Candidate Forum Follow-Up – 2019 Municipal Election

As with every election key issues emerge that grab the interest of community members more so than others.   It is a good thing when the community engages in elections as it validates the importance of local government and their role in helping a community move forward.  This year the topics of interest seem to fall into 4 main categories: River Front Development, Pensions, Road Repair (infrastructure), and Workforce Development.  It is important for the community to have fact-based information when making decisions about which candidate will work best for the City.  The amount of information behind these topics is incredible and one of the things that we, as community advocates, feel is imperative is to get out some of the information.   Sterling Main Street and the Sauk Valley Area of Chamber work with the City of Sterling in various capacities to help address the needs, opportunities and challenges of the City.  Janna Groharing and Kris Noble, Executive Directors, regularly attend city council meetings and monthly meetings with the City Manager and Mayor of Sterling to learn and exchange ideas.


DEVELOPMENT: When this topic is discussed it usually falls into the categories of riverfront development, downtown development and “all other” development.  The riverfront development further is divided into three areas: Lawrence Brothers Property; Stanley/National property, and the 20+ acres that once housed Northwestern Steel and Wire Plant 1 at Wallace Street and Avenue B.

These three areas are all at very different stages of development. First, for community members who believe there is no development happening at the river front- there is!  Visit the riverfront by Wallace Street and Avenue B. The goal is to make this part of the riverfront a recreational destination.  The plan is to have this work done in phases and some has been started including planting grass, pouring sidewalk; putting up fencing, and moving the former Northwestern Steel & Wire building to the Meadowlands Business Park; a project done by the Greater Sterling Development Corp. (GSDC).   There is a master plan for this area; with the City planning to partner with community groups and other private-sector entities to bring the plan to fruition.    (SEE PHOTOS HERE)

The second area is the Lawrence Brothers Property.  The City of Sterling has owned this property for about 9 years.  Progress has been slow on this building; as the City has unsuccessfully applied for a U.S. Environmental Protection Brownsfield Assessment Grant every year since to 2011.  While the City will continue to pursue EPA grants for the Lawrence Brothers site assessment and cleanup, it was decided in the spring 2018 to move forward with newly available funding to begin the assessment work.  Until the assessment work is done, the City won’t have the information needed to even decide how the site can be reused and the building cannot be demolished until they know what contaminants are contained within it and how they will need to be remediated. The money for the ground samples came from federal Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) revolving loan funds that were recently released to the City. The CDAP revolving loan fund for economic development was started in 1986, was administered locally and overseen by the State. The State ended its oversight and notified the City that the nearly $500,000 could be used without State and Federal restrictions. $125,000 is being set aside to jump-start the assessment work at the Lawrence site and $75,000 for the creation of a special events fund. The rest of the money is being used to create a local revolving loan fund for business development. While the City will be able to get the process started, officials will continue to seek help from the EPA.

The third area is the Stanley/National property, which includes over 14 buildings.  The City of Sterling does not yet own this property, but there is a donation agreement between Stanley Black & Decker and the City that calls for the company to clean up the property below the ground, while the city handles whatever might be in the building. When the EPA approves Stanley’s part of the cleanup, the property will be turned over to the city.  Until the City has control of the property and Stanley’s portion of the clean up work has been completed, the city’s hands are tied to as to any redevelopment of the site beyond brainstorming ideas for use and conceptual planning.

In the discussion of development; the term “TIF Districts” often comes up; yet most people have very little understanding of how TIF districts work and how the money can be used.  TIF is Tax Increment Finance. Tax increment is the difference between the amount of property tax that was generated before the TIF district was created and after the TIF district was created.   The base property tax continues to be distributed to all other taxing jurisdictions just as before. Only property tax generated by the incremental increase in the value of these properties after the TIF is created are available for use by the TIF District.  TIF revenues can only be used for very specific things and within the actual TIF district.  There are currently 4 existing TIF districts in Sterling: Central Business District West TIF; Rock River TIF; Lincolnway-Lynn TIF; and Central Business District East. TIF funds cannot be redirected to other areas of the City.


FIRE AND POLICE PENSIONS: The fact is that the City does not set pension benefits.  These are set by State Statute in Illinois.  The discussion is not about the Pensions, but rather how payment of these pensions is impacting almost every municipality in the State of Illinois due to a decision that was made at the 1970 Constitutional Convention.   In 2018, the cost of the contribution to the Police and Fire Pensions was just over $2.5 million dollars.  To give the reader a frame of reference; that cost was $200,000 in 2001.  Municipalities are obligated to pay these rates, as the law is to have pensions 90% funded by the year 2040.  The only way in which a City can reduce or at least slow the growth is one of three options: having higher investment returns; a drop in the number of retirees’ collecting pensions (deaths); or reducing the current staffing in fire and/or police to reduce future liabilities.  It is important to understand the role the pension liability impacts how Sterling, or any municipality develops its budget.  For the current budget year the City has opted to follow the recommendation of its actuaries as to the funding level needed to meet its pension obligations.  While the recommendation is above the statutory minimum level, there is a small decrease in the tax rate; due to the increase in assessed values of all property in Sterling, many property owners will see a net reduction in the City’s tax amount.


INFRASTRUCTURE AND ROAD REPAIRS is always a contentious topic. With the passage of the local options sales taxes in recent years, approximately $1 million dollars is spent each year on street improvements, including bridges, curb, gutter and sidewalks; and another million is spent on stormwater improvements.  At a recent city council meeting, a study session was held which outlined how street improvements are chosen from year to year.  The selections are made based on a rating system supplemented by input from the City’s engineers and public works staff. The City frequently reviews the priority list and makes adjustments each spring as the winter weather can greatly impact the roads from year to year.  The City also works with area utility companies to try and do work concurrently as a means of cost savings and to prevent extended or repeated road closures. There are over 100 centerline miles of streets in Sterling to be maintained. Adding to the mix is that several of the main roads in Sterling are State Routes.  While the City is able to fill potholes and take care of other minimal maintenance items, the Illinois Department of Transportation is responsible for major repairs and rebuilding of those main arteries.  While selecting the roads to be repaired/rebuilt each year it is not a perfect process, those decisions are made with the best information available at the time, with fiscal responsibility at the forefront – where can we get the most bang for our buck and have the greatest impact.  Decisions are not made on who complains the loudest, or the most.


WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT is a topic discussed throughout the chamber on a weekly; sometimes daily basis.  The focus of the discussion is not lack of jobs; as there are plenty of jobs available in the Sauk Valley.  The focus of the discussion is on the lack of applicants for certain jobs and the need for candidates with critical essential skills; also referred to as soft skills.  The Chamber works with employers to track what jobs are available, skill set needed, education required, and pay rates.   The Sauk Valley area has jobs available in many sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, insurance and banking, health care and education.  These positions range from entry level; minimum wage to those needing advanced degrees and high levels of experience- as well as mid-level positions.  For example – 5 local employers are currently looking to hire a total of 145 employees with pay ranging from $12.00/hour to over $100,000.00.   The challenge is finding qualified employees and the workforce development discussions need to be focusing on how to bridge the gap between education and employers/business in better preparing students for careers.  We need to work together to let our youth know the career pathways that are available in the Sauk Valley and what skill set and level of education is needed to obtain these careers.   Many jobs today do not necessarily require a 4-year college education, but rather a credential, or level of technical education.   We as a community need to work to facilitate discussion between our school systems and local businesses to develop a talent pipeline and allow students the opportunity to engage with employers.

In addition, the Chamber and Main Street, along with the City and other community partners & volunteers, are actively looking at the quality of life issues of the area.  In addition to the great schools, parks and healthcare opportunities available, what other community features are needed to help attract and retain the additional workforce needed to Sterling. While attracting additional manufacturers or other large employers to the area is always desirable, one of the attractors for a business to any community is the availability of a quality workforce.


Adopt a Flower Basket

Do you love seeing the bright colors lining the streets downtown all summer long?  Help us continue the beauty and grow the number of baskets by adopting a basket for 2019!

Your $200 contribution will help maintain these beautiful baskets and keep them looking great all season long!

Each sponsored basket will be marked with a placard recognizing you, your family, business or message of your choice.  The baskets are hung throughout the downtown beginning in Late May/Early June (depending on the weather), and remain up through late September (again, weather permitting).

CONTACT US to Adopt a Flower Basket or complete and return our ADOPTION FORM today!



2019 Winter Pops Concert


CONTACT:       Paul Ausman, Band Manager
Phone:  815.590.5566

SUBJECT:         Sterling Municipal Band Announces its 25th Annual Winter Pops Concert

STERLING, IL – The Sterling Municipal Band is kicking off 2019 with its 25th Annual Winter Pops Concert, on Friday, January 4, 2019.  The FREE concert begins at 7:00 P.M., and is being held at Abiding Word Church, 806 E. Lynn Blvd, Sterling, Illinois. Doors will open at 6:00 P.M.  An optional hors de’ouvres reception will begin at 6:30 P.M., and also features a dessert buffet during intermission. RSVP’s are required for the reception by December 21st, and the cost is $25 per person.

Interim co-directors, both of whom are long-time band members and area music educators, Annette Hackbarth and Cheryl Neumann will share the podium for the performance which will kick off the band’s 2019 season. “It is an honor and privilege to be co-directing this fine group!” says Annette Hackbarth. “A wide variety of music has been programmed for the concert to appeal to all audience members.   Highlights from my portion of the concert include the band classic “American Overture for Band” with its powerful brass opening and reoccurring melodies.   Another favorite is the selections from the Broadway classic “The Phantom of the Opera” which includes highlights from the infamous Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical.”

Additional entertainment will be provided during the intermission by local barbershop quartet Spontaneous Combustion.

For additional information on the Sterling Municipal Band, upcoming performances, or to make reservations for the January 4th Pops Concert, please visit, find the Sterling Municipal Band on Facebook, or call 815-590-5566.

Or download a response form HERE

2018 Movies at Grandon Schedule

May 30, 2018


Janna Groharing, Executive Director
Phone:  815.626.8610

SUBJECT:  Movies at Grandon begins summer season on June 12th

Sterling, IL – Movies at Grandon will return to Central Memorial Park this summer with five scheduled movie nights.  Movies will once again be held on Tuesday evenings, beginning on June 12th and on every other Tuesday through August 7.   The line-up for this year is:

June 12 – Despicable Me 3
June 26 – The Lion King
July 10 – Lego Ninjago
July 24 – Coco
August 7 – Peter Rabbit

Sterling Main Street has once again partnered with the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA who will provide fun activities for the kids before the movies beginning at 7:30 PM.  The activities will vary each week and have fun themes tying into each movie. Face-painting will also be available.  Various community non-profits will provide concessions each night, including popcorn, beverages and other sweet treats.   The movies will begin at dusk. In the case of bad weather, day of announcements regarding location changes will be posted to our website and social media.

We’ll be kicking off the season in grand style on Tuesday, June 12th with lots of fun, free, family-friendly activities beginning at 6 PM, featuring Move B4 the Movies with the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA, the WQPT Explorers and Midwest Activities Productions. Midwest Activities Productions will also be holding their ribbon cutting with the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce at 7:45 that evening.  They will be showcasing just a few of the more than 40 activities they offer, including a 12 foot tall Velcro dartboard, 9-hole putt-putt golf course, complete with spinning windmill, and “human bumper balls.”  Come early to enjoy the festivities and a fun family night out.

The year’s Movies at Grandon are presented by Boston Leather, Physicians Immediate Care, Sterling Federal Bank, McCloud & Associates Architects, Midland States Bank, Verifacts, Inc., Aurelio’s Bake Shop, Dennis Electric, CGH Vision Center, the Sterling Kiwanis, Midwest Dental, Sterling-Rock Falls Community Trust, Select Employees Credit Union and ValuChic.

For additional information on individual movie night activities, follow Sterling Main Street on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or visit our website

About Sterling Main Street

Sterling Main Street, a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization, is a nationally accredited Main Street® program which utilizes Main Street America’s Four-Point Approach® to downtown revitalization. This approach is based on a comprehensive strategy, tailored to local needs and opportunities in four broad areas: Organization, Design, Economic Vitality and Promotion.

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Sip into Spring Thanks!

Wow, what night! Here at Sterling Main Street we just can’t say enough Thanks You’s to everyone who took part in our Sip into Spring event last night, but we’re going to try….

THANK YOU to the Select Employees Credit Union for your sponsorship of this event.

THANK YOU to Denny & Jessica and the Champs Banquet Room crew for use of the space last night to end our event. The space is beautiful, and your hospitality is so appreciated!

THANK YOU to Michelle & John and the whole Smoked on 3rd crew for the great spread of food. As always, you rocked it!

THANK YOU to Kathy and Manny’s for the pizzas at the end of the night…they sure didn’t last long!

THANK YOU to the 14 businesses who opened their doors and welcomed our Sippers for the evening: UOI Boutique, Merle Norman, The Help Desk, Sterling Theater, Manny’s, The Factory, The Depot, Lisa’s Brickhouse, The Rusty Fox, Warner’s MVP Lounge, Primitive Frills, Smoked on 3rd, Country Financial and Champs on Light Street! We’ve got a great variety of businesses in Downtown Sterling and your willingness and enthusiasm for working together to bring people downtown inspires me every day.

And to all of you who came out for a night of fun and exploring in downtown Sterling, THANK YOU for your support of our community!

Check out our photograph gallery of the festivities…

Free Community Concert


The Sights & Sounds festivities continue with a FREE Community Concert Thursday evening, November 30, 2017 beginning at 7:00 PM at the Big Red Church (First Congregational) at the corner of 2nd Avenue & 4th Street in Downtown Sterling.

This free concert features performances by individuals, small groups, churches and organizations from throughout the community. Enjoy refreshments after the program.

If you would like to take part in the Community Concert as a performer, please contact Janet at the Big Red Church at 815-625-5112 for more information.

Thank you…

A simple “thank you” just doesn’t seem like enough to all who helped make Music Fest 2017 such a wonderful day.

To our sponsors – without your support this event would not be possible – Midland States Bank, CGH Medical Center, Walmart DC, Northern Illinois Cancer Treatment Center, Brothers Flooring, Grummert’s Hardware, Comcast, Fastenal, Select Employees Credit Union, Winstead Pallet & Mulch, McCormick’s Nursery, Astec Mobile Screens, Hollyhock Hill Farms, HALO Branded Solutions, Scholl Insurance, Yellow Dog Publishing, Edward Jones Agent Nick Lareau, Majeski Motors, The Precinct and North End.

To all our Volunteers – You guys ROCK! From a full day of set up in the heat and humidity on Friday with our core committee and friends at Distinctive Gardens; to a 16 hour day of fun on Saturday with ALL 50 OF YOU who contributed to the day; to our committee being right back at it Sunday morning for more tear down and picking up the last few pieces on Monday night. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

To our food vendors – Dairy Mart Plus and Papa Tom’s BBQ and Catering who have been with us since our first Music Fest 6 years ago, and Kokomo’s and The Cheese Market for joining us this year. Thank you for keeping everyone fed and hydrated!!

To our bands – Pete’s Sake, 3 on the Tree, Jaime Rojo, Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts and Royal Bliss – You all are amazing, and we hope you enjoyed your time in Sterling, and our beautiful Grandon Civic Center, as much as we enjoyed having you here. THANK YOU!

We also had two great photographers capturing the day for us, and we owe them a great deal of thanks – Lori VanOosten/Studio LPP and Jennifer Lubbs.   We’ll be sharing their great work soon!

And to our core committee, Jay Pauley, Dan & Robin Duncan, Mike Shull, James Jones, Brent & Denise Young – your countless hours of time and dedication to this event are what make this event happen!

Lastly, thank YOU to all who came out and spent all or part of the day at Sterling Main Street Music Fest, your support of our community, live music and the arts is so greatly appreciated! We hope you enjoyed your day!

And to anyone who I forgot to mention…..Thank you.


Hello, July!

Summer is in full bloom in downtown Sterling.  Bright pinks and greens dot the streetscape in the 36 lamppost flower baskets that were installed on June 8th.  A huge thank you goes out to the Distinctive Gardens crew and City of Sterling Public Works for getting them put up, and to Firehouse of God Ministries for keeping them watered for us all summer long.

Businesses are also blooming in downtown Sterling.  The new Merle Norman on 1st Avenue opened its doors in May and has been a great addition to downtown.   Two new businesses will be coming in July as well.   Primitive Frills will be opening around the 1st of the month in the former location of Tuff Dog Bakery, 7 E. 3rd Street.  The Help Desk, an educational supply store, will be opening July 8th at 325 – 1st Avenue.  No need to worry about Tuff Dog’s closure…they are still available at several locations throughout the Sauk Valley, including Air Play Sports, Showplace Antiques and Grummert’s Hardware, all in downtown Sterling.

The Twin City Farmers’ Market is in full swing as fresh, local produce and plants begin to fill the building, along with the scrumptious baked goods, fresh meats, eggs and cheeses available each week.   A shout out of appreciation is also due to MO-ST Plumbing & Mechanical for donating their services in keeping the Market kitchen cool for our bakers this summer in installing a new air conditioner!

July is also a month full of activities and events for the community to enjoy.   Movies at Grandon will be held on Tuesday, July 11th, featuring “Moana,” and July 26th for “Finding Nemo.”   Main Street Music Fest takes over the Grandon Civic Center in Central Memorial Park on Saturday, July 22nd.  We’ve got a great day of music, food and fun planned for this all ages event.  Tickets are on sale now on our website or stop by the office. Music also fills the air every Wednesday evening with the Sterling Municipal Band’s Music Under the StarsThese free community concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.

Get out and explore Downtown Sterling this summer!  For more information on these fun community events and more, visit our **NEW** website,, or follow us on social media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Movies at Grandon begin June 13th

Movies at Grandon will return to Central Memorial Park this summer with five scheduled movie nights.  Movies will once again be held on Tuesday evenings, beginning on June 13th and on every other Tuesday through August 8.   The line-up for this year is:

June 13 – The Secret Life of Pets
June 27 – Storks
July 11 – Moana
July 25 – Finding Nemo
August 8 – Finding Dory

Sterling Main Street has once again partnered with the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA who will provide fun activities for the kids before the movies beginning at 7 PM.  The activities will vary each week and have fun themes tying into each movie. Various community non-profits will provide concessions each night, including popcorn, beverages and other sweet treats.   The movies will begin at dusk.   In the case of rain, the downtown Sterling Theater has graciously opened its doors to us again this year to serve as a backup location. In the case of bad weather, day of announcements regarding location changes will be posted to our website and social media.

Join us for the first movie on June 13th and you will also be able to meet Brinkley, the Sterling Police Department’s comfort dog.

The year’s Movies at Grandon are presented by Select Employees Credit Union, JJM Printing, Dana Corp., Boston Leather, SBM, Sterling Federal Bank and the Sterling Kiwanis.  Additional support was also provided by the Sterling-Rock Falls Community Trust, Yellow Dog Publishing, The Factory Pub-n-Grub, Casey’s General Stores and Knutsen Cabinets & Countertops.

For additional information on Sterling Main Street, its activities and events, or to volunteer, please call the office at 815.626.8610, visit, or email  You can also follow Sterling Main Street on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Welcome Merle Norman

Sterling Main Street welcomes Merle Norman as the newest downtown business!  Congratulations to Becky Murray and her staff!!

Visit them on Facebook for additional information.