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Pekin City Council rejects -- for now -- proposed garbage collection and wastewater charge increases

Will Pekin increase its monthly $20 garbage collection charge for residents?
Steve Stein
Will Pekin increase its monthly $20 garbage collection charge for residents?

Proposals to raise residents' monthly garage collection and wastewater collection and treatment charges were put on hold Monday by the Pekin City Council.

Citing public input and a need for more information, council member Dave Nutter asked for the item to be removed from the meeting agenda. The council agreed, by a unanimous 7-0 vote.

City Administrator John Dossey said the item will be on the agenda at a future meeting.
City staff proposed raising the garbage collection charge from $20 to $25, the wastewater capital improvement charge from $4.41 to $4.90, and the wastewater operational charge from $7.66 to $9 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

The new charges, if approved, would have gone into effect May 1, the start of the city's 2024-25 fiscal year.

Also proposed by city staff were an annual increase of $1 in the garbage collection charge in future years, and annual increases equal to the consumer price index to a maximum of 5% in the wastewater capital improvement and wastewater operational charges.

"The current charges aren't sufficient to maintain acceptable garbage and wastewater services," said Bob Grogan, the city's interim finance director, who also noted that the garbage and wastewater funds in the city's budget owe more than $13 million to the general fund.

Projected revenue increases from the increased charges in the first year were $708,600 for the garbage fund and $1.1 million for the wastewater fund.

The monthly $20 garbage collection charge has been in place since 2019. A proposed increase in 2020 was rejected by the council because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The monthly wastewater capital improvement charge was reduced in 2021 from $4.90 to 69 cents with plans to return to $4.90 in five years. The monthly $7.66 per 1,000 gallons of water used wastewater operational charge has been in place since 2018.

The proposed increases -- and a utility tax proposed in the 2024-25 fiscal year budget -- were brought up by the council during a discussion about the budget.

"It's hard to ask for more money from our residents," said council member Lloyd Orrick. "Inflation is eating them alive."

"If these charges have needed to be increased, it should have been done by a little bit each year instead of trying to catch up all at once," said council member John Abel.

"I struggle asking taxpayers to fix mistakes made by people who are no longer here," said council member Chris Onken.

Council members praised Grogan and Dossey, who became the city administrator late last year, for the transparency and information provided in the proposed budget, along with correcting previous accounting errors, but warned 2024-25 could be a tough year financially for the city.

Josh Wray, the city's economic development director, noted the next phases of the Court Street and Derby Street projects aren't in the proposed 2024-25 budget.

"This looks like a year of needs, not wants, " said council member Karen Hohimer. "Maybe the next year, too."

"A lot of us up here have felt something has been wrong with the budget for a long time," Nutter said. "This is the best information on the budget we've ever gotten. But there's things that need to be cut."

Grogan encouraged council members to contact him with possible cuts.

"If there's fluff in this budget, let's find it," he said.

Mayor Mary Burress said the city needs to focus its efforts on business growth as the best way to increase revenue.

Dossey said there are important budget challenges ahead, but the hurdles the city must clear to fix them aren't too high.

"The decisions we make in the next few weeks will have an impact in the city long after we're done serving the community," he said.

City, county agreement opens county parking lot to the public 24/7

Two agreements between the city of the Pekin and Tazewell County that move along the county's plans to build a justice center annex were approved Monday by the council.

The agreements were approved 6-1, with council member Rick Hilst casting the no votes.

The city will vacate an alley between Elizabeth and Court streets from Capitol Street to 3rd Street.

In exchange, the county will provide all easements needed by the city to have access to infrastructure under the alley and the 300 block of Elizabeth between Capitol and Third the city vacated previously, and access to the former Pekin Daily Times building.

Also Monday, the county agreed to purchase city-owned property at 320 and 328 Court. The property is valued at $31,200 by the Pekin Township assessor.

In exchange for the city property and the city's vacation of the alley and the 300 block of Elizabeth, the county has agreed to open its 45-space parking lot at the southwest corner of Court and Fifth Street to the public for 24/7 use.

The lot was paved in 2023.

Wray said downtown business owners are very happy the lot will be open to the public at all hours. It previously was open for county employees only during certain hours.

Interim finance director's contract extended

Grogan will remain Pekin's interim finance director through at least June 28, with automatic two-week extensions if needed.

The council on Monday approved Grogan's continued employment through GovTempsUSA at a cost of $3,920 weekly. Grogan is leading the effort to create the city's 2024-25 budget.

Grogan and other interim Pekin department heads were hired in the past year through GovTempsUSA. Grogan is the lone remaining hire.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.