Thursday, November 17, 2011
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Energy provider, city manager, 911 surcharges and more

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[November 17, 2011]  Tuesday evening nine of the 10 city aldermen convened for the Tuesday night committee of the whole workshop meeting of the Lincoln City Council. Alderman David Armbrust was absent for the evening.

HardwareAldermen will interview final four

Mayor Keith Snyder told the council the committee for the selection of candidates for the city administrator position has narrowed their list down from 43 applicants to eight.

The next step for the committee -- which is made up of Snyder, Aldermen Tom O'Donohue and David Wilmert, and hired consultant David Anderson -- will be to conduct telephone interviews with the top eight and narrow the list down once again to what Snyder referred to as the final four.

Snyder asked the council what their preferences would be in regard to the final four candidates. He said the council had the option of allowing the committee to conduct the interviews and rank the candidates from first choice to fourth. Once that is accomplished, the council could then meet the first choice and approve the selection or reject it. If they rejected the selection, then the committee would bring in the second choice for them to meet.

He said the other option would be for the council to interview each of the final four and choose among them.

Alderwoman Melody Anderson said she preferred the second option, and the balance of the council agreed.

Snyder said the phone interviews would be on Nov. 20, with the face-to-face interviews scheduled for Dec. 3.

He also talked about the candidates meeting at that time with community stakeholders. The stakeholders will be other community leaders chosen by the selection committee. Alderman Marty Neitzel asked if the council would be told who these stakeholders are, and Snyder confirmed they would.

David Anderson was also present for the Tuesday night meeting and spoke briefly, saying another part of the process might include the candidates being given tours of the municipality by city employees. He said this would serve two purposes: giving the candidate an idea of the community he will serve and also giving key staff members an opportunity to form their own opinions about the candidates, which they might be asked to share with the council.

The personal interviews will be scheduled with two in the morning and two in the afternoon. O"Donohue said he believed the interviews would take more than an hour each.

Fulscher presents request for city support of 911 surcharge


Dan Fulscher, Logan County Emergency Management Agency director, was present to discuss the EMS request for support from the city in seeking greater revenues via the 911 surcharge currently imposed on landline telephones and cellphones.

Fulscher also heads up the Emergency Telephone System Board, which provides the 911 services to all of Logan County.

He said Logan County residents currently support the local 911 through a $1.95 surcharge on their telephone bills for their landlines and a 73-cent surcharge on each cellphone they own.

Fulscher said the problem the ESTB is facing is a loss of revenues due to the elimination of landlines. More and more people are doing away with their traditional landlines or wired phones and going with a wireless or cellphone for convenience. As landlines go away, the ESTB is losing revenues.

Fulscher said that in 2004, state legislators gave local governments the authority to place referendums on their ballots seeking permission to increase the 911 surcharge by county.

For the cellphones, there is no such legislation, and the state decided on the current surcharge.

Fulscher said two things are needed. The surcharge on cellphones needs to be increased, and he would also hope that the state will once again give the issue over to local government so voters can decide whether or not Logan ESTB needs the increase.

During discussion, Snyder, attorney Bill Bates and several of the council members voiced concern about the duplication of charges. The surcharge will be placed on each phone number, which means in a household of four with four phones and four numbers, the monthly charge could go from just under $3 to nearly $8 per month.

Placing this kind of burden on their constituents is something the council and Snyder expressed concern about, feeling it is unfair for a family to have to pay multiple charges simply because they have multiple phones.

There was also concern expressed about those few who do still have a landline but also have cellphones.

Fulscher said the revenues he receives from the 911 surcharge have been consistently dropping. He noted that revenues were at $718,000 three years ago, while this year the figure has dropped to $688,000.

He also noted some legislators are looking at dropping the 73 cents on cellphones altogether, and ESTB really can't afford to have that happen.

Fulscher was asked to clarify his request. What he would like to see is the full $1.95 on each cellphone number. He said that would be the best.

Fulscher told the council that with the loss of revenue over recent years, the ESTB is in "dire straits," not because of their spending, but because of their loss of income.

Alderwoman Kathy Horn noted to the council that if the ESTB doesn't get what it needs from the surcharge, Fulscher will be coming back to the city asking for more financial assistance from them, and they don't have it.

O'Donohue also said he had no problem with putting this on a referendum and letting the voters decide for themselves.

Currently the document of support Fulscher is asking the council to sign does not ask for the choice to be given to the voters. The document in its final paragraph states: "Therefore, by this document of support, the city supports any and all legislation to retain and increase the wireless 9-1-1 surcharge along with any legislation to support the future of 9-1-1."

This item was on the last voting session agenda and tabled. It will be brought up for a vote next week.

BlueStar Energy returns to council

For the past few weeks George Voorhees of BlueStar Energy has been attending council meetings and discussing electricity aggregation, with the hopes of signing an agreement with the city to guide them in the selection of an alternative energy provider to offer to the citizens of Lincoln.

This week Aaron Rasty, co-founder and vice president of the company, was in attendance to field questions.

Currently electric service is provided to all Lincoln residents by Ameren Illinois. However, legislation passed in the last few years permits citizens to choose from a variety of energy producers. This is part of the utility deregulation process, which was intended to make the business of delivering electricity more competitive and thus more economical for consumers.

If the council decides to enter into a working agreement with BlueStar, that company will ultimately serve as the middleman between the city and the large number of service providers who are now vying for the local market.

The role of BlueStar will be to outline what the city wants in the line of service offerings to its clients, then take the list of criteria and seek out the energy providers who can deliver what is on the list.

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For Lincoln residents and even some of the small businesses in town, this will give them a choice of going with the provider BlueStar finds and the city approves, or sticking with Ameren Illinois.

In most cases, consumers should be able to save money by switching, but not in all cases.

Rasty said once the option was made available, one service that could be offered to consumers would be a website address where they could physically compare what they are paying Ameren now to what they would pay the new provider.

As the discussions on this continued, Alderwoman Melody Anderson asked for clarification on the contract with BlueStar. She said it was her understanding there was no cost to the city for BlueStar services.

Bates said he had reviewed the contract with BlueStar, and for the basic "electric aggregate services" there is no charge. However, he said there were three additional categories of service in the contract, and if the city would use any of the those, fees are attached.

Bates also said he had no problems with the contract presented by BlueStar, but again he wanted to make it clear there are some options that will cost the city money if they choose to use them.

Rasty was asked about how the "opt out" for consumers would work. Simply put, if consumers do not respond to the "opt out" option, they will automatically be moved over to the new provider.

Rasty also shared that his company has been talking with the county, which has said yes to their proposals, and the village of Emden is also on board. The village of Atlanta was to vote on this Tuesday night, and Rasty anticipated another positive vote from them.

For the city, there are two steps they need to take. First, they need to approve a contract for service with BlueStar, and then they need to approve placing a referendum question on the March ballot.

Once the question is on the ballot, voters will have the final say as to what the city can do. If they vote for aggregation, BlueStar will move forward in helping the city find an second option for consumers.

City nearing top of list for free military Humvees

Police Chief Ken Greenslate said the city police department is participating in a program to receive military surplus items and is climbing toward the top of the list to receive Humvees for police use.

He said the department is going to ask for three of the military vehicles, with plans of having two in good working order and the third one for parts.

Greenslate said he had talked about this earlier with Alderwoman Stacy Bacon, who heads up the insurance committee for the city, and she had expressed concern over the cost of insuring the large, all-terrain-style vehicles.

He talked with the city's insurance provider and discussed putting only liability coverage on the vehicles. Greenslate said he felt it made sense not to put collision on them, as they were coming to the city free and would likely not be replaced if damaged. For the liability-only coverage, the cost would be $173 each.

He has also talked to the shop class instructor at Lincoln Community High School and learned that the high school class would happily provide labor for the opportunity to work on that type of vehicle.

Greenslate told the council the Humvees would not be part of the regular patrol fleet. The machines are large, cold, uncomfortable and not something anyone would choose to drive. However, in conditions such as the blizzard of 2010, they would be very effective in getting around town.

He said the vehicles will for the most part be parked, although they might be used in a parade or some other similar activity.

Alderman Jeff Hoinacki asked about police lighting and paint. Greenslate said the machines would not have the full array of lights and equipment of the regular patrol cars. They will need one set of lights at a cost of about $100 per vehicle, and if they need to be painted, it will be something very simple like a primer gray with a stenciled "Lincoln Police Department."

Greenslate said the city is also on the list to receive an armored vehicle. He explained that while no one wants to think about why this would be useful, the fact is having one is a very good thing.

He noted, generally speaking, it is common for police departments tie bulletproof vests to the bodies of their cars when they are forced to drive into situations where assault with deadly weapons is a strong possibility. The armored vehicles offer much greater protection for the police.

Bates and Lebegue deal with foreclosures

Currently 42 properties in the city of Lincoln are in foreclosure, which ultimately is having an effect on the city government.

Snyder said he had asked John Lebegue of the building and safety office to put together some information about how this affects his department.

Lebegue's office has to see to it that the grass is mowed around these most-often abandoned properties. The cost of the service is billed, and a lien against the property is filed.

In addition, most often these foreclosed homes also have delinquent sewer bills. Again, liens are filed against the property for the cost of those bills.


There are costs involved in filing liens, and ultimately, it is most often lost money.

Lebegue said he does all that he can to keep track of the properties and who is in control of the property, and he has had some success. He noted he was able to collect recently for grass mowing on one property.

Bates said he too spends a huge amount of time on foreclosures.

The problem is, the city is never going to be the first on the list of lien holders, and most often if the property does sell, it comes in at far less than what is owed against it, meaning there isn't money left for additional lien holders.

Bates said, for example, he has two he is working on now. On one the mortgage date is from 2008, and the city filed their lien in 2011. The amount owed to the city is for over $400, and Bates said the city would not get a dime of that. A second one he spoke of had a mortgage dated 2009, with the city's lien in 2010. The amount owed to the city exceeds $800, and it will all be lost.

Denise Martinek, city clerk, said that this year alone, the city has $3,000 in lost revenues to write off as a result of foreclosures.

Snyder said there wasn't any action to take regarding this; he just wanted the council to be aware of it.


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