DECATUR — Money to fund the city of Decatur's sweeping neighborhood revitalization efforts could come from Howard G. Buffett, as the Decatur City Council is set to consider on Monday accepting a $1 million grant from Buffett's private foundation.
"We are beyond thankful for this generous offer and what it can mean for this initiative and our community," City Manager Tim Gleason said in an emailed statement.
It's just the latest in an ever-growing list of local donations from Buffett, who was appointed Macon County sheriff in September. In a city where local government bodies have been stifled by declining population and property values over a period of years, Buffett's foundation has funded new initiatives like the law enforcement-themed exhibit at the Children's Museum of Illinois and the city's state-of-the-art fiber optic network, set to become operational Dec. 1.
Other Buffett gifts have supported community services, from the local chapters of United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois to the Boys and Girls' Club to the Macon County Law Enforcement Training Center.
The community revitalization initiative fits into that portfolio. Though the plan itself has yet to be finalized, the idea grew out of years of discussion between officials and city leaders around how to combat the economic disinvestment of Decatur's core neighborhoods.
Abandoned and blighted properties, sinking home values, job losses and population decline have been problems for years in certain pockets of the city, while other neighboring towns and neighborhoods have stabilized or even grown.
"I believe that the foundation’s willingness to contribute such a substantial amount of funding support to this work says a lot about the confidence that the Foundation and Howard have in the people of Decatur to accomplish something great here," Gleason said.
A memo from Gleason's office to the council says the grant "would be specifically designated for the neighborhood redevelopment portion of the overall program, with actual budgeted line items to be considered and approved by the (foundation) in the next several months."
The city has organized more than 100 volunteer residents to participate in working groups to essentially brainstorm and then coalesce around some initiatives and solutions to improve.
The Buffett Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Buffett, the 62-year-old son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, was sworn in as sheriff Sept. 15 after former Sheriff Thomas Schneider announced his resignation, citing stress and health reasons. He had volunteered as an unpaid auxiliary deputy sheriff for the department for five years.
Schneider said he appointed Buffett because he did not want to create an unfair advantage for any of the three sheriff's lieutenants — Lt. Jonathan Butts, Lt. Tony Brown and Lt. Jim Root — who have announced that they plan to run for the office in the November 2018 election.
The council will also consider
- An incentive agreement with a custom electronic design and installation business that is set to open at 228 N. Park St., on the north corner of Central Park off Franklin Street. Under the agreement, the city would reimburse the business for half of its sales tax revenue over the course of five years, up to $73,300, according to council documents. The developer, Liaison Home Automation, LLC, would remodel the building at its own expense. Construction would begin by the end of this year. City officials said the move was expected to retain nine full-time jobs and create 10 more full-time jobs over the next two years.
- A 2018 tax levy proposal that would raise the levy by roughly $13,500, to $13.87 million. A public hearing on the tax levy is set for Dec. 4, and the council would vote formally on Dec. 18. Information provided to the council does not provide an estimated tax rate.