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Water and sewer bill backlog begins to ease in Normal

Jeffrey Smudde
Normal Town Council member Karyn Smith spoke Tuesday on WGLT's Sound Ideas.
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Some of the more than 1,300 residents of the Town of Normal who are way behind on water and sewer utility payments, potentially because of the pandemic, have begun to take care of the problem.

Notices went out about two weeks ago urging people to make payment plans or face shutoffs when a moratorium ends. Council member Karyn Smith said Tuesday more than 300 users have done so.

"They had something like 19% respond and pay in full after only one notice. Since then, some other parties have paid theirs in full. As of Monday the number of accounts (in arrears) is down to 985," said Smith.

At its peak, the town was owed nearly $650,000, according to previous statements by staff. At one time about 7% percent of all water customers in Normal were delinquent.

Smith said sometimes a problem can paralyze people and make action difficult, but inaction won't fix it. Smith said there are aid and grant programs available. And she said she might be willing to support using some federal pandemic relief money for the purpose if other assistance programs are exhausted.

The town is also beginning discussion of how to use $10.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act money. Some of that will happen in the regular budget process, but the town is also taking public input through an online survey and appeals to various email listservs of interested stakeholders in the town, said Smith.

Connect Transit funding

Smith said she can support using a portion of federal pandemic relief money to boost the bus system in Bloomington-Normal. Smith noted a Connect Transit working group had previously recommended eliminating the higher fare that riders with disabilities pay for Connect Mobility. She said to meet funding challenges fares were disproportionately increased for those with disabilities. That was to partly reflect the cost of delivering service.

"They felt that if the towns, both Bloomington and Normal, would increase their funding it would enable them to support one fare for both mobility riders and for regular Connect Transit. So, I feel it is incumbent on the Town of Normal to make it possible for that to be an ongoing program," said Smith.

She said the working group request for the One Fare option was an extra $100,000 from each city.

The Connect Transit Board implemented One Fare last July, but Smith noted the town contribution had not increased. Smith said American Rescue Plan money could support that move and the town could later sustain the change with revenue generated by economic growth. She said increased funding from the city and town would also leverage more money for transit from the state.

Smith said there is a range of choices on how to use ARPA money.

"The eligible uses are to support public health expenditures, address negative economic impact caused by the pandemic, replace lost public sector revenue, that is what the town suffered because of reduced business activity and reduced sales tax collections, provide premiums pay for essential workers, and invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure," said Smith.

ARPA funds can't be used on directly or indirectly offsetting tax spending. It can't be used to provide a tax cut to citizens, to fund pensions, debt service, or legal settlement or expenses.

The town has half of its $10.8 million American Rescue Plan money in hand and the other half will come next year.

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