SESSER — During Sesser’s July town council meeting, it was announced that bids had been awarded for the city’s forthcoming sewer system-overhaul — the byproduct of a series of large grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is the most recent in a series of efforts mayor Jason Ashmore and his city team have made at rebuilding the foundation of the small Franklin County community.

Benton’s Midwest Petroleum and Excavating was awarded the “sewage-treatment phase” of the job, coming in at $3,852,750, of which $143,000 goes to cover any incidental overages. The second phase of the project was awarded to Wiggs Excavation, also of Benton, in the amount of $1,118,092.50.

Ashmore said this project, slated to take about two years — he said the city is right on track for this timeline — will overhaul the city’s aging sewer system and help provide a more sound infrastructure that he hopes will lure businesses.

“To have these businesses you have to have the infrastructure in place,” Ashmore said.

One such business opened just this past month. Flipped By M is a boutique located on the city’s main drag. Owner Megan Johnson, a Valier resident, said she wanted to open her brick-and-mortar storefront in Sesser because of her family’s ties to the community. She and her husband — who is also her business partner — went to school there. She said they believe in making the town better and have been encouraging others to do the same. She said the city’s efforts to improve and beautify the town helped make locating there an easy choice.

Ashmore said revamping the city’s park with a $279,000 grant from Illinois Department of Natural Resources also helps with the city’s image. He said the city is using this money to replace the tennis courts, fencing, lighting, add a new sand volleyball court as well as new sidewalks.

“Nothing was usable,” Ashore said of the park’s rundown condition. He said with little taxbase to help keep the park up, it had fallen into disrepair and was neglected for decades.

While not every project is covered 100 percent by grant money, Ashmore said projects like these would simply not be possible without grant funding.

Since first being elected mayor in May 2013, Ashmore said the city has been awarded three housing grants — one through the Illinois Housing Development Authority and one from the Illinois Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity — for a total of just more than $1 million, a $40,000 demolition grant from IHDA to take down blighted properties, two $450,000 DCEOconstruction grants, one construction and design grant from the DCEO for $125,000, a $50,000 legislative grant, a $25,000 USDA engineering grant, two USDA grants for the city’s police department at roughly $25,000 each, $67,000 from the Delta Regional Authority for work done on the city’s water lines, $2,500 from Ameren CIPS to help mitigate dangerous trees in the city, a $2 million USDA grant for the city’s sewer overhaul and another $3,000 from DCEO to upgrade to energy-efficient lights downtown .

Ashmore said he knew from the get-go that to do the work he wanted, he couldn’t rely solely on the city’s coffers.

“The first thing I did is I dove into the books,” Ashmore said of his first days in office.

He recalled that the city was seven years behind on audits when he took office and had more than $1 million in general bond debt — debt accrued for just paying bills as Ashmore described it. He said when he saw this he knew he would have to get creative.

“Without the grants, we would not be where we are today,” he said.

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On Twitter: @ismithreports



Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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