There were in the gallery four people from the community who wanted
to express their opinions about the tax. As they spoke, responses
from the aldermen, both in favor of and against the tax, were
passionate and sometimes slightly aggressive.
Wanda Lee Rohlfs was
the first person from the community to speak. As she worked her way
through her concerns, she mentioned that the aggregation process had
lowered the cost of electricity, but those rates would change at the
Mayor Keith Snyder broke into a conversation going on between
Rohlfs and three of the aldermen at once and said that Chuck Conzo,
the city treasurer, has stated that the rates will go up. Snyder
said he didn't know how Conzo could be assured of that, since the
city isn't set to do a new contract for another 12 months. He
offered Conzo the opportunity to speak on the matter.
Conzo said that President Barack Obama has waged "war on fossil
fuels." He said those were not his own words, but the words of the
president. Conzo said the majority of the power plants today are
coal-powered, but there is going to be a time when those plants have
to shut down, and when they do, electricity will go up. He told the
group that aggregation will still save people money, but
nonetheless, the rates will go up.
Tom O'Donohue said that by Conzo's own logic, the rates could go
down. He told the group that he personally has bought electricity
for his building for the past six years, and every time he has made
a purchase, the price has gone down.
"The trending I see is that it will go down," O'Donohue said.
"Yes, eventually something that goes down goes up, but if you're
going to make decisions according to what is going on in Washington,
you're never going to make a decision."
Immediately following O'Donohue's statement, Snyder called the
discussion to a halt and invited the next speaker to come to the
seat. That was Richard Sink.
Sink said he was not in favor of the tax, but if the city was
going to have to do it, he wanted to see the city get the biggest
bang for the buck.
He told the council that if they enact the tax and borrow money
for their projects, then approximately 24 percent of the annual
budget of the city would be for repayment of loans. He also said
that looking at an amortization of the loans, which would be created
through the issuance of municipal bonds, the city would end up
paying $8 million in interest on loans.
Sink wants the city to use the tax revenues to pay off the
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loan for past sewer
reconstruction. Snyder said that even so, the $650,000 a year the
city would have after the loan was paid would be available for use
only in the sewer department. At that point David Wilmert commented
that the city knows they have to redo the sewers.
Snyder asked Sink to justify the claim of 24 percent debt. Sink
didn't have the numbers in front of him that he needed to support
the claim, but he said the debt would come to $3 million a year and
the annual budget is $12 million.
Snyder said the city had to maintain a certain debt-to-equity
ratio and it is well below that rate.
Wilmert commented that in addition, many of the expenses the city
has to address are going to be mandated expenses. He said the city
did have some flexibility on the safety complex and downtown
Sink also commented that according to the rate structure of the
electricity portion of the tax, the little guy would pay more, while
others pay less. He said it looked like the more they use, the
better rate they get. However, Snyder, Sue McLaughlin and Melody
Anderson all chimed in to explain that everyone would pay the same
rate for the first 2,000 kilowatt-hours.
[to top of second column]
Sink countered, though, saying he was always going to be paying
the higher rate while others got a break. He commented, "I know that
figures don't lie, but liars do figure."
Shortly after that Snyder thanked Sink for attending and moved on
to Don Bauer.
Bauer kept his statement very brief. He told the council that he
was a retired citizen of the city, born and raised in the community.
He said that as a retired person, it was getting harder and harder
for him to live in the community.
He said that on a fixed income, he has had to cut back on all his
spending, from fuel to food to medicine. He said, "You just keep
taking and taking and taking."
Following Bauer's comments, there were no ensuing comments from
the council. The mayor thanked him and moved on to the last guest,
Short took the seat and began by saying that he was not opposed
to the tax. But, he does have concerns about how the money will be
He would like to see the money dedicated only to mandated
expenses, specifically the sewer work and the pension plans. He also
added the safety complex to the list of items he would support
expending the tax for. He said he thought the downtown renovations
were a good idea, but he saw them as a want and not a mandate.
O'Donohue reminded Short that the safety complex was not really a
mandate, and he asked, as such, if Short was still in favor of it.
Short said he was because he believes it is needed.
For the first time during this discussion, Marty Neitzel spoke up
regarding the downtown renovations. She said that with the balloon
festival just over, there had been thousands of people in the
downtown area, and the sidewalks around the square were not in good
repair and not safe. She feels that the downtown renovations are
much more a need than a want.
"For us to revitalize, we have to make that downtown area safe,"
she said. "If we want people to come in and help our businesses that
are here, we have to do that."
O'Donohue also noted that included in the downtown project is the
replacement of sewers while the sidewalks are being torn up. He said
that also made the project more of a need than a want.
Short said he wouldn't argue with that, but inside the project
plan there are pieces that are not actually needed in order to make
the downtown a safer and better place, and that is what he thinks
the council should look at.
This concludes Part 3 of this series. In the fourth and final
installment, LDN will provide detailed coverage of discussions that
took place among the aldermen after all the guest speakers had
offered their thoughts and opinions on the utility tax.
[By NILA SMITH]
Previous articles in series
Council heats up over
kilowatts and therms
Utility tax discussions