FARMER CITY -- Last year saw its share of notable events in the Farmer City area. Whether it was the land swap between the city and the fair association, school funding issues, or the uncertainty over local ambulance service, there was plenty on the minds of local leaders.
Negotiations heated up this past fall between the city and Farmer City Fair Association on a possible exchange of property. The offer was much the same as two years ago -- the city would sign over the 48-acre fairgrounds land in exchange for 45-acre South Park and 20 acres of land north of Interstate 74.
On Nov. 23, a majority of the 17 people testifying at a public hearing on the swap spoke out against it; with one common theme being there was no current appraisal of the tracts involved. The city decided to table the issue until an appraisal could be obtained.
With an appraisal in hand Dec. 21 that showed the value of the swap being relatively even, the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the land swap. Formal closing will likely be in the first quarter of 2010.
With Farmer City not able to provide around-the-clock coverage, the City Council in February voted to hire Gibson Area Hospital to provide local ambulance coverage for $150,000 a year. The contract began on March 1.
In order to pay the cost, the Farmer City Fire Protection District voted to place a referendum on the February primary ballot to start an ambulance district. Voters overwhelmingly approved the formation of the district on a 710-110 vote.
It was a year of achievement for Blue Ridge schools, despite the state funding crunch, with the district netting its share of awards.
The most notable was in December when BRHS was named one of the top high schools in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
Blue Ridge High School also captured its first sectional title ever when the softball team swept through regional and then the two-game sectional to advance to within a game of state. The boys' baseball team also won its first regional ever, and advanced to the sectional title tilt before seeing their season end.
The DeWitt County Board in November approved a special use permit that will pave the way for McLean County Aquaponics to locate in the former George H. Dunn building in downtown Farmer City.
The firm said it would employ from 30 to 50 people. Owners hope to have the business under way in 2010.
The Blue Ridge School Board also voted to approve 50 percent abatement for five years on the upgraded portion of the Monsanto seed plant.
The abatement will affect only the $100 million expansion that was completed in the summer 2009. School Superintendent Jay Harnack said that the abatement will not result in a significant loss of state aid.
Parks and rec
The Farmer City Kiwanis Club and the First Baptist Church began an effort to renovate Weedman Park, which had last seen new play equipment installed in 1990. The drive began in March, and by June new play equipment had been installed. The estimated $30,000 price tag was paid through donations.
Phase II of the upgrade will include swing replacement and the addition of some additional play equipment, while Phase III will address fitness equipment located just east of the basketball and tennis courts.