Proposal for water, sewer rate hikes meets opposition; City Council tables issue for two weeks

Jeffrey Conte 03252024

Director of Public Works Jeffrey Conte speaks to aldermen during Monday's meeting of the Quincy City Council. | Photo courtesy of City of Quincy Facebook livestream

QUINCY — Director of Public Works Jeffrey Conte has two weeks to prepare different options to pay for $30 million worth of improvements to Quincy’s water system.

The creation of an ordinance to increase water and sewer rates was on the agenda for Monday’s Quincy City Council meeting. The average monthly cost to the consumer was projected to be more than $14. The rate hike will help pay for floodproofing the water treatment plant and making other repairs that will be done in concert with replacing water and sewer pipes during the state’s upcoming repairs to Broadway.

However, after a lengthy discussion about the water and sewer rates, Tony Sassen (R-4) asked Conte, “What kind of time crunch are you in?”

“I was hoping to get the (new) rate in effect for the May 1 budget year,” Conte said. “There’s still a few weeks left.”

“I’m seeing different numbers from different people on the amount of money,” Sassen said. “Until I find out the true numbers, I’d like to table this.”

“Which numbers are you not getting that are different?” Conte asked. “I guess I have all the numbers, and I think I’ve shared everything.”

Mike Farha (R-4) then seconded Sassen’s motion to table the ordinance for two weeks.

Kelly Mays (R-3) asked Conte if he could provide more options about how to raise the rates. 

Conte’s proposal calls for:

  • $10 million to be spent on the water plant.
  • $5 million is for water and sewer main replacements on Broadway. 
  • $7 million is for water and sewer main replacements for other streets in Quincy which would reduce leakage and replace toxic lead service lines.
  • $6 million for the sewage treatment plant.
  • $2 million for combined sewer overflows (after a heavy rain or snow melt, stormwater overwhelms the system and untreated sewage is released into the Mississippi River).

Conte said the sewage projects will be paid for by a low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

“The other $22 million, some of it is going to come from profits from the rate increase,” Conte said. “Some of that’s going to come from the bond fund. Some of it’s going to come from the existing reserves.”

After the meeting, Conte said he believes he’s given aldermen all the information needed to decide.

“If they’re missing something, obviously I want to know so I can get it to them,” he said. “But maybe I gave them too much. (Maybe) I was too verbose. Maybe it’s better to just cut out and put some of the highlights in there and just kind of recap everything.

“We’ve been talking about the big projects, and kind of lost in the weeds is all those small projects that happen every year that really need to be funded as well. While using unallocated revenue this year may be a fine idea — and I’m not saying it’s not a good idea — it doesn’t address the long-term needs for investment. I just want to make sure that (the aldermen) understand that.”

Mike Rein (R-5) was the first person to toss out ideas for alternative funding for water system improvements. During the Finance Committee meeting held before the City Council meeting, Rein questioned the need for a tax increase “while we’re sitting on a lot of money.”

“It doesn’t make sense to have a pot of money there,” Rein said. “I’m not saying the projects don’t need to be done. I don’t like raising taxes when we have millions over here. I just want to get you thinking about other ways to get these projects done. Yeah, we’re supposed to go spend that somewhere, but where we’re spending it maybe isn’t as high of a priority.”

Rein said after the finance committee meeting he would take money from the general fund to pay for the water/sewer improvements. Asked how much he was talking about when he mentioned “a lot of money,” Rein replied, “I’m not really supposed to talk about that.”

Conte said the city has about $7 million available in existing reserves, but a city ordinance prevents that figure from going any lower than $5.6 million — leaving $1.4 million available to spend on the water/sewer improvements.

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said the city participated in a risk mitigation review, and he didn’t believe anyone participating in that review thought the water treatment plant was a lower priority than Broadway.

“We really have we don’t have a choice but to do something with the water treatment plant to take care of it for another 50 years,” he said. “It’s just something that has been worked on for several years, and we need to move forward on something.”

When the ordinance was addressed during the City Council meeting, Jack Holtschlag (D-7) made a motion to approve it and Ben Uzelac (D-7) seconded it. Rein then said, “As I explained in Finance (Committee), I don’t think this is necessary.”

Jeff Bergman (R-2) asked Conte to explain what eleemosynary customers are. Conte said those are nonprofit customers who pay the lowest rate for water. He said the ordinance allowing this practice was approved by aldermen in 1980. Using last year’s data, Conte said about $60,000 wasn’t collected that could have been collected had nonprofits paid at regular rates.

“We’re asking the general public to have a rate increase to keep up with the cost of doing business and inflation, and yet we have a group of customers out there that are getting a lower rate because they’re not for profit,” Bergman said. “I’m not quite sure where to go with this.”

Mike Farha (R-4) then took issue with the ordinance.

“I am still, only in name probably, a Republican. One thing Republicans have stood for is no tax increases,” he said. “Tomorrow, when your children go to school, 66 percent of those kids are on (free and) reduced lunches. Why can we fool the public that this is a tax increase? Yes, it’s an enterprise fund, but it’s a tax increase. 

“You’re not getting anything better. You’re not getting cleaner water. The federal government is fixated on what we dismiss into the river. At some point, I’ve got to look the public in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, we do keep raising taxes.’  The last 10 years have been one tax increase after another. To be honest, as Republicans, if you vote for this, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Conte was asked after the meeting if some aldermen are reluctant to vote in favor of a tax increase before next year’s municipal election.

“I haven’t really heard anyone make any comments that make me think that they’re thinking politically,” he said. “I think people are pretty in tune to what they’re hearing from their constituents. Regardless of whether they’re up for re-election or not, if their constituents aren’t happy, they’re getting phone calls. That’s probably more of an issue than anything.”

The Finance Committee also voted to send a resolution to the City Council authorizing the reallocation of riverfront development funding. Aldermen voted on Dec. 19 to commit $200,000 of the city’s TIF (tax increment financing) money to riverfront development, but the resolution calls for de-committing that money.

Rein said the committee was asked by two members of the Quincy Riverfront Development Corporation to pledge $200,000 toward a $1.18 million project to bury Ameren powerlines in Clat Adams Bicentennial Park.

“The attempt to bury those wires went sky high,” Rein said. “They are still many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars short, and the (Adams) County Board did not pledge $200,000. But we did. I’m asking that we void that request and bring it back into the TIF (fund).”

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