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Some Peorians are about to see their sewer bills go up

Flickr/Creative Commons

Water may be on every Peorian's mind this week, but not for the same reason. In a 6-3 vote, the Peoria City Council on Tuesday increased water-sewer utility fees, adding about 16 cents monthly onto some Peorians’ bills.

City Manager Patrick Urich said an intergovernmental agreement with the Greater Peoria Sanitary District (GSPD) will eventually absorb remaining city-operated sewer systems. In order to avoid a shock to residents, according to Urich, the city over the last few years has increased the lateral fee to match GPSD’s operations.

Currently, residents mainly in the East Bluff, pay around $63 in city-owned sewer maintenance, while GPSD bills roughly $71, which Urich believes needs to be rectified or incur higher costs down the pipe. The city manager stated to council members that quarterly fees, which will be 50 cents come May 1, would be $8 otherwise.

“(If) this fails, eventually you’re going to get to a point where we’re going to need to put more money into maintenance,” Urich said to at-large council member Beth Jensen. “And we won’t have those funds in the sewer funds to do that. This lateral fee goes to us maintaining the sewers that we own.”

Fifth District councilman Denis Cyr questioned Urich on the fee increase when there were loans provided by the Illinois EPA. These loans go towards cleaning up Peoria’s combined sewer overflows (CSO) with the nearest deadline being 2024 - a 20% reduction of CSOs.

Urich states the city has planned to use the $6.7 million loan in the North Valley among the expected $15 million told to council members last year. The city manager notes the department must apply each year to borrow funds towards cleaning the CSOs.

The federal mandate to decrease CSO pollutants 35% by 2027 is going to cost Peorians $119 million over the next 17 years. Nearly a year ago Councilman Cyr voted against the motion along with At-large Councilman Sid Ruckriegel citing borrowing concerns and resident costs. The two voted with At-Large Councilman Zach Oyler last night to deny the water-sewer utility fee increase.

Third District Councilman Timothy Riggenbach contrasted the discussion of sewer maintenance to the purchasing of a boat; citing a concern the council was missing their civic mandate.

“We talk about these other things that we want to buy and have the city operate, neglecting oftentimes the operations and maintenance of what those things cost,” Councilman Riggenbach said. “We want to turn this over to the Greater Peoria Sanitary District, we have to bring it up to a certain standard to accept that.’

:You know, believe me, I know firsthand from last year’s election how you get pounded on stuff like this; but to me it’s more damning of a council to neglect the operation and maintenance for something that the city owns.”

Code enforcement cuts show, as new positions added

Community Development Director Joe Dulin says the added code enforcement inspectors in the 2022-2023 budget will make staffing the highest it’s been in the division since 2012. But the city’s decision back in the early 2000s to cut inspection positions back has created a data and well-being divide.

“(We) completely stopped doing proactive rental inspections in 2011 with the staff we had, and we just don’t have the current staff to be able to get back to that program,” Dulin said.

All of this came from a report back At-large Councilman John Kelly asked for some time ago during short-term rental property discussions.

Fortunately for Kelly, Councilwoman Jensen says the legal department located a case that may contain some of his data on rental properties: Peoria Area Landlord Ass'n v. City of Peoria, IL, 168 F. Supp. 2d 917 (C.D. Ill. 2001). According to Jensen, District Judge Mihm had access to about 100 exhibits during the proceedings.

“[W]hen Judge Mihm entered his order on that case, upholding the rental registration and inspection program, the first couple pages of his order he actually summarized the data and status of the rental properties in Peoria that justified the adoption of the ordinance,” Councilwoman Jensen said.

Dulin says over the last five to six years the department has been trying to build better relationships in the community to assist tenants and homeowners. Though there is not enough staff to proactively inspect houses Dulin states any complaint of no water or heat will justify an immediate call to action: “You have a right to live in safe housing.”

“Quite honestly, I know their [code inspectors] hands are full, but I’ve seen in some areas in and around my district that I’ve just been appalled at some of the conditions landlords rent properties to people,” First District Councilwoman Denise Jackson said. “Without an inspection department it’s just kind of mind-boggling sometimes to know that some of these properties are being rented in the condition they’re in…”

Dulin mentioned the County Trustee Auction Process allowed dilapidated houses to be sold for mere thousands and many were left untouched and falling apart. Dulin says the county treasury worked with the County Trustee Auction Process to avoid further cases.

“We were able to pull about 45 houses directly from the auction that needed to be demolished,” Dulin said. “[A]nd had we not remove them from the auction someone could have purchased them to maybe fix up or maybe stick a tenant in and start collecting rent.”

Peoria businesses must share video betting terminal costs evenly with operators

A state law passed in December requires video betting terminal costs to be shared evenly between the local business and terminal operators. In Peoria the registration cost of registering a terminal is $500 between the operator and local business. An additional $1,000 fee for each terminal originally just on the operator would now need to be shared with the local business.

Corporation Counsel Chrissie Kaptuska says, during the first reading of the ordinance, the amendment would keep the $500 registration machine and lower the $1k for additional machines to $500.

“I’m amazed that this is what arises to what’s important to Springfield,” Councilman Ruckriegel said. “It’s an unfunded mandate, only of a different type.

According to a Feb. finance report read by Corporation Counsel Kaptuska some video betting terminals are making minor amounts and others making six-figures.

“The net terminal income from 67 establishments that have about 330 video gaming terminals…I had (Finance) Director (Kyle) Cratty check my math because I was a little surprised because it was $1.6 million,” Kaptuska said.

Councilman Ruckriegel asked for a report back on similar-sized municipalities' terminal fees before determining the shared bill on Peoria’s local establishments and operators.

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