The measure to restore budget cuts of
$163 million was approved by a 16-1 vote. However, no definite plan
for funding the program has been set.
The American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees, the stateís largest employee union
and the one which represented most of the former LDC employees, has
been lobbying for the restoration of LDC and other state
AFSCME spokesperson Anne Irving said
last week the state had the power to issue up to $750 million in
general obligation bonds, which would more than cover the
restoration of state jobs and services.
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However, with the state facing a budget
deficit next year estimated at $250 million, some observers believe
it is unlikely that either the House or the Senate would approve the
proposal if the measure came to a vote.
It is even more unlikely that Gov.
Ryan, who closed the facilities and who is now asking state agencies
to look for additional budget cuts, would sign the bill.
members say there are many residents and employees who would be glad
to return to LDC, and point out that Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich is
looking into the possibility of reopening it.
At last weekís work session, council
members expressed their disappointment and speculated on why the
voters turned down the tax increase, 2,980 to 1,881. This week, all
eight members of the council present voted to try again.
The additional tax would bring in an
estimated $550,000 to the cityís treasury, which is strapped for
cash because of low interest rates on investments and a drop in
sales tax receipts. Without additional income, the city cannot
afford to upgrade its infrastructure, so residents will not see any
major street work or other capital improvements.
"We didnít do a good enough job trying
to sell it," Alderman Steve Fuhrer said. "We can all get out and
work together and educate people on what it will do. We can all get
out and help."
Fuhrer, a former finance chairman who
presided over some painful budget cuts, pointed out that the city
did not give any raises to department heads last year. He also said
people just donít understand how little the tax increase will cost.
"If you spend $10, itís 5 cents extra.
If you spend $50, itís 25 cents extra. If you spend $100, itís 50
cents extra," he said. He pledged to say something about the new tax
proposal at every city council meeting until the election.
George Mitchell, acting as mayor pro
tem in the absence of Mayor Beth Davis, said people should remember
that much of the new tax would be coming from people outside of
Lincoln, especially those who pull off Interstate 55 and patronize
businesses on the west side.
"Itís the only tax that will allow that
to happen," Verl Prather added. He also suggested a committee get
together to find some money to promote the tax increase, because it
is not legal to use city funds for that purpose.
Before the regular meeting, the sewer
and drainage committee revisited the issue of extending a city sewer
line to serve residents at the end of Campus View Drive, a street
that curves around the back of Lincoln Christian College.
Several residents have attended council
meetings to ask to be connected to the city sewer, citing problems
with inadequate septic systems. The nine homes at the end of the
street do not have sewer connections even though they are in the
city. Other homes in the area are connected to a line that serves
LCC, which in turn is connected to the cityís sewer system. However,
it is not possible to connect the nine homes and the several vacant
lots at the end of the street to the LCC line, city engineer Mark
Mathon said the cost of the sewer
extension would be between $375,000 and $400,000, and could be
$60,000 to $75,000 more if the Illinois Environmental Protection
Agency requires a separate generator for that area.
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The council previously voted to extend
the line when money became available to pay for it. Alderman Bill
Melton, chairman of the sewer committee, said the money might come
from payments to the city from the IEPA for work already done on the
sewer plant upgrade.
The IEPA has given the city a $9.8
million low-interest loan for the upgrade, but the city has already
spend money from its sewer plant fund for preliminary work on the
plant improvement. When IEPA repays the city, that money would have
to be spent for sewer work, Mathon said, and could fund the Campus
Mathon said the owner of one of the
empty lots on the street is considering building a home and wants to
know if he needs to put in a septic system. Melton asked for further
discussion of the sewer extension at next Tuesdayís work session.
Mary Conrady, president of the
Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce board, spoke about the
perceived "communication gap" between the city and the Economic
Development Council. Several aldermen said recently they would like
to be better informed about the EDC and the search for a new
"If there is a communication gap, we
need to know how to bridge that gap," Conrady said. She noted that
the EDC includes members from the city, including the mayor and a
city council representative, George Mitchell.
She said the EDC and chamber take a
proactive role in the economic development of the Lincoln community
and need the cityís partnership.
"We need to work together. Weíve got a
great team here. As a team we can get a lot accomplished."
Mitchell suggested that the chamber or
EDC send a representative each month to report to the city, the way
former EDC director Mark Smith did. Another suggestion was that
minutes of meetings be sent to the city.
In other business, the council
authorized the Fire Department to give equipment it no longer uses
to other organizations or communities.
Don Vinson, a former alderman, was
confirmed as a new member of the Lincoln Planning Commission, and
the city passed a resolution to recognize retired assistant street
superintendent Rodney P. Malerich for 30 years of service.
also voted to allow Mayor Davis to move $2,000 from other accounts
in her budget to her salary line to pay for office help 10 hours a
week. Half the money will come from the capital expenditure fund and
the other $1,000 from her public relations budget.
The rate increase, announced in late
September, must be approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission and
will not go into effect until July or August of 2003.
The council voted Monday night to hire
E.M. Fulton, recommended by City Attorney Bill Bates, to file the
cityís protest with the state regulators. Bates told the council
last week he had no experience dealing with the ICC and suggested
the city hire an attorney who did. According to Bates, Fulton, who
lives in Lincoln, formerly worked for the ICC and understands its
Fulton will charge the city $125 an
hour, the same rate the city would pay Bates if he handled the
Aldermen Verl Prather and Steve Fuhrer
said they would like to see Lincoln work with other cities that are
facing rate hikes, so they could share the legal costs.
Last week Bates told the council he had
talked with an attorney from the Citizens Utility Board, a watchdog
group that monitors utility costs, and learned that at least six
other Illinois communities also want to fight the rate increase.
Cities facing rate hikes include Alton,
Cairo, Peoria, Pekin, Champaign, Pontiac, Streator, Sterling,
Chicago Metro Division and a group that includes Belleville and
Bates said last week the procedure for
protesting before the ICC is to file a petition to intervene, then
to present evidence against the rate increase. He said that would be
written evidence, not live testimony, and he did not believe there
would be a public hearing in Lincoln.
According to Kevin Hillen,
Illinois-Americanís Northern Division manager, two major reasons for
the rate increase are higher security costs since last yearís East
Coast terrorist attacks and the ongoing need to replace and update
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Hillen said rate increases for Illinois
communities range from 8.25 percent to more than 40 percent, based
on the need for security and capital improvements. The companyís
last rate increase went into effect in 1995.
In Lincoln the increase would include
all categories of customers ó residential, commercial, industrial
and others. If the ICC approved the full 13.25 percent increase, a
residential customerís water bill (based on use of 6,000 gallons per
month) would increase $3.75 (about 12 cents a day), from $28.30 to
$32.05 per month.
However, Hillen said, even if cities do
not protest the rate hikes, the ICC may readjust the increases
Illinois-American is requesting.
"The ICC has the authority and the
responsibility to represent water users, and they are not shy about
doing that. History demonstrates that we typically will get
something less than we ask for," he told the Lincoln Daily News.
Approval of the rate increase, with or
without intervention, is an 11-month process, he said.
Capital improvements needed in Lincoln
include looking for an additional water supply and improvements to
the north treatment plan, Hillen said.
He also said since Sept. 11, 2001, all
Illinois-American water plants have been under heightened security.
the issue of security very seriously. We certainly have a heightened
state of security now, and we will never go back to the way we were
before 9-11. Iím confident that we are much more secure than we were
15 months ago."