Macomb council considers delaying proposed fee hike

MACOMB, Ill. (NEWS3) — Macomb city aldermen are sounding-off about a proposed fee increase for water and trash service.

The city is asking the Macomb City Council to consider raising fees by $5.25 overall. This includes the water debt service charge, the water rate and garbage costs.

If approved, the water debt charge would go up $3, from $5 to $8 per meter. It would also add .25 cents to the water rate per 100 gallons. City Administrator Scott Coker said, for the average resident based on their water rate, this would be a $1.25 increase. The move could also make solid waste collection fees cost a $1 more.

Some aldermen have expressed concerns with the proposal because they feel right now is not the time to make residents pay more for anything.

“While I understand the city’s bills and I’ve been to these budget meetings, but I cannot disagree with what members of the community are saying,” Macomb Third Ward Alderman Annette Carper said. “This is a difficult time for Macomb, and there are a lot of people that are going with less because of this pandemic, and have lost their jobs and dealing with rent, so I certainly have an understanding for those residents. 

Coker said staff have been planning and discussing the rate increases since December to prepare for higher expenses.

“As everyone knows, there’s inflationary pressures, expenses increase, and this hasn’t been increased since the past six years,” Coker said.

To Coker’s response, Carper asked why the funds have not been raised in the past several years.

“We’ve tried to absorb those costs the best we could,” Mayor Mike Inman said. “Whether that be chemical costs, which are a real driver for our water process, which is around $400,000 a year for the chemical costs to treat the water. Those have continued to increase, and of course other inflationary pressure when it comes to wages and things like that. Some other things that are playing into the rate increase are the decline in population, enrollment at the university, and us users trying to cover the routine costs of producing water. And also because of reduction of consumption due to conservation, but it still requires us to incur expenses to the water and we’re committed to maintaining obviously EPA compliance regardless of how much we’re consuming, there’s some fixed costs there we can no longer feel comfortable absorbing.”

Alderman-at-Large Tammie Leigh Brown-Edwards also pushed back on the proposal, asking why the increase needs to happen now instead of later.

“I’ve had many constituents reach out to me about this and they’re not opposed to an increase, they’re just opposed to the timing of it with a lot of people being out of work or furloughed or laid off at the moment,” Brown-Edwards said.

“We’ve been talking about and budgeting this since December,” Coker said. “We built into our budget this rate increase. We could delay it, but our cash reserves for our water department will decrease and we’re not going to have enough available funding. We need to be able to keep the cash reserves up to handle repairs and emergencies. Our expenses for the water department are going up so we’re just trying to cover those and keep a good cash reserve to be able to handle emergencies.” 

Inman said it is possible that the measure could be held off due to what people are facing as a result of the pandemic.

“I received concerns and the staff had some discussion about delaying the implementation,” Inman said. “So if there was some action taken to approve, but delay the implementation of the collection, is something I think we should put before you as a possible discussion point. We’ve been very sensitive to these things discussions in city hall. We understand that everyone is dealing with an ever-changing amount of income of personal budgets and households. With the thought of maybe delaying the implementation until July, but we would just lose about $23,000 in revenue by delaying that.”

Second Ward Alderman John Vigezzi said he’s not only worried with how the fee hike would impact Macomb but also Colchester residents.

Residents in Colchester would also be on the hook to pay more for their water bill. The city uses Macomb water, meaning residents would feel the affect of the hike too.

“I’ve received some phone calls from my ward and some from Colchester,” Vigezzi said. “They’re very concerned because their water rates tend to be much higher than ours.” 

“With the garbage side, that contract has billed in much more every year; we barely cover our costs,” Alderman-at-Large Dennis Moon said. “We’ve delayed that increase as long as we possibly could.”

Carper asked if one of the funds could not be raised until times are better for people after the pandemic.

“I understand the garbage fees to be true and the different costs in services,” Carper said. “I think we should accommodate the charges that we receive. My whole concern is the debt service for the water fund; I wonder if that’s something that can be delayed.”

“There is every reason to expect this budget was built prior to the onset of this pandemic that we’re in,” Inman said. “I think there’s every reason to expect that the revenue side will be a number other than what we anticipate and I think that’s likely to be less. But I do think there’s likely to be some less expenses.”

The council will vote on the fee hike next Monday. Inman said the city pays more than $400,000 a year for chemicals to treat the water. He said the increases would bring in about $23,000 in revenue per month for the city, if passed.

The mayor said the city will receive information from the state this week showing how the stay-at-home order has impacted the city’s sales tax. He said he doesn’t expect to have a good idea of where revenues and expenses are until after the city’s budget is passed. He expects changes to be made to the budget over the next several months.

Also during the city council meeting, Coker told aldermen where he expects the city to stand fiscally for the upcoming budget which is slated to take effect May 1. He said the city will have around $3.8 million in cash reserves and a projected deficit of about $650,000.

On the census front, Community Development Coordinator John Bannon said congress is expected to consider extending the census data collection window until Oct. 31. Bannon said field operations for the census has been suspended until mid-June. He said current data shows Macomb with a 44 percent self-response to the census compared to the state’s 52 percent overall.

At the end of the meeting, Inman doubled down on his call for people to take the stay-at-home order and CDC guidelines seriously after receiving several complaints from businesses and community memebers about unsafe behavior.

“There is every expectation that there are going to be more cases,” Inman said. “I would reiterate for everyone to please abide by the stay at home order and limit your time in public to times that are essential. I would strongly suggest, just as the CDC has suggested, to put on face masks when out in public to minimize the spread of the disease further. To that extent, I continue to receive calls for the public’s concern, particularly our large retail establishments becoming gathering and congregating areas for the general public. That’s not what they’re designed to do. They’re essential and open for essential business. It’s putting their employees at risk and it is putting those members of the public who insist on gathering inside those businesses for socializing and things like that. We’re not in compliance with the spirit of the governor’s order, in which says that’s not supposed to be happening. There’s an ongoing concern in the community that those businesses are doing as much as they possibly can. It’s not our intention to have to or want to engage in some sort of enforcement action, but we’re just simply asking people to limit their time in those essential businesses, get what they need, make the transactions, support the business and please get back to your residence.”

If you would like to tune in to the Macomb council meetings under the stay-at-home order, the next one will be streamed Monday at 5:15 p.m. on their YouTube page.