The Benld City Council is poised to increase sewer rates but the amount of the increase and how it will impact consumers’ total water/sewer bills have yet to be determined. The move to hike sewer rates is prompted by a letter from the city’s engineers, HMG Engineers, indicating that local sewer rates must meet a designated minimum in order for the city to be eligible for grants and loans to finance a proposed sewer improvement project.
Mayor Jim Kelly said he would like to consider lowering water rates since the city is paying the City of Gillespie less for water under a recently approved 40-year contract with Gillespie. Lowering the water rate would help mitigate against the anticipated sewer rate increase, he said.
Council members, along with Mayor Kelly, City Clerk Terri Koyne and City Attorney Rick Verticchio, met Monday night in the Benld Civic Center. Meeting participants wore face masks and observed social distancing protocols. The meeting was accessible to the public via the Zoom teleconferencing system or by telephone.
The council is expected to take formal action on increasing sewer rates and possibly adjusting water rates during its regular meeting in June. On Monday night city aldermen reviewed spreadsheets documenting several options for dealing with the city’s sewer and water rates. City Clerk Koyne said she would prepare a report on the average usage per household before the Proprietary Committee meets to finalize a recommendation for the full council to consider.
Early in the meeting, former alderman Peyton Bernot, attending the meeting via Zoom, asked why it was necessary to increase the sewer rates. Specifically, he asked whether the city planned to access state EPA funds to pay for the project or federal funds through the USDA’s Rural Development program. Bernot, who is employed by the Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), said he talked with colleagues in his office and none were aware of any administrative rule requiring municipalities to set a minimum sewer rate to be eligible for EPA grants and loans.
Ald. Dustin Fletcher said he believed HMG recommended applying for state EPA funding but acknowledged he did not have the letter with him Monday night. City Attorney Verticchio told Bernot that state agencies are permitted to set rules independently of JCAR, in which case JCAR might not have a record of the EPA rule. He told Bernot that he would check into the issue and get back to him with an answer.
The City of Gillespie, relying on Rural Development grants and loans, recently adjusted water and sewer rates to comply with federal mandates for USDA funding. Gillespie City Treasurer Dan Fisher told the Gillespie council at the time that USDA required the city to set minimum rates to ensure the municipality would be able to generate funds necessary to repay their loans.
Last December, the Benld Council approved a $50,000 contract with HMG Engineers to design a sewer improvement project for the city’s east side. The project tentatively calls for replacing 3,400 feet of deteriorating sewer lines. Another 1,600 of sewer lines are expected to be repaired by installing a liquid liner material. When first proposed two years ago, HMG estimated the cost of the project at $800,000. Also in December, Justin Vander Haar, an engineer with HMG, indicated the project could be funded with Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) grants, which are federal funds administered at the state level.
In 2015, Benld’s application for CDAP funds failed because the city could not demonstrate that at least 51 percent of the households in the project area were low to moderate-income households. Last December, Vander Haar told the council that the rules have been relaxed, allowing the city to demonstrate that a minimum of 51 percent of the households in the entire city is low to moderate-income households. With that provision in place, he said the city should have little difficulty obtaining two successive $500,000 CDAP grants to cover the cost of construction and engineering for the project.
POLICE CONTRACT AMENDMENT
The council approved an amendment to the city’s contract with Gillespie to provide police protection. The amendment, approved last week by the Gillespie council, clarifies that fines collected will be split evenly between the two municipalities. The original contract referenced only fines collected on citations issued for violations of state law, such as traffic fines. The amendment clarifies that fines collected as a result of local ordinance violations also will be split between the two cities.
On the recommendation of the City Attorney, the motion included a provision to further amend the contract by specifying the fines will be split 50-50 between the cities regardless of whether or not the money is collected through the county court system.
Also in connection with the police protection contract, the council voted to sell at a fair market value any surplus police department equipment.
On a motion by Fletcher, seconded by Ald. Mickey Robinson, the council voted to keep the Maintenance Department’s headcount at three persons, contingent upon workload. The measure will allow former Benld Police Department Chief Jim Zirkelbach to return to his old position with the Maintenance Department. Zirkelbach will be paid the salary he was making when he was with the Maintenance Department, plus annual increases he would have earned.
The council tabled until the June meeting a measure to hire a local ordinance enforcement officer. Qualifications for an ordinance enforcement officer are still being researched.
On a motion by Flection, seconded by Ald. Teressa Tucker, the council agreed to pay $1,190 for Police Academy training for an officer who was employed by the city prior to the contract with Gillespie taking effect.
The personnel actions followed a 20-minute executive session to discuss personnel and litigation.
Following the executive session, Verticchio reported that court hearings on a nuisance property action have been delayed until at least July because of COVID-19 precautions limiting court hearings not deemed “life or death” matters.
The council voted unanimously to give Mayor Kelly the power to act on accepting a contract to address leaks at the Benld Civic Center/City Hall. Kelly said he is awaiting an additional bid and that he is considering one of three options ranging from small repairs to roof replacement. Kelly was given authority to spend up to $10,500 to address the issue.
Council members tabled action on accepting the donation of property in the 500 block of North Main Street pending receipt of additional paperwork from the property owner.