IBJ: You’ve just got re-elected and you’re on your fourth term. That would put you up among the top tenured mayors in Metro East.
Vernier: Yes. And I was trustee before that for 16 years. I’ve lived my entire life here.
IBJ: How has it changed during your time in government?
Vernier: Significant growth in residential, and now we’re seeing, in the past 15 years, commercial growth as well. Shiloh was mostly rural 30 years ago. Population was a thousand people or less. And basically, the community has grown because of the fact that we had many acres of real estate to develop. And, of course, we’re located on the west side of Scott Air Force Base, the south side of I-64 and O’Fallon and the north end of Belleville. So, we really were destined for growth because most of those areas are built up and built out. We’ve got the land.
IBJ: Is there a lot of land still to develop?
Vernier: The size of Fallon is about 13 square miles, and Shiloh is about 11.5 square miles, close to the same size. Yet, O’Fallon is double the population. So, we still have quite a bit of acreage that’s vacant — over a thousand acres.
IBJ: What’s the population?
IBJ: And you can remember the days when it was only about a thousand people?
Vernier: Oh, less than that. When I was born in Shiloh in 1960 it was about 500 people. When I first was elected as a trustee back in 1984 the population was 1,045. And, of course, back then the community was only about a square mile.
IBJ: How did it grow from that point?
Vernier: Then-Mayor Norm Acker, who preceded me, had the vision. He said, “You know, we need to annex this land.” We annexed everything around us that we could annex because we knew that if we didn’t annex it another community would because of the position we’re in here.
We went out, talked to the farmers and annexed in 360 degrees around the original community, which was right here (near Village Hall).
The beginning of the residential boom was the early-’80s. We were able to develop these subdivisions with the advent of the municipal sewer system.
My family’s farm was 300 acres, and it developed into residential. Across the street was the Mueller farm and that was another 300 acres. It developed residential. Meadowbruck Lake Estates, Innsbruck Estates, Vintage Forest.
IBJ: When did the commercial come about?
Vernier: Well, we participated with O’Fallon and paid for one quadrant of Exit 16 at I-64 (Green Mount Road). We have the southeast section of that interchange. A month before I was first elected mayor back in 2001, I met with Jerry Ebest, director of real estate for Dierbergs. I met with him right here in this office and he laid out a plan for the Dierbergs shopping complex. And that was the beginning of our commercial growth.
IBJ: Getting used to the growth has been a big challenge for you guys. How has that affected roads?
Vernier: Growth is something that you have to adapt to. The first project that gets started next year is Frank Scott Parkway, five lanes from Illinois 159 to Green Mount Road, and then the following year they’re going to (widen) Green Mount Road to five lanes, from Route 161 up to Lebanon Avenue and eventually all the way to I-64.
IBJ: And that’s going to affect a lot of people going right through here.
Vernier: Yes, it will. It’s going to be a mess until it’s completed.
Something else that we’re going to really have to adapt to — I’m hoping that it’s not going to be as bad as I think it could be as — is when St. Elizabeth’s Hospital opens (Nov. 4). We’re going to move 700 jobs from Belleville to Green Mount Road in O’Fallon. And I don’t know how many of those people are going to be using Green Mount Road or Frank Scott Parkway to get there.
IBJ: How about the extension of Frank Scott Parkway?
Vernier: I’m hoping that happens next year. That would go from where the parkway dead ends at Cross Street, all the way through to (Illinois Route) 158. And that will obviously take a lot of traffic off of the inner part of town in the mornings and evenings when it is really busy with base traffic. That’s been a long time coming. It was originally funded by Congressman Costello around 2005. He was able to get close to $3 million for the project. It took a long time (for the land sellers) to come to terms. There have been three more sales in the past year so that the county now has all of the right of way for the road. They’re hoping that next summer that project will be bid out. That’s a big one for me right now. Not only does it give us this extension to 158, it opens up another mile or two of real estate for development.
IBJ: Obviously a lot of the base personnel live in town, right?
Vernier: Yes. I would say 35 percent of our population, between civil service and active duty. And who wouldn’t want to live five minutes from work? I think we have it nice. It’s still a bedroom community. Most of our commercial is on the north end of town along Frank Scott Parkway. And you know we’ll keep it that way once that extension goes there.
IBJ: How much have you worried through the years whether or not the Air Force is going to pull back or shut down certain units at Scott?
Vernier: Good question. It used to bother us quite a bit. But, after (surviving) the last BRAC (base closing study), there are several large commands out there now. People say, sure, it can be picked up and moved any time. I just don’t see it happening anymore. They’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in Scott Air Force Base in the past 10 or 15 years. The new DISA building was a couple hundred million dollars. And there was a $200 million addition to TRANSCOM. Most people don’t realize there’s over 40 generals stationed out there right now. The next BRAC, I would anticipate Scott Air Force Base would grow. I think that we are in that position now.
Plus, Mid-America Airport has helped with Scott Air Force Base. They use that extra runway. And if we’re successful in getting the 126th Air Reserves out there and the 126th regular unit, and the new tankers that are being built right now … that solidifies the base even more. Strategically, we’re in the middle of the country. With what’s going on worldwide, I think you would want to protect your main command.
IBJ: Tell us about the housing projects that are underway.
Vernier: We have a couple that are in the works. The Summit is our first new residential community that’s been approved in the past 10 years and that’s about 300 lots — 12,500-square-foot lots. And then there are over 100 acre-and-a-half-plus lots. That’s on Lebanon Avenue right near the Mount Calvary Cemetery on what was called the Heitman farm. It was a 238-acre farm.
And when that project gets completed, a (limited access parkway will be built) from Lebanon Avenue … and come out at Frank Scott Parkway. It will be a new inner corridor for Shiloh residents to get to the shopping area without going down Frank Scott Parkway or Green Mount Road, which will relieve traffic for the local residents. It will definitely be a shortcut to get to the shopping area.
IBJ: And the second housing development?
Vernier: It’s going to be a very nice project known as The Savannah. It’s a 300-unit apartment complex. This is private financing. Crevo Capital will be the owner. They were the developers of the high-end dormitories up at Edwardsville. The rents are going to start out in the $1,300 range and go up to over $2,000-plus for these apartments. Many of the buildings will have elevators. The amenity package will include a pool, an indoor clubhouse. All of that, I think, will by far be the nicest of anything in Illinois south of Chicago.
IBJ: And that’s going to be located where?
Vernier: It will be on Cross Street directly across from Tamarack Drive.
IBJ: All this stuff is going on. Has anyone gotten tired of the growth and gone elsewhere?
Vernier: A couple of people have left, I can’t say that it was because of the growth. I’ve always said that I would really be disappointed to hear somebody left Shiloh because of what it’s become. We’re doing the best we can to keep our old residents happy and to accommodate the new residents. We’re not just accepting any growth. We are trying to do what they call smart growth. Our community is going to grow, and if we don’t continue to grow then we stagnate.
Right now, we have the lowest municipal tax (in St. Clair County) other than Fairview Heights, which has a zero municipal tax. All of that money goes directly to our police pension fund. It doesn’t finance any other government operations. Most of our operations are financed through sales tax and building permits, things like that.
IBJ: When you were an alderman back in the day what kind of budget did the village have?
Vernier: People won’t believe this, but when I was first elected trustee, Mayor Acker asked me to chair the Finance Committee and I can remember this clearly. Our budget was $58,000. And that paid for everything.
IBJ: What’s the budget now?
Vernier: About $3.5 million.