beautifying that area. 

Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh spoke to the News-Leader on Dec. 15 about those projects and more that the city hopes to accomplish in the year ahead. 

Fiegenschuh said the city has received potential interest in workforce housing in town along with other types of housing. A recent housing study outlined the need for more housing in town and solidified city staff’s priority to see more of it. 

“If there's interest, we'd like to partner with that,” Fiegenschuh said. “The workforce housing and just housing in general, I'm excited to work on this next year.”

The city council recently approved the demolition of the Hickory Grove facility that is slated to begin in late January and last until April. Seeing that work through and working on finding a developer for the site in the spring is another one of the city’s 2022 priorities, Fiegenschuh said. 

Also top of Fiegenschuh’s mind for 2022 is continuing downtown improvements and continuing to push the expansion and reconstruction of Illinois Route 251 on the north side of town with the Illinois Department of Transportation, which manages the deteriorating roadway and has it on its future projects list. 

Fiegenschuh also mentioned exploring the possibility of collaborating with other local units of government after recently finalizing a new school resource officer agreement with both Rochelle school districts. 

“Maybe there's more opportunities where we can collaborate with the schools or the county or township or park district,” Fiegenschuh said. “We used to have these local government meetings where we'd all get together once a month or once a quarter and then that just kind of died off right before COVID-19. Maybe getting back together and doing that.”

The city manager is also on the Rochelle Area Community Foundation board and is looking forward to participating in quarterly nonprofit leader meetings in the coming year that could give ideas of ways the city could help its residents. 

“If there's things we're lacking for basic services, I'm not saying the city should start up the services, but if they're trying to start new services, are there things we can do as a city to help them?” Fiegenschuh said. “Just collaborating and working to do that.”

After purchasing the former Johnson Tractor building at 1030 S. 7th St. over the summer, the city plans to renovate that facility and move more staff to it in 2022. Departments would include   finance, utility billing, water/water reclamation and electric.

Fiegenschuh said he hopes to focus more attention on the south side of town and the city plans to do some additional beautification in that area along with focusing on its other corridors. 

The city’s 2022 will also include utilizing its staff in the best way possible. 

“If any staff openings come up, we always recalibrate and look at how we can do things more efficiently,” Fiegenschuh said. “Can we do cross training and combining positions and things like that? I have some ideas over the next couple of years and I'd like to see us move in that direction too."

The city plans to hire two new police officers in 2022 with potential retirements coming up in the department. With all its departments, Fiegenschuh said succession plans and replacements are priorities. 

“Because I do think the thing that makes an organization successful is having the right people in the right jobs and giving them the tools to be successful,” Fiegenschuh said. “If we do have people move out of the organization, how do we replace them and do it with folks who should be in those positions and who can make those positions even more successful?”

Fiegenschuh said economic issues dealing with the supply chain and the COVID-19 pandemic that have already been seen do make him nervous going into 2022. So far, low interest rates have allowed the city to fund a lot of infrastructure projects with some short-term borrowing. 

If interest rates start going up, the city will have to reevaluate or look at putting money in the bank and saving if interest rates are higher. 

“I don't know if it's worrisome, it's just something we need to evaluate as potential higher interest rates,” Fiegenschuh said. “But inflationary pressures definitely worry me. Costs go up every year, but these inflationary pressures could potentially cause projects to be even more expensive. We've only got so many dollars. How do we stretch those dollars?” 

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