Gillespie water and sewer customers may face gradual increases in their sewer bills over the next few years based on discussion during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the city council.
City Treasurer Dan Fisher said the increases are needed not only to maintain the city’s eligibility for state grants and low-interest loans but also to ensure the Sewer Department has adequate revenue to fund sewer improvement projects in the future. No such projects are currently on the table but Fisher said it is likely that improvements will be needed down the road as the system continues to age.
Fisher said he recently attended an annual seminar sponsored by the State of Illinois during which state officials discussed new rules and old rules regarding the awarding of state monies for infrastructure improvement projects.
Under “an old rule that they haven’t used before but now are going to use a lot,” Fisher said, the state will analyze water and sewer rates before deciding whether or not to award state grants or loans. “If you don’t meet a certain threshold, they’ll say you’re not eligible.” Under the rule, the state requires rates to be at one percent of household income for 5,000 gallons of usage.
“Our water rates are fine,” he said. “In fact, they’re right at one percent. But our sewer rates are only about a fourth of what they should be. We are way below the threshold. We probably need to slowly start to increase that rate.”
Fisher said sewer customers now pay $15 or $16 for 5,000 gallon of sewer usage.
“We ought to be at $30,” he said. “We’re at about half of what we ought to be. Obviously we don’t want to raise rates that much but for the long-term good of the system we need to start inching them up.”
According to Fisher, interest rates for low-interest loans from the state or federal governments are at historic lows. If the council wants to pursue any kind of sewer improvement project in the near future, Fisher said the city may want to consider proceeding before interest rates start inching back upward.
Fisher noted that utility rate increases usually are related to the start of major improvement projects. The city, however, started gradually increasing water rates well before the start of the current water infrastructure improvement project. Because of that action, the city was able to finance the current project without implementing a rate increase for water. In a similar fashion, he said the city can ensure that adequate revenue is in place to finance a sewer improvement project when the time comes to undertake one.
“Didn’t we tell people their rates wouldn’t go up because of the water project?” Ald. Wendy Rolando said.
“That was for water rates,” Fisher said. “Our water rates are fine. This would only affect sewer rates.”
He said he would present a proposal for gradually increasing sewer rates at a meeting of the council later this year, at which time the council can opt to approve or reject the rate increase schedule.
In a related matter, Fisher reported that Haier Plumbing and Heating, Okawville, plans to complete the installation of new water mains in about six weeks if the weather cooperates. The general contractor plans to complete service hook-ups to individual homes and businesses over the following six months.
“We should be fully operational about October, which is a year ahead of time,” Fisher said, noting that city workers should be prepared to “move forward with clean-up and seeding earlier than we anticipated.”
Following a 45-minute executive session to discuss employee issues, real estate and legal issues, the council voted unanimously to reimburse Bob and Katrina Eifling $4,750 the couple paid out of pocket to clean-up damage to their home after workers for Haier Plumbing and Heating struck and ruptured a sewer line, causing raw sewage to pour into the basement of the home. The city will seek to recover the reimbursement from the general contractor when the water infrastructure project is complete.
City Attorney Kevin Polo emphasized that the city is not accepting liability for the damage and is not offering to settle other claims that may be pending in connection with the incident. He noted, for example, that the Eifling’s insurance company paid $5,000 to the couple for damage repair.
“If the insurance company wants to sue the contractor, they can do that,” Polo said, “but the city is not accepting liability.”
NEW POLICE HIRE, NEW POLICE CAR
Also following the executive session, council members voted unanimously to hire Holly Faulds as a full-time Gillespie Police Officer. Faulds has worked for the Mount Olive, Staunton and Benld police departments. She was hired as a full-time officer for the City of Benld in October 2017 and has previously worked as a part-time officer for the Gillespie Police Department.
On a motion by Ald. Dave Tucker, the council voted unanimously to approve Police Chief Jared DePoppe’s request to purchase a Dodge Ram for the Police Department at a cost of $25,500. DePoppe said the vehicle is available under a state bid contract that makes it available to municipalities at the same price.
“Several municipalities around us have purchased one of these or more because the price is so attractive,” DePoppe said.
DePoppe said he is not applying for a grant to assist with the purchase cost at this time because there is a need to replace a fully equipped squad car later this year, the cost of which is expected to be significantly more than the cost of the Ram. The Dodge Ram will replace a squad car currently used by the Police Department’s Detective.
Also on a motion by Tucker, the council approved DePoppe’s request to purchase a new computer for the Police Department’s dispatching unit from Carpani Technology SlakLolutions at a cost of $629. DePoppe said the new computer should last the Department five to six years. It will replace an aging, failing computer that DePoppe described as the “pulse of our department.”
LAKE DEPARTMENT PURCHASES
On a motion by Ald. Frank Barrett, seconded by Tucker, the council approved the purchase of new ROMORT tower equipment for flushing out recreational vehicle waste storage tanks at the Gillespie Lake campgrounds. Cost of the equipment was reported to be $950.
The council also gave the Mayor power to act on entering into a contract to install gutters on the office building at Gillespie Lake and the recently re-roofed city garage. Barrett presented pricing for both projects but Mayor Hicks asked him to secure additional quotes.
The council also deferred action on purchasing playground equipment for the lake camping area pending Barrett securing pricing from other companies for comparison. Barrett is expected to bring multiple quotes back to the council next month.
COUNCIL REFUSES TO VACATE PLATTED STREET
By failing to take any action, the council effectively rejected a request from Jim VanDoren to vacate a portion of Rice Street on the east side of his property. VanDoren said he believed he owned a portion of the street right of way but discovered the depth of his lot is about six feet less than he previously believed when he had his property surveyed. He said City Attorney Polo told him that if the city vacated the street, he would be entitled to 25 feet of the street’s 50-foot width. Though appearing on city plats, the portion of the street in question is not used.
“I’ve take care of it for 60 years,” VanDoren said. “If I can get it, that would be wonderful; if I can’t, so be it.”
Further complicating the issue, the city owns about two acres adjacent to VanDoren’s property that is only accessible via the Rice Street right of way.
“I can’t see vacating that because it is a city street and if we ever want to develop that property, we will need property,” Ald. Dona Rauzi said.
Mayor Hicks said the city has vacated alleys in the past, but vacating a city street would be a different matter. “I don’t know whether we would want to do that.”
With no motion on the floor to vacate the street, VanDoren asked if the city would agree to sell him a six-foot strip of the right of way to restore his property to the size he thought it was. Reducing the width of the right of way by six feet would still leave the city 44 feet to access its property.
“You don’t want to start changing rights of way,” Treasurer Fisher advised.
Hicks apologized to VanDoren for not being able to honor his request, but added “as long as we’re not using it, go ahead and use like you have been.” The only restriction, Hicks said, would be that VanDoren could not build a permanent structure on land platted for the street.
On Hick’s recommendation, the council voted to switch from Frontier to NewWave Communications to provide telephone service for the city’s facilities. Under NewWave’s proposal, Hicks said the company will provide a 300 megabyte internet connection plus four telephone lines at a cost of $426.72 per month on a three-year contract. The company also is agreeing to waive installation costs.
Hicks said the new contract will save the city about $200 per month.
“We’ve been paying $356 for the city clerk’s office alone,” Hicks said.
In other action, the council:
- Voted to increase the salary of the city clerk’s office by $25 per month to compensate the clerk for attending one extra meeting each month. The increase will become effective after the next municipal election in 2021.
- Approved an ordinance to designate an area of parking for disabled persons on Madison Street in the area of the Masonic Lodge.
- Approved a resolution to close a portion of Illinois Route 4 from June 4 through June 8 to accommodate the annual Black Diamond Days street festival.
- Approved payment of $361,256 to Haier Plumbing and Heating and $11,878 to Curry and Associates Engineers for work completed to date on the water infrastructure improvement project.
- Authorized expenditure of $3,478.52 for steel and $865.98 for lumber from the city’s Tax Increment Financing fund. The materials were used to replace the roof on the city garage located southeast of city hall.