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Bloomington Hikes Fire Protection Bills A Decade Late

Jim Karch
WGLT file photo
Bloomington Public Works Director Jim Karch says the city won't seek to collect the higher fire protection charges retroactively.

Bloomington city officials say they don't know how a fire protection rate increase wasn't billed for 10 years.

The city now plans to phase in the increases over the next three years, with the first hike to come in May.

About 1,200 businesses that have fire suppression systems inside their facilities pay the charge. It's used to pay for fire protection maintenance, including "testing, maintaining, repairing and installing new fire hydrants, valves, fitting and associated pipes," according to a letter it sent to businesses.

Public Works Director Jim Karch said the fee increase will help the city to better address its water infrastructure.

“The fire protection charge that we are looking to increase, it really didn’t prevent us from (maintenance), we were still able to provide that baseline safe drinking water, but what we want to do is get back to the best management practices that we have with our hydrant testing and water main flushing programs,” Karch said.

The monthly rate will double starting in May to $13.60 per inch in diameter of water line. It will increase to $20.40 in May 2020 and to $27.20 in May 2021.

Karch said the city hasn't totaled how much money the city failed to collect, but said it likely tops $1 million. The city is budgeting an additional $150,000 next year to account for the added revenue and $300,000 in 2021, the final year of the increase.

Karch added too much time has passed to get a firm handle on why the increases weren't included in the bills dating back to January 2010.

“Since this occurred 10 years ago at this point historically, there have been multiple water directors since then, so at this point we are just looking to try to implement an already-approved city council ordinance and trying to do it in a way that minimizes the best we can the impact on our local businesses.” Karch said.

Karch said the public works department caught the error after it took over the water department.

“We tried to evaluate what is sitting out there, what needs to be done, trying to make sure we do a holistic assessment, and this was one of the issues that rose to the surface and needed to be addressed,” Karch said.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner addressed the billing mistake during an interview on GLT's Sound Ideas on March 26:

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.