Electric Rate Reduction, VAC Increased Funding Heads CC Board Discussion
By Mike Nester | For the Prairie Advocate News
MOUNT CARROLL—Voters in rural Carroll County will get a chance to reduce their electrical bills at the polls in November as the county board voted to place a referendum on the ballot.
If the referendum passes, it would allow the county to arrange for the supply of electricity for its residential and small commercial customers who have not opted out of the program.
Back in May, the county board began exploring a referendum that could help rural residents lower their ComEd electric rates by as much as 30 percent.
Carroll County Board Chairman Rod Fritz explained state law allows counties to pass a referendum which would enable them to go out and find a new provider with a lower rate.
Carroll County Board members got an overview on the Illinois Municipal and County Electric Aggregation from Arlene Juracek, president of the Illinois Power Agency, at their June 21 meeting.
Only rural Carroll County residents who are ComEd customers will be affected by the electric rate change. Jo-Carroll Energy is an electric co-op and are exempt by law from electric aggregation.
County Clerk Brian Woessner said he and State’s Attorney Scott Brinkmeier contacted the Illinois Attorney General for a ruling on who should be allowed to vote. Woessner said the referendum must be presented to all unincorporated voters. There had been questions if voters who are Jo- Carroll Energy customers would be allowed to vote in the election.
In 2009 the State of Illinois passed legislation providing municipalities the ability to negotiate lower rates on behalf of their entire communities, but with the provision that any resident who did not want to switch to a new supplier could simply opt out.
Since the deregulation became law, several communities including Milledgeville, Shannon and Lanark have all passed referendums allowing for the savings.
Veterans Assistance Commission
Several Carroll County veterans as well as members of the Carroll County Veterans Assistance Commission packed the small courtroom at the July 19 meeting to show their support for more funding for the VAC.
Ellis Boughton, vice president of the VAC board, addressed the board and said the VAC was doing their best and trying to be frugal with their annual budget.
He explained the VAC was designed to get local veterans into the system. Many Carroll County veterans are not signed up and the VAC has struggled to meet with the close to 2,000 Carroll County veterans.
Boughton said the VAC wanted the county board to consider levying a tax to not only provide more funding, but a tax levy would make the VAC eligible for matching funds from the State of Illinois. He added the current funding doesn’t cover the administrative expenses associated with the operation of the VAC and would allow for more than 12 hours per week.
In May of 2004, the Carroll County board passed a resolution authorizing a tax levy not to exceed .03 % for providing assistance to military veterans and their families pursuant to the Military Veterans Assistance Act.
The county board didn’t act on the information presented by the VAC, but will continue to work with them during the budget process.
Board member Kevin Reibel questioned the VAC’s request of the full amount which would generate nearly $71,000, an increase of $41,000 over their current budget of $30,000. When Reibel asked what the money would be used for, Boughton said they didn’t have a specific budget but it would be used for salaries for the superintendent and his assistant as well as training for seminars and meetings to meet the needs for veterans.
Reibel pointed out the board had never approved two employees for the VAC as Nelson Preston was suppose to replace Butch Lease, but Lease never left and Preston stayed on. Reibel said they had put $1,500 in the budget for training and seminars but only $400 had been used. He added he would like to see a list of the courses and seminars they would be attending when discussing the VAC’s budget in the coming months.
Boughton said the VAC was willing to answer any questions board members had and address any of their concerns about the VAC.
County may leave LRA
The county board discussed but took no action on possibly cutting ties with the Jo-Carroll Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) at the former Savanna Army Depot.
The county board is considering withdrawing from the intergovernmental agreement due to the county’s inability to have funding or resources to operate the water and sewer systems at the former Army Depot.
Since 2010, the county board has requested the Jo-Carroll LRA develop and submit a plan for the operation of the utilities so the Carroll County Board would have no responsibility for its operation.
The LRA is currently working with Riverport Railroad to turn over the water and sewer system to the depot tenant and allow them to operate the system, thus eliminating the Carroll County board from any liability.
County board member Paul Hartman, who is a Carroll County representative on the LRA board, said the recent action was a step in the right direction and if the work continues to progress, there would be no reason for the county to leave the LRA.
Hartman informed the county board members that they have a few months to deal with the issue and he will keep them informed on the progress of Riverport taking over the water and sewer systems.
Bill McFadden, chairman of the Jo-Carroll LRA, attended the meeting and said he wanted to continue to cooperate with the Carroll County Board.
County Road Work
Carroll County Highway Engineer Kevin Vandendooren discussed several issues with the county board including the bid letting for installation of guard rails on Timber Lake Road that was recently completed. The board approved the low bid from I & I Construction of $102,085 and the work will begin around August 1.
The county board also approved a petition for bridge aid on Old Galena Trail Road near the Plum River Bridge. The project includes removing two across-road culverts, directing the flow in the ditch line, installation of an entrance culvert and resurfacing the road. Cost of the project is $8,460.
Vandendooren also advised the board regarding ongoing projects on Shannon Route as well as a possible land acquisition and straightening a section of Georgetown Road.
Other projects ongoing include:
— Replacement of Sunshine Road Bridge over the BNSF began July 18 and includes tree removal and erosion control. The project will be completed within six months.
— Replacement of box culvert on Shannon Route near DM&E Railroad began July 9 and will take about six weeks to complete. Removal of the existing box culvert revealed the old bridge piling and concrete retaining wall are still in place. The contractor is working around the structures.
County board members also learned the courthouse generator quit working on June 30 and were now renting a generator at a cost of $1,200 per week. The board agreed the generator should be fixed at an approximate cost of $9,000 and the work be done as soon as possible to eliminate the weekly rental fee.
County Treasurer Diane Powers explained the state had recently changed the way it collects real estate taxes and the county would no longer be collecting 6% of those estates large enough to qualify. The state will take all the money. Powers said the county didn’t have very many cases but wanted to inform the board of the change and loss of revenue.
John Bickelhaupt of COUNTRY Financial gave the board a six-month health insurance review for the county’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy and answered board members’ questions about the policy.