Most Bloomington homeowners will see a $6.06 increase in their monthly utility bills starting next May.
A divided Bloomington City Council approved a sharp increase in sanitary sewer and stormwater fees, by a 5-4 vote, on Monday night. Facing $136 million in needed infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years, aldermen weighed two options—a larger one-time rate increase next year, or smaller increases over the next several years. Ultimately, aldermen chose the “immediate increase” option.
Ward 1 Alderman Jamie Mathy said the council all favored an increase but had their own opinions how to implement it.
"If we do it now we can actually start making real positive change to the older parts of town," said Mathy. "Like getting the sewers fixed, like getting everything in process. In the next three to four years, we can start."
Currently, a typical residential customer in Bloomington pays $13.85 per month for sanitary sewer and stormwater service. Under plan approved Monday, that would rise to $19.91 per month next year, then jump 3 percent in subsequent years. That’s expected to generate $137.1 million in new funding for the city of Bloomington to carry out projects in its sanitary sewer and stormwater master plans.
Mathy said if the council decided to slowly increase the rates every year, construction wouldn't happen for at least five to eight years.
“For sewer infrastructure, the city is in a reactive mode, which is more expensive than being proactive. A tipping point will occur in the maintenance of the sewers where the community goes from being reactive to proactive,” said Public Works Director Jim Karch. "The more immediate rate increase has the tipping point at four years, whereas the long-term increase has the tipping point at eight years.”
Aldermen David Sage, Mboka Mwilambwe, Joni Painter and Mayor Pro Tem Karen Schmidt voted against the immediate increase. Schmidt said she did not understand why the council is so quick to increase taxes rather than considering budget-cutting.
Painter, the Ward 5 alderman, proposed an amendment to increase the rate 3 percent every other year, but it failed to gain support from any other aldermen.
The Normal Town Council passed its own sewer rate increase last month.
Aldermen made no comment on the former U.S. Cellular Coliseum management indictments during the meeting. And all but one alderman left the meeting without talking to reporters.
Mathy said the contract between the council and Central Illinois Arena Management kept the city out of the loop. Mathy said the new contract with VenuWorks requires transparency.
"We know exactly what's going on, where the money is going, what it's being used for when revenues are collected,” Mathy said. “There was a problem that got fixed in terms of the contracts. We legally were not allowed to see some things until the changeover happened.”
Several residents expressed anger during public comment, calling the council a disappointment for not knowing about the situation sooner.
Former managers of the Coliseum are charged with stealing nearly a million dollars over seven years using a variety of false and inflated billing schemes and underreporting revenue.
In other action Monday, aldermen also approved new contracts with the city’s Local 362 Support Staff and Parking Enforcement unionized employees. The full-time employees will receive a raise of 1.75 percent this year and 2 percent next year, costing the city an additional $66,074. Changes to health insurance and “longevity pay” in the contracts will save the city thousands of dollars, city staff told aldermen.
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