O’Fallon water and sewer customers could save about $45 to 50 next year if the City Council approves a year-long freeze on water and sewer rates Sept. 18.
If the freeze goes into effect, Mayor Herb Roach said the city will analyze future needs and their impact on future rates and reserves.
“We will still have a surplus to add to reserves, probably a million dollars, which will be used for identified needs,” he said.
In a 10-2 vote, with Aldermen Jerry Albrecht and Courtney Marsh not in favor, the council passed the ordinance on first reading at its meeting Sept. 5. Aldermen Mark Morton and Robert Kueker were absent.
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With a freeze, an overall savings for customers of $500,000 is expected for the year.
The average bill for O’Fallon water and sewer customers is $107.90 a month for 6,000 gallons of water, which Roach pointed out was second-highest in the area, next to Swansea, which had a $107.91 average among 14 area communities. In the state, O’Fallon’s rate was 50 percent higher than the average of 400 communities.
Roach said the water and sewer rates have been raised every year since 2009. The reserves have been increased from under $6 million to more than $14 million.
Roach explained that if rates are not frozen, they would automatically increase 3.5 percent in October.
Alderman Morton sent a statement supporting the freeze.
“I believe it is prudent to see if we can provide some relief for our citizens, even if relief is in the form of a freeze,” he wrote.
Marsh pointed out that the repairs and cost for engineering plans will be taken out of the surplus funds, and that the city purchases water from Illinois-American Water, whose rates will go up, therefore cutting into the surplus.
Albrecht said that after the city froze the rates in 2009, they could not take care of debt, and he was not in favor.
“It set a very bad precedent, and we should have learned from that,” he said.
Alderman Matthew Gilbreath said he had issues with the time the council was given to make a decision, but he supported the idea for taxpayer relief.
“I don’t think that it’s enough, to be honest,” he said, noting that he would prefer the city lower its rates rather than have a freeze.
Gilbreth said he wanted it on the record that this action was not a ploy to bring up outsourcing the water again, which initially failed as a referendum in 2011.
“No, it has nothing to do with selling or leasing the water department,” Roach said.
The council had to make a decision Sept. 5 in order to either go forward or prevent the increase in October.
Alderman David Cozad said he initially was not in favor of the freeze, but after discussing it with the Public Works Department, he said he supported it to benefit the taxpayers. He asked the mayor to provide copies of the rates of other Illinois towns so that they could study those figures.
A rate increase, based on the Consumer Price Index, will still go into effect in October 2018.
O’Fallon provides water within the city limits, to Fairview Heights, and in some areas outside the corporate limits.
The council also approved updating the water master plan, through engineering firm Burns and McDonnell, at a cost of $109,400. The plan will look at future growth and demand on the water system.
The mayor also commended city employees for their efforts during the water main break at the intersection of Mark Drive and U.S. 50 that resulted in a boil order from Aug. 28 through Aug. 31.
In other action, the council advanced re-zoning 33.4 acres of land owned by the city from agriculture to residential for the Park Bridge Station subdivision. The Reserves of Timber Ridge is planning 67 single-family lots on this property, which is west of Venita Road and north of Fire Department Engine House No. 4. The property contract is for $1,026,300 purchase price. Final approval could be Sept. 18.
The mayor approved a city pick-up truck’s use to carry the casket of retired city foreman Robert Henry in his funeral procession Sept. 6.
City officials will take a bus tour Sept. 14, beginning at 4 p.m. from Fire House No. 4, in an effort to assess needs around the city.
The council went into executive session for 40 minutes to discuss a personnel issue.