DECATUR — The Decatur City Council attached a new charge to residents' utility bills Monday in an effort to pay for long-overdue maintenance to the city's storm water system.
But the council members weren't happy about it. Several blamed previous councils they said should have dealt with the issue decades ago.
“It seems like all we do every other meeting is come up with a new fee. OK, it's only $4 a month, but it starts adding up,” Councilwoman Julie Moore-Wolfe said. “It is frustrating.”
Residents and businesses will begin to pay a $3 monthly fee per parcel in October. Beginning in October 2015, they will be assessed an additional amount that is based on how much storm water the property creates. For residents with property of one acre or less, that fee will be 67 cents, making for a total $3.67 monthly charge.
Owners of larger or commercial properties will be charged based on the amount of impervious surface on the property, which is calculated using aerial photography.
“The idea is that the bulk of the fee is paid by property owners who create the bulk of the storm water — in other words, the ones that make the biggest burden on the infrastructure,” City Manager Ryan McCrady said.
Property owners will have an opportunity to earn credits if they have made improvements to deal with storm water. McCrady said city staff are working on a credit manual to help property owners identify those improvements.
“It encourages property owners to take advantage and take care of as much of their storm water as possible,” he said.
The council has grappled with rising expenses and declining revenues over the past several years while attempting to tackle the “Big Four” infrastructure projects: maintenance for sanitary and storm sewers, water infrastructure and dredging, and a new space for the Decatur Police Department.
The council approved a sanitary sewer fee increase in 2011 to pay for sewer projects, which are ongoing. It passed a series of water rate increases last year to pay for dredging and other water infrastructure maintenance. The police department is set to move into its new home on South Side Drive in June.
With their action Monday, the council created a funding source to deal with $60 million of storm water system maintenance that was identified in 2009, thus addressing the last of the four priority issues. The new fee is expected to raise about $1.6 million per year.
Resident Max Pressgrove blasted the council for the fee increases.
“If this keeps up, my next house sure won't be in Decatur, and I can't think of one good reason why people would want to move here. Everything is going up,” he said.
Mayor Mike McElroy responded that the council does not like to increase fees, but infrastructure repairs cannot wait.
“Too many things were let go too long. … We've got people that have human waste in their basements when we have bad rains. People shouldn't have to live like that,” McElroy said.
In other business, words became heated between representatives of local unions and McCrady, over issues related to the work force on the city's $89 million dredging project.
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City officials and union representatives have stated their desire to see contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock and subcontractor Terra Contracting Services hire local people for the work, which the council approved in February.
But representatives from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 965 and Laborers International Union of North America Local 159 questioned whether the contractors have hired local people.
Kent Campbell, business representative for Local 965, said members of the union have watched license plates on vehicles going to the sediment storage site in Oakley since February. Until March 26, all of the plates were out-of-state, mostly from Michigan, he said. Two vehicles with Illinois license plates have been in since then.
The union has paid for two billboards and a television ad asserting that residents' tax dollars are going to hire out-of-state workers.
The city's contract requires Great Lakes to pay prevailing wage, which union members also receive.
“It's not cheaper for them to run union (versus) nonunion. And that's not really the issue. The issue is getting the residents of Decatur, whether they're union or nonunion workers. That money, once it leaves here, it's not going to be reinvested into the community,” Campbell said.
But McCrady said the unions were spreading incorrect information.
McCrady said eight of the nine hourly workers hired by Great Lakes so far are local workers, and four of the six hired by Terra Contracting are local. He also said it is not possible to look at the license plate on a truck and determine who is driving it.
The exact number of local employees will be revealed on certified payroll reports that the contractor will submit to the city. They are not yet available.
“Following people around to see what hotels they live in, really? We're going to do that in this town? I'm just tired of it,” McCrady said. “I'm tired of talking to restaurant developers that won't build a restaurant in Decatur because 20 years ago they dealt with pickets and intimidation and everything else in this community. When are we going to grow up and start building things in this town? I've just had it.”
After the meeting, McCrady said that was as angry as he has ever been at a council meeting.
“I keep giving the facts out and they keep coming up here and just saying stuff that's not true,” he said. “... The facts are that we have local people out there working. We have an interest in local people out there working, too. That's why we did a five- to six-year project.”
Campbell said the union members never followed or intimidated anyone, and there has been no violence or picketing.
Joe Riley of Local 159 said he took issue with McCrady's characterization of the unions.
“I think we're pretty friendly to companies that want to come in here and build a restaurant or build whatever,” he said. “... We work with contractors all the time, especially out-of-towners, to accommodate them because they're going to hire our guys. I don't understand what he meant by that, but if there is a picket, it's for a reason. It's because there's out-of-towners (working) here.”