Bonaparte lives in a home that is part of the Betsy Townsend estate.
He has been personally responsible for the sewer bills since
Townsend's passing in 2000.
Bonaparte explained that since 2002 he
has not been able to make payments on the account due to financial
hardship. He has recently come into a windfall that would make it
possible for him to pay the city in full, if they were willing to
forgive at least a portion of the late charges that have accrued
over the years.
He was asked why the sewer bill was his responsibility instead of
the Townsend estate's. He explained that he was in an agreement with
the estate that he would live in the home and take care of it, which
included being responsible for the taxes and the sewage bill.
He was asked if he was the executor of the estate and he replied
After the meeting, Alderman Buzz Busby said that normally this
sewer bill would have been the responsibility of the estate, but
Bonaparte had specifically requested that the bill be placed in his
name and sent to him for payment.
Alderman David Wilmert questioned what the future of the
residence is going to be: Was Bonaparte going to continue living
there, and would he be able to make future payments on the sewer
Bonaparte said that it was his intention to continue living there
and to make future payments in a timely fashion.
Alderman Joni Tibbs asked what the reason was that no payment had
been made on this account since 2002, and Bonaparte simply answered
that it was his fault.
Later Alderman Stacy Bacon asked Bonaparte to give a better
explanation as to why he had not paid the bills.
He said that he was trying to run his own business, Bonaparte
Trucking, and that finances have always been a struggle.
Bacon asked if he had in the past seven years made any other
attempts to work out this bill with the city, and he replied no,
that he had not had the means.
Bonaparte said that he can pay the bill now because he has come
into some money through his father's estate that will help him get
caught up and have a fresh start financially. He said that he wanted
to use that windfall to clean up the debt as quickly as possible.
All totaled, Bonaparte owes $3,756.60 in sewer debt. According to
Busby nearly $2,200 of that is late fees.
Busby said that this issue with Bonaparte has led him to believe
that the city should look into establishing an amnesty program for
delinquent sewer bills.
His initial idea is that anyone who is in arrears for less than
$100 would be given a 10 percent discount on their total bill, and
anyone with a bill over $100 would get a 20 percent discount, all if
paid by a specific date. He suggested that this should be a
He added that the sewage committee is considering working with
the Environmental Management Corp. and Illinois American Water to do
shut-offs of water in lieu of delinquent sewer accounts. He said
that once the water is shut off, he believes that the health
department can close the house down so that no one can live there.
The city has approximately $90,000 in delinquent sewer bills on
the books. Busby said that many businesses use an amnesty day to
collect on old debts successfully.
He feels that given the size of the dollar amount delinquent, it
would be worth considering if it would produce some payments on
these stale accounts.
Alderwoman Melody Anderson said that she appreciated Bonaparte
coming before the council. "I am really in favor of the amnesty-type
program," she said. "It will give everyone -- not just Mr.
Bonaparte, but everyone -- an opportunity to get back on an even
keel. Oftentimes on an amnesty you can even enter into some sort of
a payment-type program."
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She went on to explain that if they did do a payment program, it
would be contingent that if one payment was missed, then the entire
sum would be due immediately.
Alderman David Wilmert said that he was in favor of the amnesty
program, and he also thought that perhaps Bonaparte should receive a
little special consideration simply because he came to the council
and has allowed himself to be "beat up" by 10 people.
After the meeting Wilmert said that because Bonaparte is willing
and able to pay the obligations to the city immediately, he didn't
feel that he should have to wait for the city to develop this
However, during the course of discussion several voiced a concern
about showing Bonaparte any special consideration.
"I have to shed a little bit of caution on that idea," said Bill
Bates, city attorney. "I think if you're going to have an amnesty
program, you need to get that worked out and have details in place.
There are a lot of people that you've made pay a lot of penalties,
and don't think for a second that you're not going to hear from
those people if you start making deals on an individual basis."
Alderman Nathan Turner said: "I agree with Mr. Bates. I would
like the council to stay out of the sewer bill management arena as
much as possible. I think creating an amnesty program would be good,
and an excellent way to resolve some outstanding debt while raising
additional revenue for the city."
He went on to say he wasn't sure what the capabilities of the
city accounting system were, and he would want confirmation that the
clerk's office could deal with such a program.
Anderson said that there have been others in the past who have
come before the council seeking some forgiveness, and the council
has always stood by the penalties imposed. She supported the general
consensus that Bonaparte's request should not be granted on an
She commented, "Mr. Bonaparte is the little cattle prod this
evening that is saying, 'OK, it is time we deal with this' and hash
out some sort of workable amnesty program that we can put in place
and move forward with it."
Busby said that the council had opened a door to individuals
negotiating their debts when they offered concessions to Kathy
Miller and her mother on the capped sewer issue recently.
Alderwoman Marty Neitzel quickly interjected that the capped
sewer case was entirely different from this one, but Busby
maintained that when the city offered her what he referred to as
"extras," in addition to refunding the sewer bill, it set a standard
for future cases.
"I was all for returning that cash, but it was the extra that you
gave her that is creating this," he said. "That is why I'm thinking
of an amnesty program. We don't have time to sit up here and discuss
50 or 60 people that are going to come up here if you consider
individuals like Mr. Bonaparte here tonight. We don't have enough
time to do that."
Busby said that he would call a special meeting of the sewer
committee to discuss the amnesty plan further.
In the meantime Bonaparte will wait to make his sewer bill
The committee will meet at 6:15 p.m. Oct. 27. This will be
another "on the road" workshop meeting, to be held at Adams School,
which is located on the city's north side, just off Lincoln Parkway
at 1311 Nicholson Road.
[By NILA SMITH]