Normal will enact a 2 percent water fee increase as part of the annual budget council members approved Monday night.
Beginning April 1, the town’s fee per 1,000 gallons consumed will go from $6.44 to $6.57, and its system maintenance fee will go from $5.87 to $5.99 a month.
For the average household using about 5,000 gallons a month, town staff estimate the increase will add 77 cents on their monthly bill, or $9.24 for the whole year.
Meanwhile the town projects the rate increase will bring in an additional $186,000 in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year.
Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston voted against the fee hike, outlined in last year's budget cycle, maintaining that the town should hold off on raising residents’ utility costs.
“I still would advocate for a pause on this annual bump in light of some of the other fee increases that we’ve had to put in play for rate restructures on sewer and garbage as well,” Lorenz said.
Preston said the town should wait until after a planned rate study is completed.
Town staff say while the water fund currently is in a strong position, the fund could face some financial challenges a few years down the road.
“When I look at our 5-year projections, it doesn’t look like in the first year that this 2 percent increase is needed ...yet in the out years, the 2 percent doesn’t look like it will cover our projections” Preston said.
While the council only approved the change for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the town’s 5-year budget outlook plans for a 2 percent increase each year.
City Manager Pam Reece said that’s in anticipation of upcoming capital improvements projects. The town needs to change out an elevated water storage tank and make improvements to the water treatment plant—each multimillion-dollar projects, she said.
Reece said without making small incremental increases, the town would have to make one big rate hike to make sure the water fund covers the project costs.
She said the town has been in a similar situation before.
“It was in 2009 when we had a 25 percent increase. That’s a heavy hit for a lot of users,” she said. “We don’t want to get to that point.”
Reece said after the council approved uncharacteristic spending and staff cuts to avoid a deficit last year, the adopted 2019-2020 budget is back to the “status quo.”
The capital improvements plan included in the roughly $118.6 million budget accounts for just $22 million of what Reece said is a long list of largely unfunded capital needs for the town.
“So most of the capital investment will continue to be transportation related, as well as improvements in our water and sewer utilities,” she said.
In other business, the council also approved an agreement between the town and Solar Bloomington-Normal to offer a third solar group buy program this year.
The Ecology Action Center and Midwest Renewable Energy Association first partnered up in 2016 to help promote the adoption of renewable energy among McLean County residents and businesses.
The town has been a partner in the program, reviewing installer proposals and co-hosting public information sessions.
The group buy program offers participants a reduced rate from a certified installer to outfit their home or business with solar panels. To date the program has helped the community install over 800 kW of solar across 60 different McLean County properties.
The EAC will put out a request for proposals from installers later this month.
EAC Executive Director Michael Brown said there’s still plenty of demand for solar in McLean County.
“Right now in Illinois due to the Future Energy Jobs Act, there is a lot of incentives, and so it’s really cost effective right now,” he said.
Brown said community solar is another exciting development for Illinois residents to look forward to.
“This is where residents will be able to subscribe to a solar installation without having to put it on their own roof,” he said. “And so there isn’t the barrier of the upfront cost of installation, but rather you can get a lot of the same benefits through simply a subscription instead.”
Brown said the state will determine participation in the program via lottery later this month.
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