Tuesday, Nov. 19

 

House panel votes to reopen LDC

[NOV. 19, 2002]  An Illinois House appropriations committee voted Monday to reopen Lincoln Developmental Center and several other facilities closed this year by Gov. George Ryan.

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 institutions.

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.

Local AFSCME 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.

[LDN]


City will try again for sales tax increase

[NOV. 19, 2002]  Itís official. The Lincoln City Council will try again, at the April 1 consolidated election, to get voters to approve a one-half of one percent increase in the city sales tax.

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.

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 View extension.

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 director.

"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.

The council 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.

[Joan Crabb]

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**Lincoln's classes are finished for this semester.  Check online for classes available in Normal or online.**

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City will fight water rate increase

[NOV. 19, 2002]  The Lincoln City Council will hire an attorney to fight the 13.25 percent increase in water rates requested by the Illinois-American Water Company.

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 procedures.

Fulton will charge the city $125 an hour, the same rate the city would pay Bates if he handled the protest.

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 Granite City.

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 infrastructure.

 

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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.

"We treat 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."

[Joan Crabb]


Articles from the past week

Monday:

  • AFSCME lobbying to reopen Lincoln Developmental Center

  • Mount Pulaski takes second at state (Sports)

Saturday:

  • Mount Pulaski in state volleyball championship (Sports)

  • Governor releases $103 million for road construction

Friday:

  • County to consider forgiving cemetery district loan

Thursday:

  • Looking for Lincoln weekend
    (
    Tourism)

Wednesday:

  • City sales tax hike will be back on the ballot

  • Lincoln College student groups help elderly with leaf raking

Tuesday:

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