A potential decision to raise city deposits for renters from $100 to $400 will be a much discussed topic in the next month leading up to a possible board vote on the issue in August.
The City of Vandalia’s Board of Aldermen discussed the situation during its monthly board meeting held on Tuesday, July 8.
At the end of their discussion, all but alderman Dempsey Dixon approved a motion for staff to prepare an ordinance that would increase the deposit amounts as proposed.
Proposed changes would be from $100 to $400 for residential renters and from $100 to $200 for residential owners renting their homes. Businesses would have an average monthly bill of utilities for their address to determine the deposit amount.
Other options discussed included a reduced deposit if the customer has a history of paying bills on time. Also, the use of companies such as Online Utility Exchanges, that provide a “utility credit check,” was discussed.
Another option discussed was requiring a utility customer to list all occupants of the household on their application for utilities. At a minimum, this could prevent changing utilities from one occupants name to another while leaving an unpaid bill.
Another change that will most likely be coming is the acceptance of various forms of electronic payments for utility bills. There will be fees involved to be able to accept electronic payments, and the city will need to decide whether the city should absorb these costs or whether the customer should be responsible for the fees.
“The council has been talking about this for two months and next month may not be the last month,” said City Administrator Alan Winders. “(The council) has talked about many ways to raise deposits, perhaps by address (energy efficient vs. nonenergy efficient) or possible credit checks to determine amount for deposits (etc.). Of course were working on various forms of electronic payment, which might help with the losses…Every dollar that is ‘lost’ is not a dollar lost to the city. It’s a dollar that is lost to everybody paying utility bills.”
Sherry Langley suggested that perhaps utility bills should be shut off sooner.
“We want to encourage folks to live and move to our community,” Langley added on her Facebook post on The Vandalia Leader’s page.
Winders noted that the city itself gets a bill every month it needs to pay and together residents pay for the overall bill.
Vandalia residents are billed by the city for water, trash, sewer, and electric. Gas gets turned on through calling Ameren.
Vandalia’s billing structure is different from nearby towns.
According to Winders, the City of Curryville bills its residents for water, sewer, and trash with a $100 deposit. This total doesn’t include the deposit for electric and gas.
In Laddonia, renters need a $200 deposit for water, sewer, and trash.
Bowling Green has a $160 refundable deposit as water, sewer, and trash are billed together. Ameren provides the electricity for residents and offers a separate deposit that is based off a credit report.
Liberty Utilities handle the gas deposits.
With the City of Vandalia being the only town charging residents for electricity, it makes it difficult to do a city-by-city comparison to determine what the effects could be of new deposit amounts. The need for a possible change relates to the fact that the city writes off several dollars each year. Last year, there was $33,000 written off.
“We’ll try to recollect it but we’ll still have to write it off the books,” Winders said about the write-off accounts.
“The city is only here providing a service to the residents; it’s not here for profit. If we’re not diligent in getting those bills paid, then frankly we’re wasting everybody else’s money…”
2014 Street Improvement Plan Discussed
Mayor Ralph Kuda requested the 2014 Street Improvement Plan to be on the agenda to discuss the “end to end and shoulder to shoulder” chip sealing.
He told the group that the patch work chip and sealed streets look “terrible.”
Council goals this year were to make the town look better and streets should look better.
The City Council’s ideas noted that the street plan was already decided for this year.
According to drafted minutes, seal coating entire streets would be great, however the approved plan allowed for more streets to be treated for the money available. If “end to end and shoulder to shoulder” seal coating is wanted, a tax increase might be necessary.
If it is stopped, then the number of streets receiving treatment will be significantly reduced.
The staff estimates such measure would reduce the percentage of streets being addressed by 30-40%.
There was no motion made to change the plan and no action taken on this item.
The passed 2014 plan allows for $52,500 in programmed chip seal, $10,500 in unprogrammed maintenance, and no asphalt overlay.
There is a total of $175,602 available for seal coat and overlay in this year’s budget. Only $32,799 comes from this year’s half-cent sales tax and the remainder is from savings in the Capital Improvement Fund and the Special Projects Fund.
South Park Fields
Lee Scrogin represented the Vandalia Youth Ball Association as part of the YBA’s request to rework the playing surface of the two diamonds at South Park, contingent upon receiving financial assistance from other sources.
The Youth Ball Association takes care of the infield playing surface at the park.
This measure would have the infields re-crowned and a new playing surface installed. This would be done in the fall by a contractor with YBA assistance.
The contractor would be required to follow general insurance requirements for the city as this is city property.
The work will only be done if the YBA is able to secure the funding necessary to make these improvements.
Should this work occur, there will possibly be additional work that the city needs to do for drainage, etc.
It is not anticipated to be a major expense at this time. Aldermen unanimously approved the request.
Power Plant Update
Winders provided the group with a brief update regarding the future of the power plant and current operating issues.
The power plant and generators have not received capital reinvestment since regulation required the installation of “catalytic converters” and removed the city’s chances for payment for maintaining the electrical capacity of the generators. The generators have continued to experience mechanical issues and are in need of additional expensive repairs.
The city will be soon in a position to need to spend money for operating expenses, such as algae inhibitors, fuel, and oil changes.
At the meeting, officials agreed not to spend any more on the generators, and no purchase of diesel fuel.
Winders updated the group regarding recent action on the proposed ¾ cent sales tax, which will be on the ballot on August 5 of this year.
This could effect the Highway 54 project.
A proposed ordinance was passed in regards to the vacation part of the city code.
Winders told the group there are no changes in the proposed ordinance from the June meeting, and as requested by the board, he has spoken to every department and virtually every employee regarding the change.
There is no one opposed and there is general support regarding the change.
Approval of the item changes the code to allow employees to keep accrued vacation past December 31 of each year, up to the amount of their annual accrual rate. Currently, every employee must use or lose all vacation by the end of the calendar year. There are no other code changes proposed. There is no cost to the city for making this change. City Departments will experience less scheduling problems in December and employees will have more flexibility in terms of accrued vacation use.